An upcoming plan to revise an international telecoms treaty could restrict or even kill internet innovation unless telecoms players engage with government representatives renegotiating the treaty.
That was the warning from Ambassador David Gross, partner at Wiley & Rein, who kicked off the CommunicAsia2012 Summit Visionary Addresses on Wednesday. He urged governments and regulators not to create telecoms and ICT rules so inflexible that they can't account for future innovation and growth.
Gross argued that the rate of change in the telecoms sector and the subsequent socioeconomic impact is so fast that it's impossible to predict what the next big development will be. "Governments need to create policies that facilitate innovation without predetermined outcomes," he said.
This, he added, is particularly true of the upcoming ITU World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) this December in Dubai, which is intended to update the 1988 International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR) treaty to account for technologies that barely existed at the time, particularly internet services.
The problem, Gross said, is that participation will be limited to representatives of national governments, not telecoms players, and a number of proposals have been put forth that will put the internet under much more restrictive regulation than it is now.
"Proposals have been put forward that would require the ITU to decide on new technologies for the internet, to regulate backbone costs and termination charges for data traffic, roaming charges and even peering," Gross said.
"I hope that frightens you as much as it does me, because this treaty will be international law when it's completed," he warned. "It will directly impact your ability to innovate and create new services for the internet, and it will impact everyone - not just developed markets like the US, Europe or Japan."
Because only government representatives will be at the table when the ITRs are renegotiated, Gross urged delegates to engage with their respective home governments to help them fully understand the need for a flexible framework to allow innovation to flourish.
"I encourage you to let them know that you have the ability to the change the world through your technology, but that the key is not to have a treaty that cannot and will not be changed," he said. "The rules should be determined by carriers, content providers, NGOs, individuals and more."