Summary Report of the ITU-T World Conference on International Telecommunications - The Internet Protocol Journal, Volume 16, No. 1

by Robert Pepper and Chip Sharp, Cisco Systems

From 3–14 December, 2012, 151 Member States of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) met in Dubai [0] at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) [1] to revise the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), a treaty-level document establishing policies governing international telecommunications services. During the 2-week conference the delegates debated several proposed changes on topics such as international mobile roaming, numbering, naming, addressing, fraud, the Internet, Quality of Service (QoS), etc. In the end, a revised version of the treaty was finalized [2], but only 89 of the 151 Member States attending signed it.

There have been many articles discussing different aspects of the conference and its outcomes. This article provides background on the ITRs and focuses on the potential impact of the WCIT and its revised treaty on development of the Internet.


The ITRs originated from the development of international telegraphy in Europe in the late 1800s and the need for a treaty defining how the government-operated national telegraph networks would interconnect and interoperate [3]. As telephony and radio communications were invented, new treaties were developed to regulate their international operation. Up until the 1980s most telephone and telegraph companies were government-owned monopolies with some government licensed private companies operating as a monopoly. In 1988, the separate telegraph and telephone treaties were merged into the International Telecommunications Regulations while the Radio Regulations remained a separate treaty. By 1988, though some liberalization and privatization had started in a few countries in some regions, most international telecommunications services globally were still provided by monopoly, government-owned carriers, and services were dominated by voice rather than data. International Internet connectivity and traffic were practically nonexistent in most countries. Of course, international data traffic (including Internet) was growing in importance to some countries such as the United States and some large multinational companies such as IBM (which wanted to provide international Virtual Private Networks [VPNs]).

One important aspect of the ITRs in 1988 was the telephony accounting rate system. Briefly, this system consisted of a calling-party-pays business model for telephony in which the originating country pays the terminating country settlements based on a bilaterally agreed-upon accounting rate. Because developed countries tended to make more calls to developing countries than conversely and the accounting rate tended to be substantially above cost in many cases, the accounting rate system effectively became a subsidy program and a source for hard currency for developing countries.

Since 1988 market liberalization, reduced regulation, increased competition, and the rise of the Internet and mobile wireless industries have drastically changed the global communications landscape. In 1997, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) opted out of the accounting rate system defined in the ITRs [4], with many countries subsequently following suit. Voice over the Internet, arbitrage, hubbing, and other factors have reduced the telephony settlements revenue for developing countries. The 1988 ITRs [5] allowed for special arrangements between network operators outside the rules of the ITRs. These special arrangements allowed for the international physical connectivity on which growth of the international Internet depended.

As the Internet grew and the telecom market changed, there was increased pressure from some countries to revise the ITRs. Contributions submitted in the preparatory meetings for WCIT-12 reflected widely varying views on the nature and extent of possible changes to the ITRs to account for this greatly changed environment. Although some countries believed that the ITRs should set forth high-level strategic and policy principles that could adapt to further changes in the market, others proposed the inclusion of expanded regulatory provisions of a detailed and specific nature in the ITRs to address a wide range of new concerns and services, including the Internet, or even to include the intergovernmental regulation of content (for example, spam and information security).

High-Level Take-Aways

Out of 151 countries attending the conference, the treaty was signed by 89 countries, consisting of mostly emerging countries led by Russia, China, Brazil, and the Arab States; 55 countries, including the United States, Japan, Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, and most of Europe, did not sign at the time. Countries that did not sign the treaty in Dubai can accede to the treaty after the WCIT by notifying the Secretary-General of the ITU. It is quite likely that some countries that did not sign the treaty will accede to it over the next few years.

The treaty takes effect on January 1, 2015 (after the 2014 Plenipotentiary Conference). Each signing country has to go through its national process for approval (for example, ratification) before the treaty takes effect for that country.

Although there has been a lot of negative commentary on the WCIT in the Internet community, in the end there are some important positive results for the Internet:

  • No provisions were added to treaty text explicitly concerning the Internet, Internet Governance, or information security.
  • No provisions were added to the treaty text concerning naming or addressing.
  • No provisions modifying the basic business models of the Internet or mandating QoS on the Internet were made.
  • The updated treaty explicitly recognizes commercial arrangements in addition to the old accounting rate regime for telecommunications.
  • Article 9 on Special Arrangements allowing for telecommunications arrangements outside the treaty was retained mostly unchanged, thus allowing such special arrangements to continue to be used even between nonsignatory and signatory countries.
  • A new resolution on landlocked countries could encourage access of such countries to landing stations in other countries and ease landlocked countries' ability to acquire international connectivity.

Some results that could be of concern to the Internet follow:

  • The term identifying the operators to which the treaty applies ("authorized operating agencies") was modified. The supporters of the new term claim it does not expand the scope of the treaty, but it will bear watching.
  • A provision on "unsolicited bulk electronic communications," developed after a long debate on spam, could lead governments to regulate and filter e-mail in addition to having unintended consequences such as disallowing bulk electronic emergency warning systems.
  • Numbering provisions and requirements to deliver Calling Party Number were intended by some countries to allow for restrictions on international Voice over IP (VoIP) and VoIP services (including VoIP over the Internet).
  • A new provision on network security could encourage more multilateral discussions in an intergovernmental setting (as opposed to multistakeholder).
  • A new Resolution 3 on the Internet instructs the Secretary-General to engage further in Internet Governance discussions and further supports intergovernmental Internet policy processes.
  • A new Resolution 5 mentions the transition to IP-based networks. It originally was aimed at over-the-top providers, but was modified to apply to service providers of international services. The end result is rather ambiguous in many respects and will bear watching.
  • A new Article was added concerning telecommunication exchange points. Although the Internet is not mentioned explicitly, the originators of this article intended for it to apply to Internet Exchange Points. This Article could be used to support development of an enabling environment for regional telecommunication connectivity, but could also be used to justify regulation of Internet Exchange Points.
  • Resolution Plen/4 requires PP'14 to consider a review of the ITRs every 8 years. This provision could result in another WCIT in 2020.

Table 1 lists the Member States that signed and did not sign the treaty in Dubai [6].

Table 1: Treaty Signatories and Nonsignatories

Note: Other United Nations (UN) member states were not eligible to sign or did not attend the conference but might still accede to the treaty: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cameroon, Chad, Dem. People's Republic of Korea, Dem. Rep. of the Congo, Dominica, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Grenada, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Honduras, Iceland, Kiribati, Lao P.D.R., T.F.Y.R. Macedonia, Madagascar, Maldives, Mauritania, Micronesia, Monaco, Myanmar, Nauru, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Romania, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, San Marino, Sao Tome and Principe, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Suriname, Syria, Tajikistan, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Turkmenistan, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, the Vatican, and Zambia.

Proposals and Outcomes

When the conference began there were several provisions that either explicitly or implicitly applied to the Internet, including:

  • A proposal to define the term "Internet" and explicitly bring the Internet into the regulatory structure of the treaty
  • Proposals to bring Internet naming, addressing, and identifiers into the treaty
  • A proposal to include a provision on access to Internet websites
  • A proposal on "traffic exchange points" that was intended to apply to Internet Exchange Points
  • Proposals from multiple states on spam, information security, and cybersecurity

Although the Secretary-General of the ITU declared that the WCIT was not about the Internet or Internet Governance [7], by rule, the WCIT had to consider input from its Member States. Given that Member States submitted proposals on the Internet, the Internet and Internet Governance was a substantive topic of discussion.

The following sections provide a brief review of some of the more difficult discussions related to the Internet.


There were several proposals [8] going into the WCIT to include cybersecurity, including information security, in the new ITRs. These proposals generated significant discussions and negotiations during the conference. The final text (Article 5A) is a great improvement over the proposals into the conference in that it focuses on the security and robustness of networks and prevention of technical harm to networks, with no mention of information security or cybersecurity.

The new provision mentions that Member States shall "collectively endeavour," a provision that could engender more multilateral discussions in an intergovernmental setting (for example, ITU).

Organizations to Which the Treaty Applies

The 1988 ITR treaty focused on licensed carriers and government-owned Post, Telephone, and Telegraph (PTT) entities. Proposals [8] into the WCIT would have applied the treaty to a wider range of organizations and companies. In the end, the treaty developed a new term, Authorized Operating Agencies (AOA). The proponents of this new term argued that it does not broaden the scope of the ITRs in terms of the organizations to which it applies. This interpretation of the new term should be supported, but monitored.

Internet-Specific Proposals and Resolutions (Resolutions Plen/3 and Plen/5)

Proposals [8] were submitted to the WCIT to define the term "Internet" and to encode into the treaty the right of countries to regulate the "national segment" of the Internet. At the end of the first week of WCIT, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, China, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Sudan, and Russia announced development of a new draft set of Resolutions that contained provisions that Member States shall have the right to manage the Internet, including Internet numbering, naming, addressing, and identification resources.

Although the United States, United Kingdom, and others were successful in removing any mention of the Internet from the treaty text, Internet-related language was moved into a nonbinding resolution (Resolution Plen/3) proposed by Russia "to foster an enabling environment for the greater growth of the Internet." Resolution Plen/3 instructs the ITU Secretary-General "to continue to take the necessary steps for ITU to play an active and constructive role in the development of broadband and the multistakeholder model of the Internet as expressed in § 35 of the Tunis Agenda." It also invites Member States to elaborate their positions on Internet-related concerns in the relevant ITU-related fora (something they could have done anyway).

This does not look too bad until one reads Paragraph 35 of the Tunis Agenda [9]. This paragraph lays out the roles of each type of stakeholder (private industry, civil society, Intergovernmental Organizations [IGOs], governments, etc.). It reserves an explicit role in "Internet-related public policy issues" for governments and intergovernmental organizations. It does not provide for any role in this area for the private sector or civil society. So although the Resolution seems to support the multistakeholder model of the Internet, it really restricts the roles of several of the main stakeholders.

Several countries pushed for inclusion of Paragraph 55 of the Tunis Agenda, recognizing that the existing arrangements have worked effectively, to balance the inclusion of Paragraph 35, but it was not included in the final Resolution.

Resolution Plen/3 may be used by some governments to reinforce the ITU's role in Internet Governance, including at future ITU conferences in 2013 and 2014.

On the other hand, the Resolution also instructs the Secretary-General "to support the participation of Member States and all other stakeholders, as applicable, in the activities of ITU in this regard." This statement supports participation of all stakeholders in the activities of the ITU, not restricted just to ITU Members, or in the case of ITU Council or some Council Working Groups just to Member States.

In signing the Final Acts, Russia added a Declaration/Reservation that it views the Internet as a new global telecommunication infrastructure and reserves the right to implement public policy, including international policy, on matters of Internet Governance. This reservation could signal that Russia plans to apply the telecommunications provisions in the ITRs to the Internet and to further regulate the Internet.

In addition to Resolution Plen/3, some of the proposals on the Internet were part of the discussion on Resolution Plen/5. This Resolution began as a basic resolution on invoicing for international telecommunication services, but ended up including numerous other provisions that did not make it into the main text of the treaty. Although the final text does not contain provisions explicitly mentioning the Internet, the introductory text of the Resolution mentions the transition of phone and data networks to IP-based networks. Also, the proposal that evolved into "resolves" originally applied to the relationship between network operators and application providers. During the discussions this proposal was modified to refer to "providers of international services" instead of application providers. Even with this modification, the application of this provision is ambiguous and could be applied to over-the-top providers.

Resolution Plen/5 is likely to reinforce work in Study Group 3 on accounting, fraud and charges for international telecommunications service traffic termination and exchange, etc.

Telecommunications Traffic Exchange Points

A proposal [8] concerning "telecommunication traffic exchange points" was included as an Article in the ITRs. The term "telecommunication traffic exchange point" was left undefined. This article does not mention the Internet or Internet Exchange Points, but the discussion of this Article included discussion on how it related to Internet Exchange Points. At least one delegation indicated that the Article was intended to help enable development of regional Internet Exchange Points.

Although this provision raised concerns over possible regulation of Internet Exchange Points, it focuses on creating an enabling environment for creation of regional telecommunication traffic exchange points. This environment could provide support for development of trans-border telecommunications and connectivity.

Route-Related Factors

Prior to the conference, there were several proposals [8] to require transparency into the international routes used for a Member States' traffic and to allow Member States to control what routes were used between them. Note that the definition of "route" in the ITRs is different from the concept of a "route" on the Internet. In the ITRs, a route is defined as the technical facilities used for telecommunications traffic between two telecommunication terminal exchanges or offices.

Coming into the WCIT, the proposal to control routes by Member States was dropped from the proposal, so the debate centered over whether Member States should have the right to know what routes were being used. After much discussion, the final result was a provision allowing "authorized operating agencies" (not Member States) to determine which routes are to be used between them and allowing the originating operator to determine the outbound route for traffic. This provision is not much different from how network operators manage their networks today.

Quality of Service Proposals

Several proposals [8] were made to WCIT to require QoS to be negotiated between network providers including Internet providers. Some proposals also allowed network providers to charge over-the-top providers for QoS.

The final provisions did not add any new requirements for QoS other than a nonspecific requirement related to mobile roaming. Although no new provisions were added specific to the Internet, it does not mean that countries could not try to impose the current QoS provisions to VoIP services. The debate over QoS on the Internet will continue outside the ITRs.

Naming, Numbering, and Addressing Proposals

Several countries and regions proposed [8] to extend provisions on telephone numbering to include naming, addressing, and origin identifiers. Several proposals were made to require delivery of calling party number and to cooperate in preventing the misuse ("misuse" not defined) of numbering, naming, and addressing resources. Although the Internet was not explicitly mentioned, these proposals were intended to apply to VoIP based on comments at pre-WCIT preparatory meetings [10].

In the end, several provisions were added related to delivery of calling party number and prevention of misuse of telecommunications numbering resources as defined in ITU-T Recommendations. Provisions to include naming, addressing, and more general "origin identifiers" were not accepted.

Even though there were no provisions specifically on the Internet, some countries could apply these provisions to VoIP services that use E.164 telephone numbers and that provide for bypass of the international telephony accounting system.

However, it is not clear that these provisions add any more authority than what these countries have today.

Content and Spam

Proposals [8] to include spam in the treaty caused a lot of contentious discussion, in ad hoc groups, plenary, and in consultations. Some countries took a strong position that spam is a content topic that was out of scope of the ITRs. There was a concern that adding a provision on spam would legitimize content filtering by governments. Some African countries insisted on including a provision on spam, claiming that it consumed a large percentage of their international bandwidth. In the end to address concern about content, a statement was added to Article 1.1:

"These Regulations do not address the content-related aspects of telecommunications."

To address the proposals on spam, Article 5B was added on unsolicited bulk electronic communication:

"Member States should endeavour to take necessary measures to prevent the propagation of unsolicited bulk electronic communications and minimize its impact on international tele-communication services. Member States are encouraged to cooperate in that sense."

As written the final text, it is fairly vague and could have implications beyond spam; for example, there are no exemptions for broadcasters or for emergency alert systems (for example, tsunami alerts). It is also not clear how Article 5B can be implemented consistent with the statement on content in Article 1.1.

It was clear from the discussion that many of the delegates from countries supporting this provision do not understand spam or spam-mitigation techniques and their usage (or not) in their own countries. It is clear that many of the delegates were not aware of basic best practices from the Messaging Anti-Abuse Working Group (MAAWG) and other organizations. These discussions highlighted the need for capacity building for developing countries on spam-mitigation techniques.

Human Rights and Member State Access to International Telecommunications

In a plenary session on the penultimate night of the WCIT, a provision on human rights was added to the final draft of the ITRs. This discussion led to a debate concerning the right of Member States to access international telecommunication services, originating from a proposal from Sudan and Cuba creating a right of Member States to access Internet websites. This provision was targeted at U.S. and European actions taken in response to UN sanctions against Sudan due to Darfur and U.S. sanctions on Cuba.

The provision provides a right for Member States, not its citizens. Thus it did not provide any rights for citizens to access international telecommunication services. In addition, it is not clear what or whose international telecommunication service Member States have a right to. The implications of the provision were unclear, and delegations did not have time to consult their home countries before the end of the conference.

Several times during the debate the Chair of the WCIT and the Secretary-General of the ITU both tried to dissuade the proponents from pushing their proposal, to no avail. After extended debate, Iran called for a point of order and then called for a vote, the only official vote of the conference. After the text passed by majority vote, the Chair of the WCIT declared the ITRs approved. At that point the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Sweden, and other countries, made statements that they would not sign the treaty. Supporters of the treaty read their statements in favor of the treaty. The conference was effectively over [11].

The uncertainty caused by the addition of this text at such a late date and the way it was added created a situation in which many countries that might have signed the treaty ended up not signing. This provision more than any other disagreement in the conference caused the conference to split to the extent that it did.

Looking Forward

Much of the long-term impact of the treaty will not be felt until the signing governments ratify the treaty and start enacting provisions into either law or regulation. It is likely that some of the countries that did not sign in Dubai will accede to the treaty at a later time, including countries that did not attend the WCIT.

WCIT is only one step (though an important one) in the long-term debate over Internet Governance and the appropriate role of governments (and intergovernmental organizations) in the Internet. The debate will continue in numerous international fora going forward such as:

  • World Telecommunications Policy Forum (May 2013)
  • World Summit on the Information Society Action Line Forum (May 2013)
  • ITU Council Working Group on Internet Public Policy (ongoing)
  • ITU-T Study Group meetings (ongoing)
  • ITU Plenipotentiary Conference (2014)
  • WSIS+10 Review (2013–2015)

It has already been seen that many of the same topics debated at WCIT will be debated in these venues; for example, IP addressing, naming, spam, and cybersecurity. The WCIT Resolutions (especially Res. Plen/3) will likely be used to promote a larger role of the ITU in the Internet Governance debate.

The ITU's Plenipotentiary Conference in 2014 will be the next important treaty conference where the ITU's Constitution and Convention (both treaty instruments) can be revised. In the hierarchy of treaties at ITU, the ITU Constitution takes precedence over the ITRs, and many of the terms used in the ITRs are defined in the Constitution. Therefore, changes to the ITU Constitution could affect the meaning of the ITRs. The ITU Plenipotentiary will provide an opportunity for the ITU Member States to come together and heal some of the differences coming out of the WCIT, but it is also an opportunity to widen the rift.

The WSIS+10 Review will be an important process because it is likely to set the agenda for the discussion of Internet Governance for the 5–10 years after 2015, much as the Tunis Agenda from 2005 set the agenda for the last 8 years. An important aspect of the WSIS+10 Review is that it involves other UN agencies (for example, UNESCO) in addition to the ITU. Many of the events involve stakeholders whose voices are not normally heard at ITU conferences.

Some of the disagreements exhibited at WCIT brought to light opportunities for the Internet community to engage with governments and other stakeholders by providing technical and thought leadership. Capacity building with many of the developing country governments will be an important part of the preparation leading up to the major international conferences such as the ITU Plenipotentiary and WSIS+10.

Much of the growth of the Internet going forward is likely to come in the countries that signed the ITRs. Many of these countries have started to develop multistakeholder consultations and processes when dealing with Internet topics. The fact that a government signed the ITRs does not mean that the country is somehow against the Internet. On the contrary, many of these countries are looking for ways to accelerate the Internet's development within their borders and to accelerate their international connectivity to the Internet. As the Internet grows and develops in these countries, the Internet communities in these countries will likely look to play a larger role in a consultative process regarding government positions on issues related to Internet Governance. Future growth of the Internet across ITR boundaries (signatories and non-signatories) will depend on cooperation amongst all stakeholders.


[0] Geoff Huston, "December in Dubai: Number Misuse, WCIT, and ITRs," The Internet Protocol Journal, Volume 15, No. 2, June 2012.

[1] World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12),

[2] International Telecommunication Regulations,

[3] "Discover ITU's History,"

[4] "International Settlements Policy and U.S.–International Accounting Rates,"

[5] "WATTC-88 World Administrative Telegraph and Telephone Conference (Melbourne, 1988),"

[6] "Signatories of the Final Acts: 89 (in green),"

[7] "Dr. Hamadoun I. Touré, ITU Secretary-General First Plenary of World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12),"

[8] "Proposals Received from ITU Member States for the Work of the Conference,"!!MSW-E

[9] "Tunis Agenda for the Information Society," World Summit on the Information Society, 2005.

[10] Council Working Group to Prepare for the 2012 WCIT,

[11] Webcast and Captioning of the WCIT,

ROBERT PEPPER leads Cisco's Global Technology Policy team working with governments across the world in areas such as broadband, IP enabled services, wireless and spectrum policy, security, privacy, Internet governance and ICT development. He joined Cisco in July 2005 from the FCC where he served as Chief of the Office of Plans and Policy and Chief of Policy Development beginning in 1989 where he led teams developing policies promoting the development of the Internet, implementing telecommunications legislation, planning for the transition to digital television, and designing and implementing the first U.S. spectrum auctions. He serves on the board of the U.S. Telecommunications Training Institute (USTTI) and advisory boards for Columbia University and Michigan State University, and is a Communications Program Fellow at the Aspen Institute. He is a member of the U.S. Department of Commerce's Spectrum Management Advisory Committee, the UK's Ofcom Spectrum Advisory Board and the U.S. Department of State's Advisory Committee on International Communications and Information Policy. Pepper received his BA. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. E-mail:

CHIP SHARP has 30 years in the communications industry and currently is a Director in the Research and Advanced Development Department at Cisco Systems, Inc. His current role is in Technology Policy focusing on Internet Governance issues. He participated in the US preparatory process for WCIT from 2010 including as Private Sector Advisor to the US Delegation to the ITU's Council Working Group to Prepare for the 2012 WCIT (CWG-WCIT12), mainly analyzing the impact of proposals on the Internet and Internet Governance. He helped develop many of the talking points and position papers related to the Internet for the US Delegation. He served in the same capacity on the US Delegation to WCIT. He continues to be active in many follow-on activities preparing for the World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF), World Summit on the Information Society 10 year review (WSIS+10), ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 and Internet Governance Forum. He also currently service on the FCCs' Open Internet Advisory Committee. Prior to this role, he led a multinational, multidisciplinary team at Cisco helping drive various technologies such as LISP, DNSSEC, BGPSEC, ENUM, Lawful Intercept etc. He has also supported capacity building and development programs for developing countries, for example, deployment of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs). He started at Cisco in 1996 helping design dialup Internet access products to interface with legacy telco signaling systems. Prior to Cisco, Chip worked at Teleos Communications, AT&T Consumer Product Labs and NASA's Communications Division. E-mail: