A Personal Blog
International Telecommunication Union Policy
On March 9, 2001, the ITU World Telecommunications Policy Forum (“WTPF”) released a final Report of the Secretary-General and adopted four “Opinions” on IP telephony.
The WTPF does not produce decisions with binding force. Instead, it prepares reports and where appropriate, Opinions for consideration by Member States. As a result, the Report and Opinions reflect the widely disparate views of the ITU membership on the issue of Internet telephony. Some developed countries led by the U.S advocated market-based, open architecture, decentralized policies that will promote the development of advanced networks and services.
Other developed nations advocated a functional approach based on the service offering to determine the applicable regulatory framework. Less developed countries expressed concern on the impact of Internet telephony on international settlement revenue, which is used to provide basic telecommunications services. These nations generally supported policies involving government regulations and subsidies on advanced broadband services including VoIP.
Nonetheless, the ITU-WTPF Report and Opinions provide general principles supporting pro-competitive goals and encouraging support for more widespread use of IP technology. In his Report, the Secretary-General underlined the following points:
1) IP-based networks represent a significant new opportunity for the membership of the ITU and are already an important part of the emerging new market environment, in terms of volume of traffic carried and level of investment committed.
2) From a technical perspective, IP-based networks hold the promise of providing multimedia telecommunications services and new applications, merging voice and data. IP may well become the unifying platform for emerging converged networks.
3) From an economic perspective, the use of IP-based networks promises to reduce prices to consumers, and the costs of market entry for operators, especially for long-distance and international calls.
4) From a regulatory perspective, the development of IP telephony is forcing a reassessment of existing telecommunications regulation, which may need to be reviewed in the light of the opportunities opened up, and the challenges posed, by this new technology.
5) IP telephony poses a dilemma for developing countries: on the one hand it offers cheaper prices and lower costs, but it may also undermine the pricing structure of the incumbent public telecommunication operator. The transition to IP-based networks also poses significant human resource development challenges.
Likewise, the first of the four Opinions stated:
a. That IP Telephony applications are best supplied in a market in which consumers have choices among multiple, alternative sources or means to address their needs, because only then will citizens, businesses and the overall economy reap the benefits of innovation and cost effectiveness;
b. That government regulation should aim to foster an effective competitive environment and that regulation may be appropriate where there is market failure or when public interests cannot be adequately met by industry (e.g. universal access and service); for some countries, there may be other reasons for regulators to intervene, for example to ensure the rebalancing of tariffs;
c. That Member States should examine the implications of applying existing regulatory regimes to IP-based services and applications.
The Opinion went on to “invite” Member States to consider the possibility of the introduction and deployment of IP technologies and IP applications, including the exchange of information; to review their current regulatory frameworks with a view to encouraging investment, spurring innovation and advancing development; achieving public policy goals in the context of a converged communication services environment; and considering the possibility of opening their communication services market with respect to IP Telephony by opting a competition-oriented approach in order to achieve clearly defined public policy goals, taking into account, among other things, the concept of technology neutrality for fully-substitutable services
The EU and the U.S. have concluded that IP telephony should not be subject to the same regulatory burdens as traditional telephone service. Imposing the heavy-hand of regulation now would stunt the development of this technology before it reached its potential. As the EU and FCC determined, if IP telephony technology improves to seriously challenge traditional telephone service, then a country can always revisit the question. But now is not the time to regulate this young technology that holds such promise.
The promise Internet telephony offers is to enable people to communicate with others around the country and around the world at affordable rates. Countries would be smarter to not regulate IP telephony and to permit it to develop and provide benefits to the public. People everywhere will benefit most from a policy that enables many users and providers to take advantage of the technological capability offered by the Internet. The policy guidelines embodied by the ITU Report and Opinions provide a framework within which these same goals may be achieved.