COVID19 goes viral, the world goes online, finally!
Fame always comes with attention. The Internet has come of age.
The 75th anniversary of the United Nations (UN) in September 2020 was taken online just like the many UN organizations, Intergovernmental (IGO) and International (IO) organizations’ daily work and global meetings (ITU, WTO, OECD, OAS/CITEL, etc.)
Among the organizations that the Government Affairs Department (GAD) at ARIN participates in, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is certainly the one that engages a lot of our team’s time. It is the oldest of the specialized agencies of the UN. The ITU dates back to 1865 when it was formed to coordinate international telegraph communications. The “T” in ITU evolved to include telephone, then to be telecommunications, and today the ITU’s focus is Telecommunications/ICTs. The ITU has three sectors: Radio, Development and T for Telecom Standards.
ITU meetings went online earlier this year with “fully virtual e-meetings.” They use various tools including off the shelf virtual meeting platforms, and a home-grown system called Myworkspace. ITU staff has worked to continuously improve their platform, for example, by adding interpretation and transcription services to the system. These two features in Intergovernmental/International (IGO/IO) organizations are essential to ensure global participation and also accessibility.
It is becoming abundantly clear, though, that many would prefer to meet in person, as time goes by. It’s a fact, even in the technical community, that a great deal of important discussions and negotiations take place in the hallways, during breaks, etc. at meetings, and that’s certainly true at the ITU and other global and regional IGOs/IOs like the UN.
From the Information Society to the Digital Society – from self-regulation to government regulation?
The global work on digital society is scaling back a lot of self-regulation of the early Internet days into formal regulation. This work encompasses anything between digital security and resilience in critical infrastructure and essential services, protecting children online, diversity, inclusivity, and measuring the economic value of data and cross-border data flows, among other subjects. “Roadmap for the Future We Want & UN We Need: A Vision 20/20 for UN75 and Beyond” was the cornerstone of multi-stakeholder talks at UN (16-17 September 2020) that gathered more than 3,000 people online in two days during the UN 75th anniversary. “In an era of accelerated connectivity and advanced technology, the shared aspiration is to forge and realize a roadmap to bring a fresh, modern perspective to the UN Charter’s founding principles to update our vision and promote a truly “people-centered” architecture for global collective action.”1
What this tells us is that the demarcation between what is deemed purely technical and the rest is rapidly blurring, with geopolitical positioning being an ever-stronger part of ‘technical’ discussions and jurisdiction matters becoming more important than ever.
Of note, internationally, new/improved standards are being looked at that touch on the Internet in general. At ITU, coupled with the next World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA2020), the Global Standards Symposiums (GSS)2 are high-level standardization policy debates that explore the evolving dynamics of information and communication technology (ICT) and associated implications for technical standardization. GSS is held at the outset of ITU’s quadrennial WTSA and the 2016 event brought together thought leaders in the standardization sphere to discuss how standards efforts could best integrate the consideration of security, privacy and trust.
The work of creating standards and technical reports of the telecom standards sector of the ITU is done at Study Groups (SGs). All 11 SGs at ITU-T have been convening online meetings and are finishing the work of the 2017 to 2020 four-year cycle. The next step will be to meet at the World Telecommunications Standardization Assembly (WTSA), which has been postponed from November 2020 to next year, 23 February to 5 March 2021. The conference is still scheduled to take place in Hyderabad, India, but could also be transferred to Geneva, Switzerland, subject to international travel advisories. WTSA occurs every four years and its focus is to look at the structure and number of Study Groups, their mandates, and revise or publish new Resolutions. Going into WTSA 2020, one of the Resolutions the ARIN Government Affairs Department keeps a close eye on is Resolution 64 on “Internet protocol address allocation and facilitating the transition to and deployment of IPv6.” The ITU is moving away from the term transition, and instead simply encouraging deployment of IPv6.
Another point of interest has been the work brought to a Focus Group at SG13 on “NewIP”.3 NewIP as its proponents have said, will work in parallel to, and will not replace, IP. Following pushback by some members of the ITU, proponents suggested a name change to “Future Vertical Communication Networks and Protocols.” Discussions are continuing at Study Groups and at the management team level at the Telecommunications Standardization Advisory Group (TSAG) until December 2020. The reasoning is one of better or no latency for IP networks and better security around operational technology going forward.
Another item of importance at other SGs include the discussions on “Human factors related issues for improvement of the quality of life through international telecommunications.” This work is to improve telecommunications for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) including those who have short- or long-term physical, sensory, cognitive or psychosocial impairments. In times of online work, inclusive interaction is needed to have full and effective participation in society on an equal basis.
A lot more work is also being done around OTTs. OTT means over the top (SMS text messages were an OTT). Another example of an OTT is VOIP (Voice over IP). The global community stopped short of defining OTTs at the ITU Plenipotentiary meeting in 2018, but one Study Group is looking at quality of service with OTTs, and taxation of OTTs.
On Privacy/Data Protection
Globally, taxation has become a subject of scrutiny at all levels, but particularly at OTT level and the chain of actors in the digital economy as governments are looking at places where to find money in these dire times. Leading work is being done at the OECD where an internationally agreed on framework is forecasted for 2021.4
At OECD again, the 2013 revised “Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data,” that were the first internationally agreed upon set of privacy principles, remain a practical guideline that countries are looking at in the framework of global, regional and national discussions on data protection. We see a lot of countries even in our region, leaning towards the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), or stricter regulation anyway.
The future without a looking glass
Increasing regulation in the areas of standardization and privacy are just two examples of what is awaiting the traditional technical community in the global talks around the digital society. ARIN and its community need to be part of the global, regional, and national discussions.
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