MANILA, Philippines — The newly enacted Cybercrime Prevention Act may just be the tip of the iceberg as an upcoming meeting called by a United Nations (UN) body could impose more government control over the Internet, various industry groups warned recently.
The December treaty conference in Dubai, called by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), seeks to amend the Internet Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) document, which dictates how telecom networks around the world operate.
Last updated in 1988 back when the Internet was just beginning to take shape, the ITRs will reportedly be changed to include the Internet in the ITU’s scope of work, aside from its usual telecommunications regulatory mandate.
This change could be problematic, according to Rajinesh Singh, regional director for Asia Pacific at the Internet Society (ISOC), since it could jack up Internet prices in developing countries and promote censorship in others.
Among the proposed changes to the ITRs include a change in the system that would mandate content owners to pay additional fees to telecom operators for delivering their content to users.
“This could broaden the digital divide,” Singh, who was invited by the Infocomm Technology Association of the Philippines (ITAP) to speak on the matter locally, said.
Unlike the current regulatory regime of the Internet where content flows freely across networks and users merely pay for access, the proposed measures could actually lead to fragmentation of content over the Internet.
YouTube, for example, would be required to pay fees to telco operators to bring video streaming services to users. This is the operators’ response to quickly declining revenues brought by the popularity of “over-the-top players” such as Facebook and YouTube, Singh claimed.
“This will disenfranchise the global Internet user community as, again, it’s likely to be the developing countries who may not have access to such content,” he stressed.
Other proposals are more economically driven, while some authoritarian states have also put out proposals that are political in nature and espouse very heavy views on censorship.
No more level playing field
But the proposed measures are actually more far-reaching than it looks. According to ITAP President Dondi Mapa, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) stand to lose the most, especially those whose businesses rely heavily on Internet access.
“One of the significant implications to SMEs is the increase of Internet access to cost, as some of the proposals may require a system wherein users will pay more for traffic,” Mapa explained.
Currently, traffic over the Internet provides everyone with a level playing field as it flows through unregulated commercial arrangements. This provides a small business in the Philippines, for example, to have equal access to the global marketplace as a firm in California.
But should the proposed measures be included in the amended ITRs, Mapa said it could spell doom for the burgeoning e-Commerce industry in the Philippines, which is only starting to take off.
“The point of regulation is to keep costs down, not up.” Mapa pointed out. “The point is to make sure people get the best of whatever technology, or the Internet, that they can.”
The ITU is set to vote on changes in the ITRs on December 3 to 14 in Dubai. 193 member-nations of the ITU will decide and get one vote each.
The Philippines will be represented in the ITU either by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) or the Information and Communications Technology Office (ICTO). Officials from both agencies said they are already starting to go on a series of meetings to come up with a consensus about the government’s position to the proposed amendments.
ICTO Executive Director Usec. Louis Casambre, speaking during the panel discussion, said the Philippines should anchor its position on “economic development.”
“Let us also recognize that it’s not only users, but also private industries, which will be affected,” he stressed.
The ICTO is said to be forming the National ICT Advisory Council, an 11-member group composed of the ICTO and multi-sectoral stakeholders, to tackle the Philippines’ position on the ITR amendments.