Regional Perspectives at the ITU (#3): The Americas

1 Nov 2018

By Richard Wingfield

In this series of blogposts, we’ve been taking a look at the different regional perspectives at the ITU and how these are manifested through the different regional groupings. In previous posts we have looked at Europe (and CEPT) and Africa (ATU). In this post, we turn to the Americas, and its regional grouping, the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL).

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BACKGROUND

The regional grouping for the entirety of the Americas is CITEL, the Comisión Interamericana de Telecomunicaciones (in English, the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission). An entity of the Organization of American States, it was established in 1923 with the original name of the Inter-American Electrical Communication Commission. It took its present name in 1993, when it also adopted its Statute.

CITEL’s objectives, as set out in this Statute, focus on the development of telecommunications across the region, the provision of assistance to member states on telecommunications systems and networks, and supporting the promotion of technical standards and criteria within the ITU’s framework.

In terms of membership, CITEL has two kinds: full members and associate members. All 35 OAS member states are members of CITEL and are able to fully participate in all activities, meetings and committees of CITEL. Associate membership is open to “any recognized operating agency or scientific or industrial organization, with the approval of the corresponding member state of CITEL”, but the role is limited to participation (without voting rights) in the Permanent Consultative Committees.

As well as a secretariat, CITEL has three bodies: the CITEL Assembly which is a high-level meeting of all member states held every four years; the Permanent Executive Committee (COM/CITEL), the executive organ of CITEL which comprises eleven member states and meets at least once a year to oversee the organisation’s administration; and the Permanent Consultative Committees which provide advice to entities in the “regional telecommunications sector”. There are two PCCs, one focusing on telecommunications and ICTS, and the other on radiocommunications and spectrum.

Within COM/CITEL, there is a Conference Preparatory Working Group to address Regional Preparations for World Conferences and Meetings. It is this working group that leads on coordination of CITEL member states for Plenipot, and is where they discuss positions and agree common proposals (known as either CITEL Common Proposals or Inter-American Proposals (IAPs). As part of COM/CITEL, it is only open to CITEL member states, and not associate members.

As in the other regional groupings, levels of engagement and activity among CITEL’s members varies. However, five members in particular tend to take the lead within the grouping and are particularly influential and active. These are the USA, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina. The USA’s delegation at the 2014 Plenipot was the second largest overall, after the host country, with over 120 members.

 

Motivations and priorities ahead of Plenipot 2018

As with the other regional groupings, CITEL does not make its strategy and priorities for Plenipot public. However, the final report of the CITEL Assembly adopted in March 2018, as well as the IAPs that have been published (see below), do provide some insight as to CITEL’s approach to Plenipot 2018:

1. There is little enthusiasm for any ITU mandate expansion

The IAPs published so far don’t contain any proposals which would lead to any expansion in the mandate of the ITU on the policy issues to which the proposals relate.  Indeed, some – particularly the IAP relating to the ITU’s Resolution on cybersecurity –would trim back the existing mandate. (One possible future exception is on Over the Top (OTT) services, where some CITEL states, including Brazil, have expressed support for regulation, including through the ITU).

CITEL’s lack of interest in ITU mandate expansion may be explained by a desire to keep  work on internet-related policy issues at the national and regional, rather than global, level. Their their 2018-22 Strategic Plan seems to suggest as much, with its decidedly regional focus, and emphasis on exchanging of best practices, rather than standards-setting.

2. Support for multistakeholder participation in policy discussions

The IAP on international internet-related public policy issues proposes greater involvement of different stakeholders in consultations and deliberations at the ITU. This approach is reflected in one of the Resolutions adopted by CITEL at its Assembly in 2018, which notes that “the engagement and active participation of the telecommunications/ICT and other key stakeholders such as civil society, academia and the Internet technical community, greatly contributes to the work of CITEL and favors, inter-alia, the development of regulatory environments that promote competition, investment, entrepreneurship and innovation”. CITEL and its member states are therefore likely to be open to greater involvement of different stakeholders in aspects of the ITU’s work.

 

CITEL’s approach TO specific issues

At its meeting in September 2018, CITEL adopted IAPs proposing amendments to a range of Resolutions, as well as for new Resolutions. Reviewing them illuminates CITEL’s perspective on some of the issues with the most significant implications for human rights which will be discussed at Plenipot.

  • CybersecurityOne of the IAPs proposes significant amendments to Resolution 130, which sets out the ITU’s mandate in relation to cybersecurity. The proposals would change the emphasis of the Resolution from one calling for “action” in relation to cybersecurity concerns, to “coordination”, and would add language calling for the ITU to work “with other organizations and stakeholders”. It would scale back the ITU’s mandate, deleting language stating that “the ITU has a fundamental role to play in building confidence and security in the use of ICTs”, removing requirements for one of the Study Groups to identify best practices in establishing CIRTs, and calling on the ITU to “promote greater awareness of and collaboration” with existing cybersecurity efforts and initiatives, rather than “strengthening the trust and security framework”, which is the current text.
  • Counterfeit devices: CITEL has put forward an IAP proposing amendments to Resolution 188, which relates to counterfeit devices. At the last Plenipot in 2014, when this Resolution was adopted, there were concerns over the original draft (which was subsequently amended), which could have been used to justify government shutdowns of large numbers of mobile devices. The IAP proposes only very minimal changes to the Resolution, notably calling upon member states to “review their regulations” relating to combating counterfeit devices.
  • Internet of Things/Digital object architectureCITEL has also put forward an IAP proposing amendments to Resolution 197 which relates to the Internet of Things (IoT). As in 2014, this will be a key issue discussed at Plenipot. While the IAP does not propose any greater role for the ITU in setting standards on IoT, it does propose that the ITU continue its work on this issue. It supports greater engagement by the ITU in IoT industry forums, standards development organisations and policy development organisations, and also calls upon the R-Sector to continue its work in Study Groups on the technical and operational aspects of radio networks and systems for IoT. Another IAP, summarised above, would delete the reference to digital object architecture in Resolution 188, the only such reference in an ITU Resolution.
  • Internet governance: One of the IAPs proposes amendments to Resolution 102 which looks at international internet-related public policy issues. The proposals do not call for the ITU to play a greater role on such public policy issues, and instead highlight the other bodies that already exist which deal with technical and policy issues related to the internet. They also call for the relevant Council Working Group to expand participation to all ITU Sector members, and to consult with “all interested stakeholders” in its deliberations. Further, the topics themselves would be open for consultation by all stakeholders.
  • Over-the-Top ServicesCITEL has put forward an IAP which would amend Resolution 196 (which focuses on protecting users and consumers) to require the ITU to “establish and maintain updated best practices on the protection of users and consumers of telecommunications/ICT services” with a focus on, among other issues, “protection of personal data”, as well as for the D-Sector “to lead the work on the subject through its Study Groups”. This would be the first reference to personal data within the Resolution, and would create the potential for the D-Sector’s mandate to include setting standards or making recommendations on data protection, which would be of concern to many civil society organisations who feel that the ITU should not be undertaking work on issues related to privacy.

 

Opportunities for civil society engagement

There are very limited opportunities for direct engagement with CITEL, as membership and attendance at meetings is limited to member states and associate members. However, as with other regional groupings, civil society organisations may be able to join national ITU coordination networks or mechanisms, at which CITEL proposals will be discussed, and engage there, indirectly influencing CITEL decisionmaking. Where feasible, civil society organisations may also be able to meet with relevant associate members to discuss issues. This task is made difficult, however, by the lack of any meaningful transparency, with most documentation available only to CITEL members and associate members, and any public documentation only made available after meetings.

On the issues, however, CITEL’s positions largely match those of many civil society organisations. The one exception could be calls for the ITU to engage on the issue of data protection as part of its mandate to protect consumers and users of telecommunications and ICT devices. Otherwise, CITEL member states are by and large likely to be responsive to positions related to ensuring the protection of human rights, and certainly on the need for greater openness, inclusiveness, and transparency at the ITU.