US Ambassador hits out at EU telcos' proposals to change rules on voice and data traffic

The US will not support changes to international telecommunications rules proposed by European telcos at a conference in December

The U.S. Ambassador to the European Union on Tuesday told European telecommunications operators why the U.S. will not support their proposals to change a treaty on the handling of international voice, data and video traffic.

The treaty on International Telecommunications Rules (ITRs) will be reviewed at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) in Dubai in December, and lobbying has been intense.

The European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO) has proposed changes to the rules in order to make the sending party network pays. It believes this change is necessary because content providers or over-the-top (OTT) services (so called because they run over the top of telecommunications operators' networks) are responsible for the vast amount of Internet traffic.

However, speaking at the ETNO Summit on Tuesday, Ambassador William Kennard said categorically, "The U.S. will oppose efforts to amend the ITRs." He said that this decision had been a unanimous one, not only within government and the U.S. administration, but also with civil society and U.S. businesses.

"We believe that the current system has worked well in the past and will work in the future. As we say in the U.S., if it's not broken don't fix it. Part of our position is based on the fact that we don't see how the ETNO proposal can work. We think it opens the door to a new approach to terminating traffic on the internet that is simply unworkable," he said.

Termination rates are the charges which one telecommunications operator charges to another for using its network.

ETNO argues that OTT services are getting a "free lunch" over their networks, but are not contributing to network investment. "ETNO is not asking for increased regulatory intervention, but aims to establish a reference for commercial negotiations. ETNO believes that fair compensation is received for carried traffic and operators' revenues should not be disconnected from the investment needs caused by rapid Internet traffic growth," said the organization in a statement.

Kennard also criticized the role of the International Telecommunication Union, the U.N. body responsible for the treaty, saying "compensation systems on the Internet are complex and it is not appropriate for a treaty-based organization to manage them." He added that he appreciated some of the concerns including the "specter of net neutrality", but added "we don't see a tsunami of regulation coming in".

As Kennard commented at the beginning of his speech, ETNO and the European telcos probably won't like what they hear from him.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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