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Ghana signs new ITRs in Dubai

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

Ghana has signed the final Acts of the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) of the World Conference of International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) in Dubai, UAE at the end of a highly polarised conference of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

The new global treaty is designed to facilitate international interconnection and interoperability of information and communication services, as well as ensure their efficiency and widespread public usefulness and availability with commitment to adherence to fundamental Human Rights.

It was a landmark conference designed to review the ITRs which were last adopted in 1988 in Melbourne, Australia to reflect global technology developments since 1988 and incorporate the principles of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) signed by all Heads of State and Government in 2003.

The Minister of Communications, Mr Haruna Iddrisu, who is leading Ghana’s delegation supported the United States of America (USA) to include in the preamble, the call on Member States to affirm their commitment to implement the regulations in a manner that respects and upholds their human rights obligations.

In signing the final Acts, the delegation of Ghana led by the Minister of Communications also deposited a Declaration reserving the right of the Government of Ghana to take any action in conformity with its constitution, the laws and international commitments it may consider necessary or useful for purposes of protecting and safeguarding its national rights and interests.

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Notwithstanding the elaborate and extensive consultations undertaken in the five ITU regions, the conference was split over the treatment of the internet.

While the USA and some European countries would not want the inclusion of the internet in the regulations, the developing countries insisted to the contrary, as the era of convergence necessitated the use of common platforms to deliver both voice and data.

Earlier, the Secretary General of ITU, Mr Hamadoun Toure, had reiterated on the closing day of the conference that the ITRs were not about governing the internet.

He noted that the new ITR treaty did not cover content issues as explicitly stated in the first article.

Dr Toure said the regulations were to establish general principles which were related to the provision and operation of international telecommunication services offered to the public as well as to the underlying international telecommunication transport means used to provide such services, adding that “these regulations do not address the content-related aspects of telecommunications.”

During the debate the African countries were united in their demand for the treaty to address issues of development and unfettered access to ICT services in an open and transparent manner.

This position was also supported by other developing countries who recognised that the earlier treaty was drawn up without representation of the developing world and therefore did not adequately provide for issues of universal access.

In the organisation of the conference, Ghana, representing Africa, had the honour of chairing Committee Five of the conference that handled the core issues taking into account the studies carried out during the preparatory process as presented in the final report of the preparatory process conveyed by the Secretary-General to the Member States and submitted to the Conference (WCIT-12/4), to take appropriate action with respect to the following items, which constitute the agenda of Committee Five.

The key achievements of the conference have been the agreements reached on: international mobile roaming with new provisions to benefit consumers; accounting rate principles, collection charges, taxation and international telecommunications service arrangements subject to applicable national laws; fostering an enabling environment for the greater growth of the internet and unsolicited bulk electronic communications (spam), and call on countries to take measures to prevent its propagation.

Others include; accessibility, promoting access for persons with disabilities to international telecommunication services; security and robustness of networks; globally harmonised national number for access to emergency services, and periodic review of the ITRs.

Ghana successfully introduced the new resolution drawing attention to the need to review the ITRs on a more regular basis than hitherto.

It also contributed to the resolution on Energy Efficiency/e-Waste imploring member states to adopt best practices taking into account the relevant ITU-T Recommendations.

The conference ended on Friday 14 December 2012 with more than three quarters of the member states signing the Treaty while the US and some other countries deferred signing until after consultations with their governments.

Story: Charles Benoni Okine