Here is the un-edited version. The Editor, stripped off all the technical jargon from the published version – as usual
. But am sure this forum can soak in the slight tech-jargon. walu. ####### World Conference on International Telecommunications – Did Kenya Win or Lose? As Kenyans focused locally on political coalitions, marriages and divorces, governments convened and concluded a meeting in Dubai known as the World Conference on International Telecommunications, 2012 (WCIT, pronounced “weakit”). Governments were revising a 1982 Treaty which describes how International Telecommunication services will be governed over the next one to two decades. Historically, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) was founded in Paris in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union and took its present name in 1932, and by 1947 it had became a specialized agency of the United Nations in charge of Telecommunications. ITUs role was best appreciated in 1970s through the 1980s & 1990s when Telco companies were largely government owned and by extension, the same governments as members of ITU would make binding decisions on how these telecommunication companies (e.g. the defunct Kenya Posts & Telecommunication Companies, KPTC) would interconnect internationally to others. ITU would therefore define the technical standards and protocols for the interconnection as well as how the various Telcos would settle the international charges arising from the telecommunication traffic exchanged. Basically this meant that when a telephone call was made from London to Nairobi, it would mainly be originated by the government owned British Telecoms (BT) and would terminate onto the government owned KPTC network. The originator of the call, BT would then pay KPTC for terminating the call according to the widely cited “Sender-Pays” model. Needless to say, KPTC and other Telcos in developing countries made billions of shillings in this arrangement simply because there were more calls originating from abroad and terminating locally as compared to those originated locally and terminated abroad. This meant that developing countries were the Net beneficiaries of this charging and accounting arrangement. So what has changed? The simple answer is the Internet. The Internet has changed the rules of the game. Majority of todays telephone calls, Voice over the Internet Protocol (VoIP) are carried over the Internet instead of the traditional, ITU defined protocols that carried Voice communications. Biggest example ofcourse is “Skype”, which boasts of close to a billion registered users who make international voice calls – without following the “Sender-Pays” model. The pay structure for the Internet based applications is based on the “Bill and Keep” model whereby the ISPs charge users for local Usage while they look for a foreign ISP to terminate their traffic preferably for free (Peering Agreement) or at minimum fee (Transit Agreement). The crux of the matter is that these Peering and Transit agreements are negotiated and made privately between various ISPs and OUTSIDE the realm of ITU and its membership. Since membership of ITU is made up of Governments, one can begin to see how the battle lines become clear. One one hand, you have Developing Countries/Governments largely fronting for their Telecommunication Companies who have since lost a huge chunk of their revenues because the money they used collect when voice traffic was not Internet based has dried up. On the other hand, you have Developed Countries/Governments fronting for Internet based companies who are making billions by transmitting Voice communication over the Internet without due regard to “Sender-pays” arrangements. Everything was going as planned until one of the developing countries, Kenya, declined to sign the Telecommunication Treaty. It was immediately lumped together with the US and Europeans and celebrated as the beacon of light in an otherwise group of developing countries bent on controlling and stifling the Internet. In the same breath, African countries demonised Kenya for failing to stand up for a chance to restore billions of shillings that used to be collected by the Telcos during “Sender-pays” models. Did Kenya win or lose at the WCIT -2012? Only time will tell, but for now, one can say that Kenya may have won a battle for the Internet community, but may have lost the war – in as far as the regional, geo-political dimensions are concerned.
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