itu-processes:overview

Engagement at International Telecommunication Union processes

The roots of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) date back as far as 1865 as a venue for consensus-building on standards for wireless communications which addressed both devices and frequency use. In 1947, a decision was made to bring the ITU into the newly created United Nations, recognising it as the specialized agency for telecommunications. As of 2016, the ITU Constitution and Convention has 193 state parties, which includes 192 United Nations member states plus the Holy See. The ITU also has over 700 Sector Members and Associates from industry, international and regional organizations, as well as academia. While sector member do not have voting privileges, the larger sector members from industry do wield considerable influence.

The ITU is governed by the Plenipotentiary Conference and the Administrative Council. The ITU is further divided into three sectors:

  • Radiocommunication (ITU-R). ITU-R exists to broker consensus and develop standards in the use of space and terrestrial wireless communication. It works to achieve agreement among all UN Member States on the allocation of radio-frequency spectrum bands for specific uses and in satellite orbital slots, dealing with a range of services including fixed, mobile, broadcasting, amateur, space research, meteorology, GPS, monitoring and communication.
  • Development (ITU-D). ITU-D’s mission is to foster international cooperation on telecommunication and ICT development issues as well as to build human and institutional capacity. ITU-D works to expand telecommunications infrastructure in developing nations throughout the world which make up the majority of member countries.
  • Standards (ITU-T). ITU-T works to broker consensus in non-wireless telecommunications standards which range from video and audio compression standards to fibre optic infrastructure protocols. It collaborates with a range of other standards bodies around the world.

Future addition: describe a bit more about the different Regional Groups (CITEL, ATU) and their relation to all these processes.

Future addition: describe a bit more the role of the regional offices.

In this section of the wiki, a description of different International Telecommunication Union (ITU) processes and conferences, and interrelation, as well as the contributions from different stakeholders to leverage them to create an enabling environment for community networks is included.

Note that for accessing some of the documents linked in this section, a certain type of access from ITU, named TIES, is required. TIES access is granted to member states, and sector members of the ITU, such as APC. If interested to engage further on these topics, and get TIES access, please send an email to itu@apc.org

The Plenipotentiary Conference is the supreme organ of the Union. It is the decision making body which determines the direction of the Union and its activities. It meets every four years in order to set the Union’s general policies.

At the Plenipotentiary Conference in 2018 (PP-18), community networks became a hot topic for debate, as the Americas region delegation brought forward a proposal for a resolution in their support, that was eventually rejected.

Future addition: describe a bit more what happened at PP18 itself, as well as the process at the different regional preparatory meetings that led to that resolution being proposed.

The Council acts as the Union’s governing body in the interval between Plenipotentiary Conferences, meeting twice a year. Its role is to consider broad telecommunication policy issues to ensure that the Union's activities, policies and strategies fully respond to today's dynamic, rapidly changing telecommunications environment.

ITU Council also prepares a report on the policy and strategic planning of the ITU and responsible for ensuring the smooth day-to-day running of the Union, coordinating work programmes, approving budgets and controlling finances and expenditure.

The Council also takes all steps to facilitate the implementation of the provisions of the ITU Constitution, the ITU Convention, the Administrative Regulations (International Telecommunications Regulations and Radio Regulations), and the decisions of Plenipotentiary Conferences and; where appropriate, the decisions of other conferences and meetings of the Union.

From the point of view of spectrum management, the World Radio Conference (WRC) which is organised by ITU-R and which also happens every four years, is the principal decision-making event related to the allocation of radio spectrum frequencies to specific purposes and use. The outcome of the WRC is the ITU Radio Regulations which is a binding international treaty governing the use of the radio spectrum. Preparations for WRCs typically begin years before the event, with countries working through study groups to develop positions to be agreed on specific issues at the event. Most countries and regions hold their own preparatory process to prepare for each WRC. This is a political process that requires significant investment of time and resources to engage in.

The treaty nature of the Radio Regulations is complex, as the ITU constitution also recognises “the sovereign right of each State to regulate its telecommunication” 1). Ultimately countries can do what they like with radio spectrum but mostly they find it useful to agree on international standards, especially given the dependence on multinational manufacturers. It is relevant to note that many countries also coordinate their border communications in order to avoid interference with their neighbours.

To date it has been really challenging for community networks supporting groups to influence this process in any meaningful way.

The World Telecommunications Development Conference (WTDC) is the main ITU-D conference, and it is organized in the period between two Plenipotentiary Conferences to consider topics, projects and programmes relevant to telecommunication development. WTDCs set the strategies and objectives for the development of telecommunication/ICT, providing future direction and guidance to the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D).

During WTDC-14, thanks to the work from colleagues from Rhizomatica and Redes, the biggest achievement for community networks to date at an ITU process took place with the adoption of Recommendation 19 Download Document., which includes the following:

10. that it is important to consider small and non-profit community operators, through appropriate regulatory measures that allow them to access basic infrastructure on fair terms, in order to provide broadband connectivity to users in rural and remote areas, taking advantage of technological advances;
11. that it is also important that administrations, in their radio-spectrum planning and licensing activities, consider mechanisms to facilitate the deployment of broadband services in rural and remote areas by small and non-profit community operators;

During WTDC-17 which took place in Buenos Aires 2), a global resolution in favour of community networks proposed, but it did not passed.

As part of the Regional Initiatives, “AMS3: Deployment of broadband infrastructure, especially in rural and neglected areas, and strengthening of broadband access to services and applications” was passed. This, in turn, led to decisions within CCP.I which have contributed significantly to the implementation of Recommendation 19 in the Americas Region. More info here

The next one WTDC is scheduled to take place in Addis Ababa from 8-19 November 2021 3), and regional preparatory meetings (RPM) are starting to take place.

Asia- Pacific RPM

The first RPM for Asia took place on the 9-10 March 2021 online. All documents from the meeting can be found here 4). Community networks were not featured as part of the submissions and the discussions. Some points of entry could be around the huge rural gap in the region as identified in the report “Digital Trends in Asia 2021” presented by the Telecommunication Development Bureau: “only 37 per cent of rural households had access to the Internet in 2019, compared with almost twice this figure (70.4 per cent) of urban households”. Download Document.

In terms of the Regional priorities for Asia Download Document., some room for action could be within “ASP3 - Fostering development of infrastructure to enhance digital connectivity and connecting the unconnected)”. This seems to be an evolution of the ASP3 they included in the Buenos Aires Action Plan (ASP3 - Fostering development of infrastructure to enhance digital connectivity) and where activities related to bridging the connectivity divide took place. Download Document. Those ASP3 activities were included in the impact report from the Buenos Aires Action Plan as part of a similar Expected Result to the one included in the Regional Priorities for 2022-2025, namely:

Review and revise, if necessary, existing national broadband objectives and enhance capacity to develop and implement national broadband plans (including support to study the status of national broadband networks and international connectivity) in order to provide broadband access to unserved and underserved areas; promote affordable access, especially for youth, women, indigenous peoples and children; select appropriate technologies; develop and use universal service funds effectively; and develop business models that are financially and operationally sustainable.

Africa RPM

The first RPM for Africa took place on the 29-30 March 2021 online. All documents from the meeting can be found here 5). Community Networks were mentioned in different documents and discussions:

  • The report “Digital Trends in Africa 2021” presented by the Telecommunication Development Bureau Download Document., includes within “Box 6: Possible consideration for the Africa region to address affordability and meaningful connectivity” the following text:
Review universal service fund (USF) models and approaches, including exploring new community network access models and public community access points (Wi-Fi hubs) for underserved and rural communities.
  • The submission from Ethiopia, with title “Connecting rural communities, a priority for Africa”, suggests “that the WTDC discusses complementary ways to connect rural areas, including the development of non-commercial services such as community networks and National Research and Education Networks (NRENs). Download Document.
  • The submission from the Internet Society titled “Expanding Internet access to remote and rural areas” focused on the benefits of community networks in the region. Download Document.
  • Those two submissions led to interventions from the floor that were captured in the minutes (available here: ) inviting ISOC to the working group discussing the Regional Priorities for the next cycle to explore how they could they be included. Download Minutes and Download Chairman Report.

The Regional Priorities that were agreed as part of this meeting can be found here: Download Document.. The only clear space for community networks is within “AFR2: Implementation and expansion of broadband infrastructures, connectivity and emerging technologies” and specifically as part of Expected Result:

Provide support and share best practices on national broadband strategies and strengthen capacity development, implement and monitor national broadband plans to use universal service funds effectively and develop financial and operational sustainable business models in order to provide affordable broadband access to unserved and underserved areas.

Americas RPM

The first RPM for America took place on the 26-27 April 2021 online. All documents from the meeting can be found here 6). Community Networks were mentioned in different documents and discussions, and more importantly they were included as part of two Expected Results within the Regional Priorities Download Document.. In particular within:

  • AMS1: Deployment of modern, resilient, secure and sustainable telecommunication/ICT infrastructure
Expected result: Assistance in the design, funding and implementation of national, regional and sub-regional broadband plans and resilient networks, including support to community networks, with special attention to indigenous communities, underserved and unserved areas, critical environment areas and vulnerable populations, taking into account innovative connectivity solutions that can be locally deployed and managed, including access to spectrum and high-speed networks;
  • AMS-4 - Development of enabling policy and regulatory environments to connect the unconnected through accessible and affordable telecommunications/ICTs that support the achievement of SDGs and the progress towards the digital economy.
Expected result: Support for Member States in the implementation of policy and regulatory strategies to connect the unconnected with a focus on affordability, including support of small operators and community networks;

This is the main ITU-T conference. The World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly is held every four years and defines the next period of study for ITU-T. WTSA-20 will take place in ​Hyderabad, India, 23 February to 5 March 2021​ preceded by the Global Standards Symposium on 22 February 2021 7).

Very little relation has been found in between this process and creating an enabling environment for Community Networks.

There are different Working Groups set up to provide input to the ITU Council in different matters. In the last last Council Group (February, 2020) meeting four appeared to be active 8):

  • Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet)
  • Council working group on Child Online Protection (WG-CP)
  • Council Working Group on WSIS (WG-WSIS)
  • Council Working Group on Financial and Human Resources (CWG-FHR)

The participation in those working groups varies and some are for Members States (MS) only, others allow for the participation of Sector Members (too).

CWG-Internet is limited to Member States, but they hold an open consultation to all stakeholders. This poses one of the few opportunities for Civil Society Organizations that are not Sector Members of the ITU to present their views to the ITU Council. In most other ITU’s consultations, organizations such as the Association for Progressive Communications and the Internet Society, both with Sector Member status do their best to bring the voice of the Civil Society in general, and of community networks in particular to these spaces.

In particular, CWG-Internet is tasked to identify, study and develop matters related to international Internet-related public policy issues and to disseminate its outputs throughout ITU's membership, as well as to report annually to the Council on activities undertaken on these subjects 9). More on the mandate of this Council Group can be found here 10).

13th Session CWG-Internet

The 13th Session of the ITU Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet) decided on 20 September 2019 to hold an open consultation (online and physical) on “International internet-related public policy issues on harnessing new and emerging telecommunications/ICTs for sustainable development11). All contributions are available here 12).

The contribution from the Association for Progressive Communications made a link between this topic and community connectivity.

14th Session CWG-Internet

In that very same meeting on 20 September 2019 it was also decided to focus the 14th session of the CWG-Internet on “Expanding internet connectivity13). Additionally, among the three questions in the consultation 14), there is one directly requesting input on community networks: “How can small/community/non-profit operators help in promoting the increase of Internet connectivity?”. This poses an unique opportunity to showcase directly to the Council the work done by different community networks around the world.

The Deadline was the 15th December 2020, and some contributions are already available here 15), including the one from the Association for Progressive Communications Download.

The virtual meeting to discuss the submissions was held on the 25th January, and all the documents are available here (https://www.itu.int/en/council/cwg-internet/Pages/open-consultations.aspx) including the webcast. The summary of the Chairman includes very valuable points for community networks advocacy Download:

4.4 A number of policy issues related to expanding Internet connectivity were highlighted, including affordability, security and user trust, digital skills and capacity development, competition and innovation (including complementary access solutions such as community networks), investment, infrastructure, and spectrum management.
4.5 There was general consensus that a robust enabling environment is key to foster investment in the infrastructure, products and services that are critical to bridging the gaps in connectivity and affordable Internet access. Stakeholders are invited to share and to implement as appropriate good practices in innovative and complementary access solutions that have been implemented in various regions, countries and local environments as a way to enhance connectivity.
4.6 There was also consensus that there is a need for greater multi-stakeholder action and a closer cooperation between the different stakeholders involved. Specific examples of how governments could facilitate better collaboration with the private sector, small/community/non-profit operators, and civil society were highlighted. The important role of the ITU in connecting the unconnected was recognized by the participants.

15th session CWG-Internet

The topic for the 15th session has already been decided: “The role of the Internet and international Internet-related public policy in mitigating the impact of COVID-19 and possible future pandemics” and the ITU is expecting submissions by the 20th August. More information is available here 16)

ITU-D Study Groups provide an opportunity for all Member States and Sector Members (including Associates and Academia) to share experiences, present ideas, exchange views, and achieve consensus on appropriate strategies to address ICT priorities 17). ITU-D Study Groups are responsible for developing Reports, Guidelines, and Recommendations based on input received from the membership. Information is gathered through surveys, contributions and case studies and is made available for easy access by the membership using content management and web publication tools. The Study Groups examine specific task-oriented telecommunication/ICT questions of priority to developing countries, to support them in achieving their development goals.

Outputs agreed on in the ITU-D Study Groups, and related reference material, are used as input for the implementation of policies, strategies, projects and special initiatives in Member States. These activities also serve to strengthen the shared knowledge base of the membership. Sharing of topics of common interest is carried out through face-to-face meetings, online e-Forum and remote participation in an atmosphere that encourages open debate and exchange of information and for receiving input from experts on the topics under study.

There are two Study Groups, which are structured around working groups focusing on certain areas clustered around a give “Question” or topic of interest. A full list of the Questions is available here 18). But mainly two “Questions” in Study Group 1: “Enabling environment for the development of telecommunications/ICTs” are of interest for the work of community networks (See below). Each Question working group meets twice a year, during the years between two WTDC, and the reports from each question inform the WTDC discussions.

  • ITU-D contribution to the February 2020 session, ITU Last Mile Connectivity Guidelines, is full of references to community networks 19).
  • APC's contribution to the September 2020 session contained an earlier version of the “Expanding the Telecommunications Operators Ecosystem: Policy and Regulatory Guidelines to Enable Local Operators” report20).
  • ISOC, in collaboration with APC, Article 19 and IBE Brazil, made a contribution to September 2020 session, entitled “Creating an Enabling Regulatory Environment for Community Networks21)
  • APC, in collaboration with Article 19, made a contribution entitled “Economic and social development enabled by complementary connectivity approaches” to the September 2019 Session 22). Download Contribution
  • APC made a contribution entitled “The Role of Community Networks as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic” to the the September 2020 Session 23). Download Contribution.
  • ISOC submitted to Q5/1 the same submission it made to Q1/1 to the September 2020 session.
  • The Annual Deliverable 2019-2020 from ITU-D Study Groups Question 5/124) includes “the following recommendations can be made for now: […] Ease regulatory requirements for community network operators”.
  • In the “Working document - Draft Final Report for ITU-D Question 5/1” presented at the September 2020 session 25), the document contained several references to Community Networks, in particular:
    • Section “6.2 - Community Networks and village connectivity”,
    • Section “6.4 - Strategies to promote small, non-profit community operators”, and
    • Section “9.2 - Recommendations”, that contains the following text: “It is important for an optimum mix of licensing models should be used for connecting rural and remote areas. The mix can include […] the community network model, where small and medium operators are run by local entrepreneurs or cooperation or groups
  • Brazil's delegation submission to September 2019 also mentioned community networks 26)
  • Côte d'Ivoire submission to the September 2019 meeting 27) highlights the Lomé (Togo) workshop organized by the West African Regulators Association (WATRA), APC and ISOC from 26 to 28 June 2019, where policy makers and Telecommunication/ICT Regulatory Authorities, discussed the need to consider community networks as a viable form of connectivity. The participants at this workshop call for reflection at the international level through the ITU for a more global response to this concept.

The purpose of the World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum (WTPF) is to provide a venue for exchanging views and information and thereby creating a shared vision among policy-makers worldwide on the issues arising from the emergence of new telecommunication/ICT services and technologies, and to consider any other policy issue in telecommunications/ICTs which would benefit from a global exchange of views, in addition to the adoption of opinions reflecting common viewpoints.

Since the creation of the Forum, there has been 5 instances, with a period among them that does not quite follow a pattern. At the last Plenipotentiary Conference it was agreed to hold a 6th one scheduled to take place in 2021 28).

Each Forum is preceded by a series of preparatory meetings where member states and sector members can comment on the Report by the Secretary General, as well as on the Opinion Documents to each of the topics for reflection. The draft opinions are submitted by the member states. They are intended as policy recommendations, in contrast to the report, which is used to frame the questions for the WTPF. Once finalized, these are discussed at the Forum with the intent of reaching consensus such that they can be released as the policy outcome of the WTPF.

By Decision 611​, the 2019 Session of ITU Council decided that the theme for WTPF-21 will be “Policies for mobilizing new and emerging telecommunications/ICTs for sustainable development” and that the WTPF-21 would discuss how new and emerging digital technologies and trends are enablers of the global transition to the digital economy. Themes for consideration would include AI, IoT, 5G, Big Data, OTTs etc. and focus on opportunities, challenges and policies to foster sustainable development.​

Different stakeholders have been engaging on the preparatory meetings since the beginning of the process, making contributions to the draft report by the Secretary General:

  • APC made a submission entitled “Mobilizing New Solutions for Connectivity and Community Networks” to the third draft of the report. Download Document.
  • ISOC made also a submission in support of Community Networks to the third draft of the report. Download Document.
  • APC made a submission supporting Community Networks in the report to the first draft of the report. Download Document.

The report is in its final stages with only final edits to be added to it. So far, APC edits were successful as they were enabled under the rebrik of “complementary access solutions”. Including more specific language will involve continued push, but room has been made to accommodate them in the Opinions as instances of new solutions.

Since 2000, the Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) brings together heads of national telecom/ICT regulatory authorities from around the world and has earned a reputation as the global annual venue for regulators to share their views and experiences on the most pressing regulatory issues they have identified.

During GSR-2019 29) community networks were discussed as part of two sessions in the program 30):

  • From first Mile to Last Mile - thinking out of the box
  • Connectivity for all: Do the basics still apply?

Somehow disappointedly given the attention all other ITU processes had give to Community Networks during 2020, and even GSR itself during 2019, GSR-2020 didn't quite discuss it during it's virtual session 31).

  • APC made a contribution to it's public consultation prior to the event to try to include Local Operators as part of the discussion 32).

The Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL) is an entity of the Organization of American States. Contributing to the region's economic and social development is the objective of all elements of the work of CITEL, whether it is coordinating the rules needed to facilitate infrastructure deployment and telecommunication service delivery; harmonization of the radio frequency spectrum to reduce the cost of providing wireless services; information and communication technology (ICT) training; or helping countries devise telecommunication development strategies 33)

Most of the progress at the regional and international level has taken place through engagements at PCC.I. For instance the resolutions proposed at both WTDC-17 and PP-18. Although those were not passed, other progress has taken place thanks to this engagement:

  • Structures within PCC.I. The names and objectives of the Rapporteurships were modified during one of the PCC.I meetings attended. As part of this, we were successful in adding a specific term of reference on community networks in Rapporteurship 1.4., which is the Rapporteurship on “Broadband, universal access, digital inclusion and gender equality”. The term of reference states as follows: “b) Encourage the study, creation, and strengthening of public policies, regulatory frameworks and incentives conducive to new service mechanisms in non-served or under-served areas, particularly in rural areas involving the participation of indigenous peoples, other peoples, community operators, non-profit operators, and small operators.
  • Operationalizing Initiatives for the Americas Region agreed at WTDC-17: Decision PCC.I/DEC. 274 (XXXI-17) from CITEL which resolved to send member states a survey about “The implementation of Recommendation 19 from ITU-D for the Americas Region”. Karla Velasco was appointed in charge of carrying out this task. The results of the survey were presented at the meeting in Washington DC in August 2018 34). More details can be found elsewhere 35).

The IACHR is a principal and autonomous organ of the Organization of American States (“OAS”) whose mission is to promote and protect human rights in the American hemisphere. It is composed of seven independent members who serve in a personal capacity. Created by the OAS in 1959, the Commission has its headquarters in Washington, D.C. Together with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (“the Court” or “the I/A Court H.R.), installed in 1979, the Commission is one of the institutions within the inter-American system for the protection of human rights (“IAHRS”).

In the framework of the Coordination and Timely and Integrated Response to the crisis related to the COVID-19 pandemic (SACROI COVID-19) and in collaboration with its Special Rapporteurships on Freedom of Expression (RELE) and on Economic, Social, Cultural and Environmental Rights (REDESCA) published the third edition of the series of practical guides that address issues related to human rights in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of this process, the IACHR published on 26 March 2021 Guide No. 3 How to Promote Universal Access to the Internet during the COVID-19 Pandemic36).

Among other things, on page 9 the guide proposes temporary and short-term measures to be adopted by states should include:

  • Actively promoting use of the spectrum and facilitating licenses for the deployment of local and community networks;

and

  • Working to expand and improve coverage collaboratively with both small operators and community networks.

1)
Constitution Of The International Telecommunication Union https://www.itu.int/council/pd/constitution.html
34)
K. Velasco, “Informe de la Relatoria que acompaña a las respuestas del cuestionario sobre la implementación de la Recomendación UIT-D 19 para la Región de las Ámericas”, 33 Reunión del Comité Consutivo Permanente 1: Telecomunicaciones/Tecnologías de la Información y la Comunicatión, 20-24 August 2018, Washington D.C., USA. Available at: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CY0lxkELwrzjaP-mcaSgt1TBKdJ0Z0MB/view
35)
REDES AC, “Marco jurídico par las redes comunitatiras en América Latina”. Available at: https://www.redesac.org.mx/regulacion
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