The Thai government must tread carefully in negotiations for a new draft treaty on internet and telecommunications regulations with the UN International Telecommunication Union (ITU), as it could have wide-ranging implications, says the non-profit Internet Society.
The ITU has called for a public consultation on a draft document for new Internet and Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs).
The treaty is expected to be signed at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) meeting in Dubai in early December.
Duangthip Chomprang, the Internet Society's regional affairs manager, said the new ITRs could have a serious effect on many segments of society.
Among the changes being proposed for discussion are amendments dealing with human rights in terms of access to communications; security in the use of information and communications technology (ICT); charging and accounting including taxation, interconnection and interoperability; service quality; and convergence.
The original ITRs were agreed in 1988 and took effect in 1990.
The WCIT meeting in Dubai will be its first review.
Ms Duangthip said the new treaty defines internet service in the same way as telephone service.
"Telecom operators could charge for use just like for telephones," she said.
The change could result in higher expenses for consumers and business operators compared with existing monthly charge or pay-per-online transaction models.
"This could impair e-education, e-learning, tele-healthcare, exports, travel, financial and banking services and e-commerce including e-government. All of these could be frozen or slowed down," said Ms Duangthip.
The new draft stipulates involvement is mandatory and not voluntary as it is now, possibly forcing amendments to laws and regulations in countries.
"Any country disagreeing with this treaty could face sanctions or even have their internet blocked," she said.
Analysts view the latest move as a bid by the telecommunications industry to regulate the internet to compensate for revenue losses caused by consumers switching to data instead of voice.
Global internet penetration is 40%, but for Asia-Pacific the rate is only 25%.
"The key question is: will users accept paying every time they click on the internet?" said Adirake Patitus, head of the Association of the Thai ICT Industry.
Group Capt Anudith Nakornthap, the ICT minister, said the issue is still in the early stages but conceded there is a need for all stakeholders to discuss it before any decision is made.
On June 7, CNet news agency reported the proposal would amend an existing telecommunications treaty by imposing heavy costs on popular websites and their network providers for the privilege of serving non-US users.
European network providers and phone companies have been bitterly complaining about US content-providing companies for some time.
France Telecom, Telecom Italia and the Vodafone Group want to "require content providers like Apple and Google to pay fees linked to usage", Bloomberg reported last December.
The draft of the new ITRs can be found at www.itu.int/en/wcit-12/Documents/draft-future-itrs-public.pdf
About the author
- Writer: Suchit Leesa-nguansuk
Position: Senior Reporter