Canadians help reach agreement on telecommunication regulations

by Liz Edwards


Negotiating efforts by Canadian delegates at the World Administrative Telegraph and Telephone Conference (WATTC) in Melbourne, Australia helped to convince more than 100 countries to sign a treaty updating international telecommunication regulations.


Canadian representatives, including three departmental employees, successfully persuaded member countries of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to compromise their demands and sign the treaty, says Ken Yokoyama, Officer in the Multilateral Telecommunications Division, International Relations Branch.


"Canada was looked upon by other countries as a fair broker at this conference," says Yokoyama. "We tried to come up with an agreement that was equitable and flexible enough to accommodate the different nations."


Delegates at the 10-day conference held last December disagreed with many aspects of the draft treaty, including what services should be regulated and to what extent. "There were two opposite views. Some of the European and third world countries want everything to be regulated, from basic services like telephones to enhanced services such as electronic mail," says Yokoyama. "The other side, largely headed by the United States, believes international or national telecommunications will flourish if there are no regulations."


Difficult areas of the treaty were debated and changed during the conference. The nations began to reach a consensus after Canadian representatives pro­posed only basic services should be regulated, and technical requirements of enhanced services be minimally controlled.


"Our approach to the problem was generally viewed as fair and unbiased," says Yokoyama. "Through further negotiations, we managed to find a common ground that would accommodate everyone to some extent."


The treaty, which comes into force July 1, 1990, replaces a set of regulations agreed to in 1973. Because of the number of changes in the telecommuni­cations environment, ITU members decided the 1973 agreement needed updating to regulate technology and services into the twenty-first century.


"The new agreement is flexible because it is open to interpretation," Yokoyama adds. "We knew that if we came up with hard and fast rules we would get nowhere. You have to build in a bit of `creative ambiguity' in some areas to create flexibility."


The conference's success bodes well for the ITU's Plenipotentiary Conference next month in Nice, France, which will decide how the ITU should adapt itself to meet the challenges of the 1990s.


"If we had failed in Melbourne," says Yokoyama, "how could we succeed in Nice?"


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