European Broadcasting Union

Acronym: EBU

Address: L'Ancienne-Route 17A, Postal Box 45, 1218 Le Grand-Saconnex / Geneva, Switzerland

Website: https://ebu.ch

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The European Broadcasting Union (EBU) is the world’s leading alliance of public service media. Established in 1950, the organisation is a successor to the International Broadcasting Union (IBU), which was founded in 1925. The EBU consists of 116 member organisations from 56 countries and its aim is to secure a sustainable future for public service media and help them keep up with technological developments. The organisation operates the Eurovision and Euroradio services

Digital Activities 

The EBU supports digital transformation among its members through capacity development, promoting and making use of digital channels, raising awareness of cybersecurity risks, and leveraging the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) and data. Through its Digital Transformation Initiative, the EBU aims to help its members understand the challenges and opportunities posed by the digital age and transform their organisations accordingly.

Digital policy issues

Telecommunications infrastructure 

In addition to traditional broadcasting networks – terrestrial, cable, or satellite – media service providers are starting to use content delivery networks (CDNs) to ensure an increased quality of experience (QoE) for their users. In this context, the EBU has set up a Project Group to investigate requirements for a multi-CDN environment (a technical infrastructure able to switch between different connected CDNs dynamically). This Project Group is also looking into the use of big data analytics to monitor QoE. In addition, the EBU maintains its Strategic Programme on Spectrum Management and Regulation, which is focused on helping members work together to ensure that the radio spectrum is efficiently managed and used.

Following the COVID-19 outbreak, the EBU issued a recommendation to help public service media organisations avoid potential internet congestion caused by greater media consumption and by increased reliance on online collaboration tools.

Digital standards 

Since its inception in 1950, the EBU has been mandated by its members to contribute to standardisation work in all technological fields related to media. This work ranges from TV and radio production equipment to the new broadcasting standards for transmission. This mandate has been naturally extended over the years to the field of mobile technologies, as well as online production and distribution.

The current digital video standard (DVB) and digital radio standards (DAB, DNS) have all been tested by and agreed upon within the EBU by the broadcasting community, before being exported to other standardization bodies (such as the ITU, ETSI, IEEE, etc.).

The EBU has led the development of hybrid radio technologies such as RadioDNS, which is designed for EBU broadcasters to start testing and experimenting without having to deploy the necessary infrastructure themselves.

The organisation has included mobile technologies and standards among the priorities of its Strategic Programme on Future Distribution Strategies and has set up a Mobile Technologies and Standards Group, which ‘seeks to build technical competence within the EBU community in the domain of the current and future mobile technologies, including 4G/LTE and 5G.’ The group undertakes technical studies of 4G and 5G and their standardisation roadmaps, and formulates and co-ordinates EBU positions on mobile standardisation issues.

In 2019, the EBU launched a 5MAG group which brings together different actors to foster the development and deployment of technologies of strategic importance to the media industry. 

Artificial intelligence 

In 2015, the EBU launched its AI and Data Initiative aimed at helping its members leverage the potential of AI and data. The EBU’s AI and Data Group defines the strategy and priorities of the AI and Data Initiative to support members’ data usage and data-driven strategies.

In 2019, the EBU news department published its first report on best practices for AI applications in the field of journalism. The report is publicly available and aims to help improve AI-based solutions in order to serve the public interest and respect human rights.

One of best examples of the EBU’s use of AI is its PEACH (Personalization for EACH) initiative, which has brought together a number of public broadcasters to develop AI-powered tools to deliver the right content to the right audience in accordance with current data protection regulations.

Network neutrality 

The EBU’s work in the field of net neutrality focuses on assisting its members in co-ordinating their positions on broadband network neutrality. To this end, it provides expertise and facilitates initiatives and the drafting of documents concerning net neutrality at the EU level. The EBU also encourages its members to exchange experiences from the national level. Net neutrality is addressed as part of the EBU’s Strategic Programme on Broadcaster Internet Services. Net neutrality is seen as a key principle for public service broadcasters to support and advocate for, as it ensures their services are equally accessible by all Internet users. A large part of this activity is now evolving into AI.

Cybercrime and network security 

The EBU has developed a Strategic Programme on Media Cyber Security, aimed mainly at raising awareness among its members of the increasing cybersecurity risks and threats to broadcasting. This initiative also provides a platform for its members to exchange information on security incidents (e.g. phishing campaigns, targeted malware attacks, etc.), as well as on lessons learnt, projects, and internal procedures. A dedicated working group is focused on defining information security best practices for broadcast companies. The EBU organises an annual Media Cybersecurity Forum, which brings together manufacturers, service providers, and media companies to discuss security issues in the media domain.

Convergence and OTT 

 In an environment increasingly characterised by digital convergence, the EBU is working on identifying viable investment solutions for over-the-top (OTT) services. The organisation has a Digital Media Steering Committee, focused on ‘defining the role of public service media in the digital era, with a special focus on how to interact with big digital companies.’ It also develops a bi-annual roadmap for technology and innovation activities and has a dedicated Project Group on OTT services. 

In addition, there is an intersectoral group composed by EBU’s members and its staff that exchanges best practices for relations between Internet platforms and broadcasters. 

During the COVID-19 crisis, a co-ordinated effort by the technical distribution experts of the EBU and its members monitored the state of the global broadband network to help avoid surcharges due to the increased consumption of on-demand programmes.

Capacity development 

Most of the EBU’s activities are aimed at increasing the capacity of its members to address challenges and embrace opportunities brought about by the digital age. To that end, through its Digital Transformation Initiative, the EBU has developed a number of member support services, such as its expert community network that gathers over 200 experts from across its membership, and a digital knowledge hub with a repository of analyses and best practices. The EBU also offers a wide range of workshops and other sessions aimed at creating awareness about the digital transformation of the public service media, developing peer-to-peer assessment of members’ digital maturity, and initiating tailored interventions based on members’ needs.  

International Telecommunication Union

Acronym: ITU

Address: Pl. des Nations 1211, 1202 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://itu.int

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is a UN specialised agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs) with a membership of 193 member states and over 900 companies, universities, and international and regional organisations. In general terms, the ITU focuses on three main areas of activity: Radiocommunications (harmonisation of the global radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbits) through the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R); standardisation (development of international technical standards for the interconnection and interoperability of networks, devices, and services) through the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T); and development (working on, among a range of policy areas, improving secure access to ICTs in underserved communities worldwide) through the ITU Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D). The General Secretariat manages the intersectoral co-ordination functions, strategic planning, and corporate functions, as well as the administrative and financial aspects of the ITU’s activities. The ITU is also the organiser of the ITU Telecom events, leading tech events convening governments, major corporates, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to debate and share knowledge on key issues of the digital age, showcase innovation in exhibitions, and network and reward progress through an awards programme.

The ITU co-ordinates and organises the annual World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum (www.wsis.org.forum) that serves as a platform for stakeholders to co-ordinate, partner, and share the implementation of the WSIS Action Lines for achieving the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Digital Activities

Some of the ITU’s key areas of action include: radiocommunication services (such as satellite services, fixed, mobile, and broadcasting services), developing telecommunications networks (including next generation networks and future networks), and ensuring access to bridge the digital divide and addressing challenges in ICT accessibility. The ITU’s work supports: emerging technologies in fields such as 5G, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT); access and digital inclusion; the accessibility of ICTs to persons with disabilities; digital health; ICTs and climate change; cybersecurity, gender equality; and child online protection, among others. These and many more ICT topics are covered both within the framework of radiocommunication, standardisation, and development work, through various projects, initiatives, and studies carried out by the organisation.

Digital policy issues

Telecommunications infrastructure 

Information and communication infrastructure development is one of the ITU’s priority areas. The organisation seeks to assist member states in the implementation and development of broadband networks, wired and wireless technologies, international mobile telecommunications (IMT), satellite communications,  the IoT, and smart grids, including next generation networks, as well as in the provision of telecommunication networks in rural areas.

Through the IITU-R, the ITU is involved in the global management of the radio frequency spectrum and satellite orbits, used for telecommunications services, in line with the Radio Regulations. The ITU’s International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) have as an overall aim the facilitation of global interconnection and interoperability of telecommunication facilities.

The international standards developed by the ITU-T enable the interconnection and interoperability of ICT networks, devices, and services worldwide.

The ITU-D establishes an enabling environment and provides evidence-based policy-making through ICT indicators, and implements a host of telecommunications/ICT projects.

In the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ITU-D launched the Global Network Resiliency Platform (REG4COVID) to address the strain experienced by telecommunication networks, which are vital to the health and safety of people. The platform ​pools experiences and innovative policy and regulatory measures.​

The impact statement for the Telecommunications Development Bureau’s (BDT) thematic priority on ’Network and Digital Infrastructure’ is: ‘Reliable Connectivity to Everyone’.

ITU-D Study Group 1 also focuses on various aspects related to telecommunication infrastructure, in particular: Question 1/1 on ‘Strategies and policies for the deployment of broadband in developing countries’; Question 2/1 on ‘Strategies, policies, regulations, and methods of migration and adoption of digital broadcasting and implementation of new services’; Question 4/1 on ‘Economic policies and methods of determining the costs of services related to national telecommunication/ICT networks’;  Question 5/1 on ‘Telecommunications/ICTs for rural and remote areas’; and Question 6/1 on ‘Consumer information, protection and rights: Laws, regulation, economic bases, consumer networks’.

5G

The ITU plays a key role in managing the radio spectrum and developing international standards for 5G networks, devices, and services, within the framework of the so-called IMT-2020 activities. The ITU-R study groups together with the mobile broadband industry and a wide range of stakeholders are finalising the development of 5G standards. The Detailed specifications of the radio interfaces of IMT-2020 are expected to be completed by 2020.

The activities in the field include the organisation of intergovernmental and multistakeholder dialogues, and the development and implementation of standards and regulations to ensure that 5G networks are secure, interoperable, and that they operate without interference.

The upcoming Sixth World Telecommunication/Information and Communication Technology Policy Forum (WTPF-21) will discuss how new and emerging digital technologies and trends are enablers of the global transition to the digital economy. 5G is one of the themes for consideration.

The ITU-R is co-ordinating international standardisation and identification of spectrum for 5G mobile development.

The ITU-T is playing a similar convening role for the technologies and architectures of non-radio elements of 5G systems. For example, ITU standards address 5G transport, with Passive Optical Network (PON), Carrier Ethernet, and Optical Transport Network (OTN), among the technologies standardised by ITU-T expected to support 5G systems. ITU standards for 5G networking address topics including network virtualisation, network orchestration and management, and fixed-mobile convergence. ITU standards also address machine learning for 5G and future networks, the environmental requirements of 5G, security and trust in 5G, and the assessment of 5G quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE).

Satellite

The ITU-R manages the detailed co-ordination and recording procedures for space systems and earth stations. Its main role is to process and publish data and to carry out the examination of frequency assignment notices submitted by administrations for inclusion in the formal co-ordination procedures or recording in the Master International Frequency Register.

The ITU-R also develops and manages space-related assignment or allotment plans and provides mechanisms for the development of new satellite services by locating suitable orbital slots.

Currently, the rapid pace of satellite innovation is driving an increase in the deployment of non-geostationary satellite systems (NGSO). With the availability of launch vehicles capable of supporting multiple satellite launches, mega-constellations consisting of hundreds to thousands of spacecraft are becoming a popular solution for global telecommunications.

To this end, during the last World Radiocommunication Conference in 2019 (WRC-19), the ITU established regulatory procedures for the deployment of NGSOs, including mega-constellations in low Earth orbit.

Regarding climate change, satellite data is today an indispensable input for weather prediction models and forecast systems used to produce safety warnings and other information in support of public and private decision-making.

The ITU develops international standards contributing to the environmental sustainability of the ICT sector, as well as other industry sectors applying ICTs as enabling technologies to increase efficiency and innovate their service offerings. The latest ITU standards in this domain address sustainable power feeding solutions for IMT-2020/5G networks, energy-efficient data centres capitalising on big data and AI, and smart energy management for telecom base stations.

Emergency Telecommunications

Emergency telecommunications is an integral part of the ITU’s mandate. In order to mitigate the impact of disasters, timely dissemination of authoritative information before, during, and after disasters is critical.

Emergency telecommunications play a critical role in disaster risk reduction and management. ICTs are essential for monitoring the underlying hazards and for delivering vital information to all stakeholders, including those most vulnerable, as well as in the immediate aftermath of disasters for ensuring timely flow of vital information that is needed to co-ordinate response efforts and save lives.

The ITU supports its member states in the four phases of disaster management:

1.  Design and implementation of national emergency telecommunications plans (NETPs), which include national policies and procedures as well as governance to support and enable the continued use of reliable and resilient ICT networks, services, and platforms for disaster management and risk reduction.

2. Development of tabletop simulation exercises to help build capacity at a national level to improve the speed, quality, and effectiveness of emergency preparedness and response, allowing stakeholders to test and refine emergency telecommunication plans, policies and procedures, and to verify whether ICT networks, redundant telecommunications capacities, personnel, as well as other telecommunication systems are in place and ready to be used for disaster response.

3. Design and implementation of multi-hazard early warning systems (MHEWS), including the common alerting protocol (CAP), which monitor the underlying hazards and exchange emergency alerts and public warnings over all kinds of ICT networks, allowing a consistent warning message to be disseminated simultaneously over many different warning systems, providing communities at risk with crucial information to take urgent actions to save their lives and livelihoods.

4. Development of guidelines and other reports on the use of ICTs for disaster management to help countries be better prepared for disaster response at a time when the frequency, intensity, and human and economic impact of disasters is on the rise worldwide.

The ITU’s activities in the field of radiocommunications make an invaluable contribution to disaster management. They facilitate the prediction, detection, and alerting through the co-ordinated and effective use of the radio-frequency spectrum and the establishment of radio standards and guidelines concerning the usage of radiocommunication systems in disaster mitigation and relief operations.

ITU standards offer common formats for the exchange of all-hazard information over public networks. They ensure that networks prioritise emergency communications. And they have a long history of protecting ICT infrastructure from lightning and other environmental factors. In response to the increasing severity of extreme weather events, recent years have seen ITU standardisation experts turning their attention to ‘disaster relief, network resilience and recovery’. This work goes well beyond traditional protections against environmental factors, focusing technical mechanisms to prepare for disasters and respond effectively when disaster strikes.

ITU standards now offer guidance on network architectures able to contend with sudden losses of substantial volumes of network resources. They describe the network functionality required to make optimal use of the network resources still operational after a disaster. They offer techniques for the rapid repair of damaged ICT infrastructure, such as means to connect the surviving fibres of severed fibre-optic cables. And they provide for ‘movable and deployable ICT resource units’ – emergency containers, vehicles, or hand-held kits housing network resources and a power source – to provide temporary replacements for destroyed ICT infrastructure.

The ITU is also supporting an ambitious project to equip submarine communications cables with climate and hazard-monitoring sensors to create a global real-time ocean observation network. This network would be capable of providing earthquake and tsunami warnings, as well as data on ocean climate change and circulation. This project to equip cable repeaters with climate and hazard-monitoring sensors – creating ‘Science Monitoring And Reliable Telecommunications (SMART) cables’ – is led by the ITU/WMO/UNESCO-IOC Joint Task Force on SMART Cable Systems, a multidisciplinary body established in 2012.

In the ITU-D, a lot of effort is directed at mainstreaming disaster management in telecommunications/information and communication technology projects and activities as part of disaster preparedness. This includes infrastructure development, and the establishment of enabling policy, legal, and regulatory frameworks. The ITU also deploys temporary telecommunications/ICT solutions to assist countries affected by disasters. After providing assistance for disaster relief and response, ITU undertakes assessment missions to affected countries aimed at determining the magnitude of damages to the network through the use of geographical information systems. On the basis of its findings, the ITU and the host country embark on the resuscitation of the infrastructure while ensuring that disaster resilient features are integrated to reduce network vulnerability in the event of disasters striking in the future.

Work includes:

The ITU is also part of the Emergency Telecommunications Cluster (ETC), a global network of organisations that work together to provide shared communications services in humanitarian emergencies.

Artificial intelligence 

The ITU works on the development and use of AI to ensure a sustainable future for everyone. To that end, it convenes intergovernmental and multistakeholder dialogues, develops international standards and frameworks, and helps in capacity building for the use of AI.

AI and machine learning are gaining a larger share of the ITU standardisation work programme in fields such as network orchestration and management, multimedia coding, service quality assessment, operational aspects of service provision and telecom management, cable networks, digital health, environmental efficiency, and autonomous driving.

The ITU organises the annual AI for Good Global Summit, which aims to connect innovators in the field of AI with public and private sector decision-makers to develop AI solutions that could help in achieving the SDGs.

The ITU has launched a global AI repository to identify AI related projects, research initiatives, think-tanks, and organisations that can accelerate progress towards achieving the SDGs.

Open ITU platforms advancing various aspects of AI and machine learning include:

The ITU, through its Development Sector, also holds an annual meeting for all telecommunication regulators on the occasion of the Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR), which discusses and establishes a regulatory framework for all technologies including AI, and addresses this issue at its two Study Groups. Several areas under ITU-D Study Groups 1 and 2 explore applications of AI in various domains to support sustainable development.

Critical internet resources 

Over the years, the ITU has adopted several resolutions that deal with Internet technical resources, such as: Internet Protocol-based networks (Resolution 101 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)), IPv4 to IPv6 transition (Resolution 180 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)), and internationalised domain names (Resolution 133 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)). The ITU has also adopted a resolution on its role in regard to international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and the management of Internet resources, including domain names and addresses (Resolution 102 (Rev. Dubai, 2018)). In addition, the ITU Council has set up a Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues, tasked with identifying, studying, and developing matters related to international Internet-related public policy issues. This Working Group also holds regular online open public consultations on specific topics to give all stakeholders from all nations an opportunity to express their views with regard to the topic(s) under discussion.

The ITU is also the facilitator of WSIS Action Line С2 – Information and communication infrastructure.

Digital standards 

International standards provide the technical foundations of the global ICT ecosystem.

Presently, 95% of international traffic runs over optical infrastructure built in conformance with ITU standards. Video now accounts for over 80% of all Internet traffic; this traffic relies on the ITU’s Primetime Emmy winning video-compression standards.

ICTs are enabling innovation in every industry and public-sector body. The digital transformation underway across our economies receives key support from ITU standards for smart cities, energy, transport, healthcare, financial services, agriculture, and AI and machine learning.

ICT networks, devices, and services interconnect and interoperate thanks to the efforts of thousands of experts who come together on the neutral ITU platform to develop international standards known as ITU-T Recommendations.

Standards create efficiencies enjoyed by all market players, efficiencies, and economies of scale that ultimately result in lower costs to producers and lower prices to consumers. Companies developing standards-based products and services gain access to global markets. And by supporting backward compatibility, ITU standards enable next-generation technologies to interwork with previous technology generations; this protects past investments while creating the confidence to continue investing in our digital future.

The ITU standardisation process is contribution-led and consensus-based: Standardisation work is driven by contributions from ITU members and consequent decisions are made by consensus. The ITU standardisation process aims to ensure that all voices are heard and that resulting standards have the consensus-derived support of the diverse and globally representative ITU membership.

ITU members develop standards year-round in ITU-T Study Groups. Over 4000 ITU-T Recommendations are currently in force, and over 300 new or revised ITU-T Recommendations are approved each year.

For more information on the responsibilities of ITU study groups, covering the ITU-T study groups as well as those of ITU’s radiocommunication and development sectors (ITU-R and ITU-D), see the ITU backgrounder on study groups.

The ITU World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) is the governing body of ITU’s standardisation arm (ITU-T). It is held every four years to review the overall direction and structure of the ITU-T. This conference also approves the mandates of the ITU-T Study Groups (WTSA Resolution 2) and appoints the leadership teams of these groups.

Internet of things 

The ITU develops international standards supporting the co-ordinated development and application of IoT technologies, including standards leveraging IoT technologies to address urban-development challenges.

The ITU also facilitates international discussions on the public policy dimensions of smart cities, principally within the United for Smart Sustainable Cities Initiative, an initiative supported by 17 UN bodies with the aim of achieving SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities).

ITU standards have provided a basis for the development of ‘Key Performance Indicators for Smart Sustainable Cities’. More than 100 cities worldwide have adopted the indicators as part of a collaboration driven by the ITU within the framework of the U4SSC initiative.

U4SSC prizes learning from experience and sharing lessons learnt. The new U4SSC implementation programme supports the new partnerships driving smart city projects. As the implementation arm of U4SSC, the programme aims to enact the lessons learned in U4SSC’s work.

The range of application of the IoT is very broad – extending from smart clothing to smart cities and global monitoring systems. To meet these varied requirements, a variety of technologies, both wired and wireless, are required to provide access to the network.

Alongside ITU-T studies on the IoT and smart cities, the ITU-R conducts studies on the technical and operational aspects of radiocommunication networks and systems for the IoT. The spectrum requirements and standards for IoT wireless access technologies are being addressed in the ITU-R, as follows:

  • harmonisation of frequency ranges, technical and operating parameters
  • used for the operation of short-range devices
  • standards for wide area sensor and actuator network systems
  • spectrum to support the implementation of narrowband and broadband machine-type communication infrastructures
  • support for massive machine-type communications within the framework of the standards and spectrum for IMT-Advanced (4G) and IMT-2020 (5G)
  • use of fixed-satellite and mobile-satellite communications for the IoT

ITU-D Study Group 2 Question 1/2 (‘Creating smart cities and society: Employing information and communication technologies for sustainable social and economic development’) includes case studies on the application of the IoT, and identifying the trends and best practices implemented by member states as well as the challenges faced, in order to support sustainable development and foster smart societies in developing countries.

Blockchain 

New ITU standards for blockchain and distributed ledger technology (DLT) address the requirements of blockchain in next-generation network evolution and the security requirements of blockchain, both in terms of blockchain’s security capabilities and security threats to blockchain.

The ITU reports provide potential blockchain adopters with a clear view of the technology and how it could best be applied. Developed by the ITU Focus Group on Application of Distributed Ledger Technolog

World Trade Organization

Acronym: WTO

Address: Rue de Lausanne 154, 1202 Genève, Switzerland

Website: https://wto.org

Stakeholder group: International and regional organisations

The World Trade Organization (WTO) is an intergovernmental organisation that deals with the rules of trade among its members. Its main functions include: administering WTO trade agreements; providing a forum for trade negotiations; settling trade disputes; monitoring national trade policies; providing technical assistance and training for developing countries; and ensuring co-operation with other international organisations.

WTO Members have negotiated and agreed upon rules regulating international trade, fostering transparency and predictability in the international trading system. The main agreements are the Marrakesh Agreement Establishing the WTO, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT); the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS); and the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS Agreement).

Digital Activities

Several Internet governance and digital trade policy related issues are discussed in the WTO. These include e-commerce, intellectual property (IP), and market access for information and communication technology (ICT) ICT products and services. E-commerce discussions are ongoing under the Work Programme on Electronic Commerce and among a group of members currently negotiating e-commerce rules under the Joint Statement on E-commerce. Discussions focus on several digital issues, including: data flows and data localisation; access to source code; cybersecurity; privacy; consumer protection; and customs duties on electronic transmissions.

As part of its outreach activities, the WTO organises an annual Public Forum, which brings together governments, non-governmental organisations, academics, businesses, and other stakeholders, for discussions on a broad range of issues, including many relating to the digital economy.

Digital policy issues

E-commerce and trade 

The WTO agreements cover a broad spectrum of trade topics, including some related to e-commerce, which has been on the WTO’s agenda since 1998 when the ministers adopted the Declaration on Global Electronic Commerce. The Declaration instructed the General Council to establish a Work Programme on electronic commerce. In that Declaration, members also agreed to continue the practice of not imposing customs duties on electronic transmissions (the ’moratorium’). The Work Programme provides a broad definition of e-commerce and instructs four WTO bodies to explore the relationship between WTO Agreements and e-commerce. The Work Programme and the moratorium have been periodically reviewed and renewed. In December 2019, the General Council agreed to reinvigorate the Work Programme and continue the moratorium until the Twelfth Ministerial Conference. In addition, members agreed to have structured discussions on all trade-related topics of interest brought forward by members, including on the scope, definition, and impact of the moratorium.

At the Eleventh Ministerial Conference in 2017, a group of members issued a Joint Statement on Electronic Commerce (JSI) to explore work towards future WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of e-commerce. Following the exploratory work, in January 2019, 76 Members confirmed their ’intention to commence WTO negotiations on trade-related aspects of electronic commerce’ and to ’achieve a high standard outcome that builds on existing WTO agreements and frameworks with the participation of as many WTO Members as possible.’ Negotiations are continuing among 85 Members and are structured under 6 broad themes, namely: enabling digital trade/e-commerce; openness and digital trade/e-commerce; trust and digital trade/e-commerce; cross-cutting issues; telecommunications; and market access. Specific issues under discussion include provisions related to customs duties, paperless trading. cross-border transfers of information, spam, cybersecurity, electronic authentication and electronic signatures, location of computing facilities, consumer protection, protection of personal information, and market access.

Taxation 

WTO members agreed to a temporary moratorium on the imposition of customs duties on electronic transmissions at the Second WTO Ministerial Conference in the 1998  Geneva Ministerial Declaration. The moratorium has been extended periodically, including most recently in December 2019. While some WTO members argue that the moratorium should be made permanent, others have noted the need to clarify its scope and for further analysis of its impact; for example on development and customs revenues, especially given concerns that more types of physical goods could be digitised or transmitted digitally in the future. Other members have supported a more holistic approach to the moratorium, beyond the revenue implications.

Access 

Information Technology Agreement (ITA-I and ITA-II)

The ITA-I was concluded by 29 participants in 1996. Through this agreement, participating WTO members eliminated tariffs on several ICT products – including computers and mobile telephones – with the aim to intensify global competition among certain ICT goods allowing for greater access to the Internet and growth of the digital economy, including for least-developed countries. Currently, 82 WTO members are participants in ITA-I, accounting for approximately 97% of world trade in ITA-I products. At the Tenth WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi in 2015, over 50 WTO members concluded ITA-II, an agreement expanding the coverage of ITA-I by 201 tariff lines. ICT products such as optical lenses and GPS navigation equipment were added. The rationale of this product expansion was to keep the benefits of tariff elimination in touch with innovation. At present, the ITA-II consists of 55 WTO members, representing approximately 90% of world trade in ITA-II products. The ITA is being discussed in the JSI under the market access focus group.

Telecommunications infrastructure 

In 1997, WTO members successfully concluded negotiations on market access for basic telecommunications services through the GATS Annex on Telecommunications, which contains provisions to guarantee service suppliers access to and use of basic telecommunications needed to supply their services. Through a reference paper on regulatory principles, members also agreed to safeguard against anticompetitive practices by dominant suppliers of basic telecommunications. Since 1997, an increasing number of WTO members have undertaken commitments on telecommunications. Under the JSI negotiations, participants are discussing a proposal focused on telecommunications services, aiming to update provisions of the reference paper.

Digital standards 

International standards are important to the global digital economy as they can enable interconnectivity and interoperability for telecommunications and Internet infrastructures. The WTO Technical Barriers to Trade Agreement (TBT Agreement) aims to ensure that technical regulations, standards, and conformity assessment procedures affecting trade in goods (including telecommunications products) are non-discriminatory and do not create unnecessary obstacles to trade. The TBT Agreement strongly encourages that such regulatory measures be based on relevant international standards.

The TBT Committee serves as a forum where governments discuss and address concerns with specific regulations, including those affecting digital trade. Examples of relevant TBT measures notified to or discussed at the TBT Committee include: (i) measures addressing the Internet of Things (IoT) and related devices in terms of their safety, interoperability, national security/cybersecurity, performance, and quality; (ii) measures regulating 5G cellular network technology for reasons related to, among others, national security and interoperability; (iii) measures regulating 3D printing (additive manufacturing) devices; (iv) measures regulating drones (small unmanned aircraft systems) due to risks for humans/consumers, interoperability problems, and national security risks; and (v) measures dealing with autonomous vehicles, mostly concerned with their safety and performance.

Data governance 

The growth of the global digital economy is fuelled by data. Discussions on how provisions of WTO agreements apply to data flows are ongoing among WTO members. In this context, the GATS is particularly relevant, as it could apply to services such as: (i) data transmission and data processing by any form of technology (e.g. mobile or cloud technologies); (ii) new ICT business models such as infrastructure as a service (IaaS); (iii) online distribution services e.g. (e-commerce market platforms); and (iv) financial services such as mobile payments. The extent to which members can impose restrictions on data or information flows is determined by their GATS schedules of commitments. Under the JSI, proposals on cross-border data flows have been submitted and are being discussed. These proposals envision a general rule establishing free flow of data for the purpose of commercial activities. Proposed exceptions to this general rule are, for the most part, similar to the existing GATS General Exceptions and relate to, for example, protection of personal data, protection of legitimate public policy objectives, national security interests, and exclusion of governmental data. Issues related to data flows have also been raised by members in other contexts at the WTO, especially when national measures adopted for cybersecurity have been considered as trade barriers.

Intellectual property rights 

The TRIPS Agreement is a key international instrument for the protection of IP and is of relevance to e-commerce. The technologies that underpin the Internet and enable digital commerce such as software, routers, networks, switches, and user interfaces are protected by IP. In addition, e-commerce transactions can involve digital products with IP-protected content, such as e-books, software, or blueprints for 3D -printing. As IP licences often regulate the usage rights for such intangible digital products, the TRIPS Agreement and the international IP Conventions provide much of the legal infrastructure for digital trade.

IP-related issues are also being discussed in the JSI. Submitted proposals include text on limiting requests to the access or transfer of source code. The source code or the data analysis used in the operation of programmes or services is often legally protected by IP law through copyright, patent, or trade secret provisions. The main goal of the JSI proposals on access to source code is to prevent members from requiring access or transfer of the source code owned by a national of another member. Some exceptions to this general prohibition have also been proposed. For example, for software that is used for critical infrastructures and public procurement transactions.

Arbitration 
One of the core activities of the WTO is to provide a dispute settlement mechanism through which WTO members can enforce their rights under the WTO agreements. A trade dispute arises when a member considers that another member is violating a legal provision or commitment made under any of the WTO agreements. Disputes under this mechanism have involved Internet-related issues, telecommunications services, electronic payment services, IP rights, ICT products, and online gambling. The US – Gambling case concerning the cross-border supply of online gambling and betting services is particularly relevant to e-commerce.
Cybersecurity 

Cybersecurity issues have been addressed in several WTO bodies. For example, the TBT Committee has discussed national cybersecurity regulations applicable to ICT products and their potential impact on trade. In the TBT Committee, to date, WTO members have raised over 15 specific trade concerns related to cybersecurity regulations. Some of the specific issues discussed include how cybersecurity regulations discriminating against foreign companies and technologies can have a negative impact on international trade in ICT products. Proposals on cybersecurity have also been tabled in the JSI on e-commerce. Discussions have focused on strengthening national capacities for incident response and collaboration mechanisms; encouraging co-operation; and sharing of information and best practices on addressing incidents. Cybersecurity has also been discussed in the context of cross-border data flows and electronic authentication.