An Analysis of the Telecommunications Chapter of the TPP

Earlier, we’ve produced an analysis of the Intellectual Property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. In this analysis, we expand our knowledge of the agreement by reading through another chapter – the Telecommunications Chapter.

We’ve been providing unprecedented in-depth analysis and coverage of the many trade agreements taking place around the world from the perspective of digital rights. Today, we are examining our second chapter of the TPP – the Telecommunication chapter (Chapter 13). We wanted to find out if there are other provisions that we should be aware of. If we do find something, then we’ll have no problem highlighting it here. For those who want to read along with us, you can read the chapter yourself via this link.

Scope

The chapter begins with defining what is and isn’t covered here:

1. This Chapter shall apply to:

(a) any measure relating to access to and use of public telecommunications services;

(b) any measure relating to obligations regarding suppliers of public telecommunications services; and

(c) any other measure relating to telecommunications services.

2. This Chapter shall not apply to any measure relating to broadcast or cable distribution of radio or television programming, except that:

(a) Article 13.4.1 (Access to and Use of Public Telecommunications Services) shall apply with respect to a cable or broadcast service supplier’s access to and use of public telecommunications services; and

(b) Article 13.22 (Transparency) shall apply to any technical measure to the extent that the measure also affects public telecommunications services.

It’s important to establish our parameters early on and this is clearly defined here. Two obvious examples of this is AN Internet Service Proviser (ISP) and backbone servers.

An Unclear Provision About Personal Information

4. Notwithstanding paragraph 3, a Party may take measures that are necessary to ensure the security and confidentiality of messages and to protect the privacy of personal data of end-users of public telecommunications networks or services, provided that those measures are not applied in a manner that would constitute a means of arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination or a disguised restriction on trade in services.

This one is a bit confusing. It relates to personal information which is always a touchy subject among privacy advocates. Protection is supposedly paramount, but only if it isn’t used as a restriction in trade in services. What that means exactly, I’m actually not really sure. Under what circumstances is the protection of personal information considered a restriction on trade in services? I’m personally not sure on that one.

Safeguarding of Personal Information

3. In carrying out paragraph 1, each Party shall ensure that suppliers of public telecommunications services in its territory take reasonable steps to protect the confidentiality of commercially sensitive information of, or relating to, suppliers and end-users of public telecommunications services obtained as a result of interconnection arrangements and that those suppliers only use that information for the purpose of providing these services.

In light of efforts to try and put in place backdoors on personal users applications and communications, this isn’t a bad provision to have in here. Essentially, the protection of personal information is to be part of a countries policy surrounding the Internet.

Establishment of the Committee on Telecommunications

There are a lot of provisions, but nothing to get excited over – that is until we get to this part:

Article 13.26: Committee on Telecommunications

1. The Parties hereby establish a Committee on Telecommunications (Committee) composed of government representatives of each Party.

2. The Committee shall:

(a) review and monitor the implementation and operation of this Chapter, with a view to ensuring the effective implementation of the Chapter by enabling responsiveness to technological and regulatory developments in telecommunications to ensure the continuing relevance of this Chapter to Parties, service suppliers and end users;

(b) discuss any issues related to this Chapter and any other issues relevant to the telecommunications sector as may be decided by the Parties;

(c) report to the Commission on the findings and the outcomes of discussions of the Committee; and

(d) carry out other functions delegated to it by the Commission.

3. The Committee shall meet at such venues and times as the Parties may decide.

4. The Parties may decide to invite representatives of relevant entities other than the Parties, including representatives of private sector entities, having the necessary expertise relevant to the issues to be discussed, to attend meetings of the Committee.

This is somewhat similar to the committee found in the Intellectual Property chapter. It seems that there is this requirement for a committee related to the enforcement of this whole chapter as well. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing, I personally can’t say for certain. It strikes me as a little strange to have yet another international committee because there are already plenty of these around. Beyond that, I can’t really judge this as either a good or bad thing.

Final Thoughts

Throughout the chapter, there are references to reasonable rates, though it doesn’t get into too many specifics other than allowing government to intervene if prices become unreasonable. There are also provisions about how regulatory bodies should not have personal financial interests in the very companies they are meant to be regulating. Beyond that, outside of the vague provision about users privacy in relationship to obstruction of trade in services, I personally didn’t see a much to get excited over. The provisions are more related to interconnectedness of communication lines and how companies should work together to ensure a smooth operating network. Very little of this has anything to do with user rights to be perfectly honest.

Obviously, this is just one persons perspective of what is found in this chapter. Feel free to offer your own thoughts on this particular chapter below if you see anything differently.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.



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