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ITU Staff Gone Wild

Anthony Rutkowski

In virtually all governmental legislative bodies, the staff is there to provide secretariat services for the government representatives. The staff role does not include telling the representatives what decisions they should be making. The stricture is supposed to be the same at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for its treaty making activities.

It is with some amazement that last week, the ITU secretariat staff showed up at a seminar in Bangkok they helped schedule — with a purported "ITU Presentation on WCIT-12 Outcome" to eighteen ITU Member States attempting to sell them on accession to the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) flatly rejected by 55 nations (G55), with 49 additional ones remaining undecided. In other words, less than half the ITU Member States have signed — a stunning adverse result unprecedented in the history of the organization.

The slick 36 slide presentation begins by misrepresenting ITU history, provides a completely one-sided view of the ITRs, and at the end, includes an accession form as one of the slides — suggesting that Member States bind themselves to the ITR provisions! The last slide makes the incredulous assertion that "the treaty provides a framework for the accelerated growth of ICTs at the national and international level, in particular to bring Internet access to the two-thirds of the world's population which is still offline, and to drive investment in broadband."

The reality here is quite at odds with the SnakeOil sales pitch. The ITRs — which are a treaty instrument construct for the government-run electrical telegraph world of 1850 - are not exactly the right match for a hyper-dynamic, technology and investment driven world of 2013 driven by the global marketplace. There was a reason why 55 ITU Member Nations flatly rejected the ITRs and walked out of the meeting. The entire instrument plainly does not comport with today's world of telecommunications and information systems, and accepting the associated ITR-12 obligations is tantamount to consigning the nation to Internet impoverishment. Reiterating the socio-political acronym "ICT" like an incantation, when ironically the term remains undefined, achieves nothing.

The ITU staff attempts to sweep the rejection of the WCIT-12 Final Acts under the carpet with the absurd assertion that it "compares with 1988 when 112 countries signed ITRs on the last day of the Melbourne conference." It does not. I helped run the secretariat for the 1988 conference for Secretary-General Butler. All the Member States present in Melbourne signed the Final Acts. None of them walked out of the conference. At that time, the ITRs arguably had some marginal justification. Today they are an anachronism and negative value proposition.

In addition to being a treaty that patently was not needed, the ITR provisions that emerged at WCIT-12 crossed two "red lines" for the G55. They vastly expanded the relatively narrowly compartmentalized scope and effect of the existing ITR provisions to include all electronic communication services and apply to essentially anyone connected to a network. Furthermore, most of the ITR provisions are essentially operational, contractual, and regulatory options that vary greatly among different countries, and purport to rely on activities in an ITU-T that today is essentially non-functional because the work is almost completely accomplished in other global industry venues and arrangements. Twenty-nine nations have reduced their ITU contributions, and few countries today participate in ITU-T activity. It is ludicrous to think that all these fundamental infirmities of the ITRs will somehow become unimportant for the non-signatory nations.

The ITU staff has scheduled another of the WCIT-12 sales shows in South Africa in July 2013. The action seems demeaning to the African nations as the ITU staff is not pursuing these events in Europe or North America where they would receive substantial opposition to their presentation assertions.

In large measure, the entire WCIT-12 debacle was induced and facilitated by ITU elected officials and staff that encouraged and manipulated almost everything surrounding the conference. They obviously have not stopped. Engaging in this behavior is inappropriate. When the first permanent secretariat for an ITU precursor organization was created — the Berne Bureau that serviced the needs of the signatories to the Convention télégraphique internationale de Paris (1865) et Règlement de service international (Paris, 1865) — it was made clear that the staff were not to become involved in substantive legislative work done by the Nation States among themselves. That important stricture was obviously lost over the past decade.

By Anthony Rutkowski, Principal, Netmagic Associates LLC

Related topics: Internet Governance

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