Internet to ITU: Stay Away from My Network

By Ross Rader
Ross Rader

An ITU document entitled "Beyond Internet Governance1 crossed my desk earlier this week. Given that I had absolutely nothing better to do, I decided to give it a read.

The audacity of the ITU Secretariat is nothing less than shocking.

It has been a long while since I read such a self-serving, narrow-minded and inaccurate document.

The backbone of the ITU's contention rests on the premise that something called the Next Generation Network and the contention that this network will act as one big bug fix for all the problems created by current inter-networking technology.

"More recently, substantial standards and resource investment are being made by all major operators and equipment manufacturers in what is referred to as Next Generation Networks (NGN). NGN can be seen as a logical progression from separate PSTN- and IP-networks to a unified telecommunications network for electronic communications based on IP."

The ITU is under the impression that their involvement in overseeing global Telecommunications infrastructure entitles them to some stake in managing the internet. They see embracing next generation development as a way to make this happen. After all, if they have a central role in the development of this network, it only stands to reason that they are the best qualified to manage it.

Unfortunately, this misses a key point. In order to be a competent manager, basic qualifications must be met. In this case, these qualifications include developing a basic understanding of precisely what is being managed. The definition put forward by the ITU clearly demonstrates how completely they've missed the mark.

The internet works because there are clear separations between transport technology, interconnection technology and application technology. The ITU version of this blurs these boundaries and takes us a step backwards into a centrally controlled, centrally managed, "more than good enough" network — administered, of course, by the ITU.

This level of control and coordination is precisely what the internet successfully avoided. This is why the internet is successful. The internet works because it is almost trivial to interconnect heterogeneous networks in a near seamless manner, and by extension, every single other inter-connected network on the planet. It doesn't matter what the transport mechanism looks like — GSM, PSTN, smoke signals, pigeons — all of these can be used as the basis for an IP-enabled network.

Let's not forget what the internet actually is — a combination of privately and publicly owned (mostly private nowadays) and independently controlled networks that interconnect using a common protocol. Inherent in this is a big implication that sometimes gets taken for granted, but nonetheless represents the foundation of the internet:

The network at your place of business belongs to your company. The network at the library belongs to the library. The network in my house *IS MY NETWORK*. These are my wires, my machines and my rules and they don't need to be centrally coordinated, converged or subject to same vague benefits that I might get from your notion of quality of service.

The phone company, and therefore the ITU, is in the business of interconnect — moving bits from my network to yours — because the PSTN and associated telco interconnects provide the most convenient form of interconnect. But this doesn't mean that they own those interconnects, or by extension, control of the internet because of the distinction between the transport, data, interconnect and application layers. Let me rephrase — the only reason that the phone company is involved in the business of interconnect is because a customer, like me or you, has requested that they provide us with the physical infrastructure necessary to implement the interconnection. In most cases, when they screw this up, there are other choices available that does not include the telco, and by extension the ITU. Radio, satellite, microwave, cable - there are a multitude of almost perfect substitutes that we can avail ourselves of.

But back to my point. The ITU aspires to a network management and oversight role. Thus far, the ITU has really only been involved, tangentially, in the business of managing interconnects. They seek to expand this role by exerting influence over the development of what they characterize as NGNs in a transparent ploy to claim management rights over this NGN.

The problem is, NGNs are anything but "...a logical progression from separate PSTN- and IP-networks to a unified telecommunications network for electronic communications based on IP." In fact, the notion of the NGN as conceived by the ITU runs completely contrary to what made the internet successful in the first place. This is much less than a technical evolution and most certainly a power grab of epic proportions. The ITU is playing very dangerous games with a very precious resource.

Convergence of the PSTN and the IP networks is patently ridiculous and unsupported by current market dynamics. Convergence to the degree implied by the ITU eliminates transport independence. This is a patently dangerous notion. Most disappointing, the logic used to justify this power-grab is borderline silly.

Take this for example — "...growing infrastructure vulnerabilities, fraud, spam, phishing, security flaws, and cybercrime, will lead to a slow steady decline and dwindling confidence in the medium by users, unless they are addressed vigorously and rapidly. of the significant drivers of the extensive standardization work on NGN is dealing with some of these public infrastructure vulnerabilities."

In and of itself, this truth of this statement is self-evident. Mom and apple pie that no one disagrees with. After all, who doesn't want to do something about spam, phishing and all of these other ills. But take a closer look at the underlying message.

The fundamental design of the internet is flawed and we can fix it.
If you let us fix it, we will create a perfect environment for you in which no one will be able to do wrong.
No more spam, no more phishing, no more intellectual property infringement.

This pronouncement comes to you from the same organization that oversees that world telecommunications infrastructure. The same infrastructure that facilitates billions of dollars of fraud per year. The same infrastructure that allows international thieves to skim up to 3% of each cellular carriers revenue [PDF] every day. The same infrastructure that helps boiler room fraudsters bilk millions from unsuspecting seniors. The same infrastructure that makes it easy for a con artist to re-route my modem calls to Moldova at the cost of dozens of dollars per minute!

This pronouncement is a threat, made by the ITU, that represents a clear and present danger to the sovereignty and autonomy of this union of networks. A threat that must be dealt with quickly and decisively. Next Generation Networks, as defined by the ITU, are anything but NGNs - they are not the natural successor to the current generation of internetworking technologies. They are not an excuse to take a second crack at building your information superhighway.

The NGN is a fascist vision of a centrally managed fix for precisely what isn't broken.

1 For an organization that likes to fly the "inclusiveness" and "digital divide" banners so prominently, they produce far too many documents in proprietary formats that require hundreds of dollars of software to decode and read. It's too bad that this is precisely the type of service that we can look forward to on their NGN.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a CreativeCommons License.

By Ross Rader, Director of Innovation & Research. Visit the blog maintained by Ross Rader here.

Related topics: Cybersecurity, Internet Governance, Networks, Spam


Re: Internet to ITU: Stay Away from My Network Kevin Murphy  –  Dec 22, 2004 2:22 PM PST

Anyone who doesn't want to spend hundreds of dollars to decode and read proprietary formats can download a free Word viewer here:

Re: Internet to ITU: Stay Away from My Network Peter Bachman  –  Dec 25, 2004 10:39 PM PST

One bug fix? There are no silver bullets. We all know that. It should not be surprising that PSTNS are using IP and that a convergence is taking place. This has been happening for a while now.

However, that doesn't mean there cannot be improvements for everyone's networked experience on a global level either from an acceptance on how to solve certain problems; or mutual agreements on how to run and manage networks in a number of different fora.

Thus it's far more than simply making sure that CIDR prefixes are assigned properly and allocated, which is about what you need to have trivial connectivity among BGP speakers.

You simply need protocols which consistently use unique numbers. But as soon as people start incorporating more virtual services like naming; which are involved with issues like copyright, (which is more than connectivity) the Internet fails to deliver because the problems are primarily social, not technical. The concept of information society is that we are now much more virtual, and the baggage that previously was not in the more formless world of interconnected networks has now arrived, since it's no longer such a new thing, and has to be judged against other established services.

The ITU has been working on these problems for years, and anticipated many of the problems that would arise from a global information society before most people were able to ping their nearest router. And that's why many competent engineers who helped invent the internet are so concerned and vocal regarding social issues impacted by networking. It's not their area of expertise, but they are trying it out.

There's a concept of administrative security domains which extend from global to local.

Human rights are a global concern, how you apply policy to your local network is a local concern. But if you fail to implement security in an effective way on your connection, and host a spam zombie, then it again becomes a larger network concern.

The DOD internet was never meant to be anything other than a testing bed for the development of NGN, at which time better services would be deployed. However, around 1990 most Internet engineers figured the next step was a bunch of nonsense and fought it tooth and nail. Rapid growth was traded for quality. As a result we got fairly easy to implement, and fairly difficult to secure protocols based on rough consensus and running code. A union of networks is really stretching the concept of mutually agreed upon pragmatic route peering to something which it is not.

Those engineers won, and what we have now is the result of that sizzling growth that became the internet bubble that sprang from regional networks that started peering with each other without the lmiting overhead of the acceptable use policy at the CIX.

Some people don't mind the garbage slowing down their connections, others want quality of service, but with their freedoms intact.

This layering of social concerns onto the network has been inherent from the beginning, because connectivity promotes dialogue and can sometimes break down political borders between people.

But technology alone is not a promoter of freedom, it can liberate or oppress equally. 

So we can say, fairly, one can't use a network to traffic in humans, and there is no local safe haven where that is permissable, because this is unacceptable, or to launder money, etc.

Connectivity per se has increasingly become a commodity, value added services are a way to improve that situation because they fit what people want.

This is why the current Internet is termed the "commodity" internet and there will be further developments to bring about NGN services that are more equitably distributed globally and can carry more useful data; precisely because of end to end QOS.

On anyone's "internal" network the ability to restrict such garbage is much greater, as well to apply specific policies. However, there are policies which are not at all facist, which re-territorialize the landscape to open up lines of potential which in fact might prove to be beneficial.

If there's any question as to whether routing prefixes are somewhat centered geographically, look at:

Re: Internet to ITU: Stay Away from My Network Richard Hill  –  Jan 06, 2005 8:34 AM PST

Part 1 (due to length limits).

The purpose of this note is not to defend the paper that Ross Rader criticizes, but to provide some complementary facts regarding ITU.

First of all, Mr Rader frequently uses expressions such as "the ITU is under the impression", thus treating ITU as if it were a person.  In fact, ITU is a complex membership organization.  ITU's membership uses formal processes and procedures to agree views and those agreed views are published as Recommendations, Resolutions, international treaties, etc.  The paper that Mr Rader criticizes is a staff input to a particular ITU body.  That paper has not been approved by the ITU membership and does not represent an "ITU view".

Mr Ross states: "The internet works because there are clear separations between transport technology, interconnection technology and application technology." It appears to me that the same is true of all telecommunication technologies.  I also seem to recall that one of the first formally agreed international definitions of the various separate layers was the OSI model, a joint IEC-ISO-ITU standard.

Mr Ross states: "Let's not forget what the internet actually is — a combination of privately and publicly owned (mostly private nowadays) and independently controlled networks that interconnect using a common protocol." The same is true of all telecommunication networks, in particular the telephone network, whether fixed or mobile.

Mr Ross states: "The phone company, and therefore the ITU, is in the business of interconnect".  I'm not sure why he equates the ITU with telephone operators.  The ITU was founded in 1865 to provide international coordination for telegraphy, and subsequently was asked to deal with certain aspects of the international coordination of practially all other telecommuniation technologies, see:

The ITU's private sector members (over 600) include all sorts of companies that are not primarily providers of telephone service, see:

Mr Ross states: "… there are other choices available that does not include the telco, and by extension the ITU. Radio, satellite, microwave, cable - there are a multitude of almost perfect substitutes that we can avail ourselves of."

International coordination of radio frequencies and satellite slots is performed by ITU, see:

In fact, worldwide useability of WI-FI is due in large measure to the fact that the ITU Member States have agreed, in the Radio Regulations, that the relevant frequency spectra should be unlicensed world-wide.

The most widely used cable-modem standards are ITU-T Recommendations. So are ADSL and related standards.  For more information on the ITU's involvement in IP-based networks, please see:

Mr Ross states: "The ITU aspires to a network management and oversight role".  The ITU's goals are clearly specified in its Constitution, see:

The first goal is "to maintain and extend international cooperation among all its Member States for the improvement and rational use of telecommunications of all kinds;". 

The Preamble of the Constitution starts by "fully recognizing the sovereign right of each State to regulate its telecommunication", and states that the object of the ITU is to "facilitate peaceful relations, international cooperation among peoples and economic and social development by means of efficient telecommunication services"

Mr Ross states: "[ITU] oversees that world telecommunications infrastructure".  It is correct that ITU performs certain international coordination tasks that have been agreed by its membership.  Personally, I doubt that the tasks performed by ITU could be qualified as "overseeing the world telecommunications infrastructure".  On the other hand, it is true that the national regulatory agencies that are members of ITU do, in most countries, have the task of overseeing their national telecommunications infrastructure.

Re: Internet to ITU: Stay Away from My Network Richard Hill  –  Jan 06, 2005 8:35 AM PST

Part 2.

Mr Ross goes on to single out certain well-known cases of fraud or abuse.  But combating those types of fraud or abuse is either a commercial matter, taken care of by the concerned private operators, or a national matter, taken care of by the concerned national regulator or consumer protection agencies.

Concerning re-routeing of calls and abusive Internet auto-diallers, the ITU membership has agreed that measures should be taken at the international level as well as at the national level, and ITU-T has just initiated a project in this area, see TSB Circular 9 at:

The initial step is to encourage reporting of potential misuse. Further work on measures to combat the misuse will follow, see WTSA Resolution 20 at:

Mr Ross states that "NGN is a facist vision".  According to my dictionary, facism is "a philosophy or system of government that advocates or exercises dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with an ideology of belligerent nationalism".  I doubt that the ITU's membership would recognize itself in that definition or agree with that characterization of the NGN project.

Richard Hill
Counsellor, ITU-T SG2 and SG4

Re: Internet to ITU: Stay Away from My Network Melinda Shore  –  Jan 17, 2005 6:06 AM PST

I think the question here comes down to service models, in which IP was designed with an eye towards end-to-end communication, towards fate-sharing, and towards very clean (but imperfect) layering.  The traditional telephony service model relies on heavily mediated communications and signaled connection establishment.  While I can understand why someone might want to do it that way, I can't understand why they'd want to use IP as the base protocol - it's simply a terrible fit.  It's been popping out in frankly bizarro service brokerage models that are completely disconnected from the way packets are routed in IP.  They simply can't work without heavy manual configuration, or, as several ITU participants have suggested, "we'll just hack up BGP."

At any rate, I think the challenge here is how to move forward with a plausible business model that respects the internet's design principles, and to how avoid trying to hammer incompatible communication models on top of it.

As for layering, it's one thing to have a layering model and another to use it.  I think the serious layering violations in SS7 speak for themselves.