ITU forced to face modern realities as WCIT conference implodes
Having turned industries and governments upside down, the Internet has claimed its first organizational scalp, subjecting the United Nations' International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to a humiliating failure at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai earlier today.
No sooner had applause run out after a vote on what to include in the preamble to an updated global telecoms treaty than the United States took the floor and announced it would not sign it.
"It's with a heavy heart and a sense of missed opportunities that the U.S. must communicate that it's not able to sign the agreement in the current form," said Ambassador Terry Kramer. "The Internet has given the world unimaginable economic and social benefit during these past 24 years. All without UN regulation. We candidly cannot support an ITU Treaty that is inconsistent with the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance."
Fears that the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will award itself a role in governance of the Internet, despite the promises of its Secretary-General, are looming large on the last day of the World Teleconference on International Telecommunications (WCIT).
At the end of a confusing and fast-paced day of discussions yesterday, the issue that has haunted for the conference for the past six months finally exploded into the open with discussion of a new proposed resolution that would see the ITU "play an active and constructive role" in deciding the evolution of the global communications network.
More than a half a million people have signed an online petition calling on the ITU to reign in proposals that would given governments greater control over the Internet.
The 500,000 benchmark was reached at 7pm local time while attendees to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai reconvened for a night session where they hope to reach agreement on most changes to the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs).
Chair leads even smaller group of regional representatives in crunch talks
The World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) is going dark with just one day left to rewrite the international telecommunication regulations (ITRs) and a number of significant issues remaining unresolved.
Despite 1,700 participants representing 189 different countries and organizations, large sections of the text will be decided by a group of 24 regional representatives this afternoon.
The decision to call the closed meeting, without many of the issues ever having been discussed in plenary sessions, has been a conscious strategy adopted by the chair and ITU throughout the meeting.
But while that approach has kept embarrassing public fights to a minimum, it also raises serious questions over the ITU's processes and ability to act a global convener and resolver of modern telecoms issues, particularly when it comes to the Internet.
A leaked document has confirmed fears that a world conference held by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) will be used by some countries to expand government control over the Internet.
A draft of a document to be provided to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) on Monday morning and provided to website WCITleaks includes a number of proposals that have prompted fierce disagreement during the first week of the two-week conference in Dubai. The draft also includes a number of previously unseen additions.
In particular, the document proposes:
That governments be given a "right to know" what route has been taken by information over data networks - something that civil society groups have warned would enable widespread online monitoring.
Russian minister Nikolai Nikiforov will be a key influence in the conference outcomes.
Probably the only reason you're reading this post is because of fears that the United Nations will use the WCIT conference to gain power over the Internet.
The focal point for those fears has become a contribution by the Russian Federation, sent on 13 November - 10 days after the announced deadline - and then revised four days later.
Contribution 27 appears to confirm everything that people have been worrying about - an effort to use a revision of an international treaty agreed in 1988 to provide governments with additional controls over the functioning of the Internet.
So here is a rundown of what is exactly in Contribution 27 - both the original and revised versions - and an analysis of what the implications of its adoption would be.
This is the original version of what has become the most controversial contribution made to WCIT. It stems from Russia, seemingly from the President's office, and asks from the introduction of a new article to the ITRs encompassing the Internet.
A revised version, produced just a few days later and coming from Russia's ministry of telecoms, toned down the language significantly but the proposals still concern many.
The content of the proposed new article would put the United Nations in direct opposition to the existing conglomeration of Internet organizations by enshrining rules regarding the Internet into an international telecoms treaty.
This involvement in Internet governance is exactly what campaigners against the WCIT conference had been voicing concerns over, and the ITU's Secretary-General had, prior to the late arrival of this contribution, tried to assure everyone that there was no suggestion that WCIT would directly involve itself in Internet governance.
A key trend in the development of today’s information society is the steady growth in the role of the Internet.
The Internet’s developmental impact on society affects people’s way of life, their education and work, as well as the interaction of government and civil society. The Internet is rapidly becoming a vitally important driver of global economic development. It also allows individuals, companies and business communities to find more effective and creative solutions to economic and social problems.
The Internet has an impact on every aspect of human activity within society – political, economic, social and spiritual.
In politics, the Internet is a powerful tool for implementing a State’s domestic policy, and is behind concepts such as e-government, digital media and virtual political parties. It also helps to increase the political participation of citizens in national governance.
The Internet is an important factor in the development of a modern economy, and is actively used in business through such means as e-commerce, e-banking, electronic payments and Internet advertising, among others.
Everything you need to know about how WCIT will pan out
ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure opens the conference. He has a lot on his plate. Credit: ITU
WCIT has got off to a quick and effective start.
Having spent much of the past year preparing for the conference and notwithstanding a number of last-minute contributions, the governments of the world are ready for what will be a contentious conference.
The first day saw the heads of delegations meet and thrash out agreements that their staff had already largely agreed. Then came the opening ceremony and a stage-managed but important display of support between the ITU and ICANN. The message was plain: WCIT will not be about Internet governance.
That's not to say there aren't important and contentious issues coming over the next two weeks. Most significant are:
The WCIT conference will revise the existing International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs). This whole exercise will comprise retaining, deleting or editing existing regulations or adding new regulations to the list.
We have broken down every proposals for change to its particular regulation or proposed new regulation and placed them on a single page for easy review. Each regulation is listed below with hyperlinks to those individuals pages.