26 September 2014

The Internet, US Government, ICANN, ITU Plenipotentiary Conference

The ITU and the Internet: "The ITU is certainly one of the more venerable institutions in the communications sector. It can trace its origins to May 1865, when the first International Telegraph Convention was signed by 20 founding national members, and the International Telegraph Union was established to facilitate subsequent amendments to this initial agreement. Two decades later, in 1885, the ITU drafted international legislation governing telephony. With the invention in 1896 of wireless telegraphy, similar coordinating measures were adopted by the International Radiotelegraph Convention. In 1932 the Union combined the International Telegraph Convention of 1865 and the International Radiotelegraph Convention of 1906 to form the International Telecommunication Convention. The name of the body was changed to International Telecommunication Union to properly reflect the full scope of the Union's responsibilities, which by this time covered all forms of wireline and wireless communication. In 1947 the ITU, under an agreement with the newly created United Nations, became an agency of the United Nations, with responsibilities in international telephony, telegraphy, and radio communications. Over the next four decades the ITU oversaw a system of international interconnection of telephony and data systems..." (source)

The Formation of ICANN: "Whatever the original motivation in creating ICANN to administer the IANA responsibilities, it is now apparent that ICANN was deliberately structured to provide the industry with an alternative structure of coordination and regulation within national and international communications sectors to that of the ITU. The critical difference is that ICANN had not placed governments at the forefront of visible activity, but instead placed industry needs and the operation of a competitive deregulated international communications sector as being the major thrust of coordination activities." (source; also see this)

The ITU and the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference: The ITU (International Telecommunication Union), as noted above, is the UN specialized agency for information and communication technologies – ICTs. According to its website"ITU membership reads like a Who’s Who of the ICT sector. We’re unique among UN agencies in having both public and private sector membership. So in addition to our 193 Member States, ITU membership includes ICT regulators, leading academic institutions and some 700 private companies. In an increasingly interconnected world, ITU is the single global organization embracing all players in this dynamic and fast-growing sector." The ITU Plenipotentiary Conference is the key event at which ITU Member States decide on the future role of the organization, thereby determining the organization's ability to influence and affect the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) worldwide. The Plenipotentiary Conference is the top policy-making body of the ITU. Held every four years, the Conference: (a) sets the ITU's general policies; (b) adopts four-year strategic and financial plans; and (c) elects the senior management team of the organization, the members of Council, and the members of the Radio Regulations Board. Dates: Oct 20 - Nov 7, 2014 (3 weeks) in BEXCO, Busan, South Korea. Participants will include around 3,000 government delegates including 150 ministers and vice ministers, and over 300,000 visitors attending special events.

So what's the fuss? In short, internet governance--from the DNS and root zone to cybersecurity, censorship and free speech--the respective roles of ICANN, ITU, national governments, and others. A little historical background--

Remember the 2012 disaster in Dubai? "Three little ICANN atrocities that make the ITU look good by comparison | IGP Blog - December 1, 2012December 1st [2012] marks the beginning of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai. Fussing about the threat to the Internet posed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is reaching that state of critical mass where media outlets write about it mainly because other media outlets are writing about it. The tacit assumption behind much of this fussing is that the status quo, exemplified by ICANN and other “multi-stakeholder institutions,” is doing a wonderful job and we should strive to preserve them. But the status quo is not so wonderful. In the past two weeks ICANN’s board and CEO have made decisions that are so bad they call into question its very legitimacy as an institution...."--Professor Milton Mueller (ICANN participant since 1998)

As a result of last March's IANA stewardship transition announcement, wherein the U.S. government said it was going to end its contract with ICANN, thereby terminating the U.S. stewardship role over ICANN and the internet, some have suggested that the ITU, with its long historical role in all information and communication technologies, including its UN status, and its status as a recognized multinational, international organization under Swiss law, should step into the role of stewardship oversight being vacated by the United States, particularly in wake of the Snowden revelations. And although the US government has said it "will not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA [US government] role with a government-led or an inter-governmental organization solution," other governments, groups, and individuals have said that in view of those Snowden revelations, the US government can no longer dictate to the rest of the world, nor set preconditions, as to how the global internet community decides the global internet should be governed, nor force the international community to accept ICANN, a California corporation that has no membership, and formed at the instance of the US government in 1998, as the sole authority over the DNS and internet root zone going forward, particularly since most now concede that ICANN "has been largely captured by the [domain] names industry" see: Opinion: ICANN, the ITU, WSIS, and Internet Governance - The Internet Protocol Journal - Volume 8, Number 1 - Cisco Systems by Geoff Huston, APNIC.

Tomorrow's post: How the US government has been preparing for next month's ITU Plenipotentiary Conference.

See also: Domain Names Industry, ICANN, Regulatory Capture

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