Revisionist History

Did you know that the upcoming WTPF 2013 will be the fifth World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum hosted by the International Telecommunication Union? If not, you might also be surprised, as I was, to learn that it was authorized in 1994 during the Kyoto ITU Plenipotentiary. That seemed odd to me since WTPF 2009 was a World Telecommunication Policy Forum; notice the lack of ICT in the name.

I was surprised that the ITU wouldn’t have used the term ICT in 2009, given that it was authorized back in 1994, and found it strange that the Secretary General’s June 2012 speech to the Informal Expert Group for WTPF 2013 was labeled “World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF), Meeting of the Informal Experts Group (IEG), Opening Welcome Speech”. It turns out this isn’t strange or unusual.

The ITU’s website variously refers to the WTPF by inclusion or exclusion of the acronym ICT. I wondered why that might be and began rummaging around the ITU web site looking for the Kyoto Resolution (2) authorizing the WTPF. I found a handy copy under the WTPF96 site that the ITU maintains. It doesn’t reference ICTs. In fact the only occurrence of “ict” I could find was in the word restrict.

Having failed to find the term, I went looking for revisions to Plenipotentiary Resolution 2 and found them in Marakesh and Guadalarja (I think there’s a song in there somewhere). The 2002 Marakesh revision doesn’t mention ICTs either, but at Guadalajara in 2010, they come in with a vengeance, appearing 26 times. In fact, they make such a strong appearance they are able to change the wording of the 1994 Kyoto resolution. Resolves 1 of Guadalajara Resolution 2 states:

that the world telecommunication/ICT policy forum, as established by Resolution 2 (Kyoto, 1994) of the Plenipotentiary Conference subsequently revised in Resolution 2 (Rev. Marrakesh, 2002), shall be maintained…

But if we’re maintaining the forum that was established Kyoto and revised in Marakesh, that’s the WTPF but without the “/ICT”. Introduction of the “/ICT” in Resolves 1 (and elsewhere in the Guadalajara Resolution) is factually incorrect. Is this important? Perhaps.

I am not a lawyer, and especially not an ITU lawyer. With that caveat, I note that since no “world telecommunication/ICT policy forum” was ever established by the ITU in Kyoto or revised in Marakesh, it doesn’t exist and consequently it is impossible to maintain (but stranger things have happened). Alternatively, we could look at the introduction of “/ICT” as an overzealous application of “global find and replace” and determine that where the introduction of “/ICT” results in factual errors, it should be dropped. That would result in a Resolves 1 from Gudalajara as follows:

that the world telecommunication policy forum, as established by Resolution 2 (Kyoto, 1994) of the Plenipotentiary Conference subsequently revised in Resolution 2 (Rev. Marrakesh, 2002), shall be maintained…

Of course other ITU documents (like Council Decision 562), the web site, printed material, etc. would have to be updated to more accurately reflect the history of the World Telecommunication Policy Forum. Or not.

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Landmark Decisions

The ITU, through its Council acting as the executive body of the Member States, made a “landmark decision” to make available to the public “the main [WCIT] conference preparatory document” and to establish a publicly accessible page “where all stakeholders can express their opinions” on the preparatory document or other WCIT-related matters. A draft of the future ITRS is now available to the public and a website where stakeholders can express their views is under development .

Some have suggested that the ITU hasn’t gone far enough with these decisions. I take a different view.

Definitions

At this year’s WSIS Forum, the ITU hosted an information session on WCIT 2012. It was well-attended and the audience learned a great deal, including that:

  • “The ITU is as transparent as organizations are.”
  • “The transparency of the ITU is not something that you can question.”
  • “We don’t really have too much to learn from anybody about multi-stakeholderism because we almost invented it.”
WSIS 2012, WCIT – Information Session audio (54:45 – 55:45)

Given these, and other assertions by the ITU, one wonders what corner the ITU has turned with the recent Council decision. For any reasonable definitions of open, transparent, multi-stakeholder, and consultation one would expect all documents to be publicly visible and for all interested parties to fully participate in discussions and decisions. But that isn’t the case. Instead, a single document, out of some 200, has been made available to the public, and a one-way comment mechanism will masquerade as a public consultation.

Consultation is an interesting term at the ITU where it can have a variety of meanings. In this “landmark decision”, it means a web page for comments. In the case of the Council Internet Policy WG, it was suggested that inviting experts from around the world  to Geneva for a 4-hour meeting in advance of a multi-day, official, closed, Member State only session, would be a consultation.

I believe the landmark nature of the ITU’s decision lies not in the decision itself, but in the expectation that the world will accept the ITU’s interpretation of terms like open, transparent, equitable, and consultation. The ITU would have us believe that making a single document available to the public is evidence of openness and transparency. Similarly, we are expected to believe that the creation of a web page or invitation to a brief “pre-meeting” constitute adequate public or expert consultation.

The decision also deserves landmark status because it was made by the Council, the governing body of the ITU. This is an official decision, reached after serious debate and deliberation, and represents the institutional position of the ITU. It is a well-considered decision, coming after a debate centered on openness and transparency. The best the Council could do was to make a single, difficult to understand document available to the public and to permit the public to submit WCIT-related comments through a web page. Truly a turning point.

Evolution

We are entering an important stage in the history and evolution of the Internet, a voluntary network of networks. For decades, the Internet was viewed as an experiment and like many experiments, some expected it to be short-lived and of limited utility. Surprisingly, to those expecting a different experimental result, the Internet has proven to be incredibly successful, robust, and above all else useful to billions of people around the planet. It is truly transformational.

That it is all these things and operates in an environment of true openness, transparency, and equity, with voluntary development of and adherence to standards and policy is remarkable, and may be threatening to some. They might respond by declaring their processes open and transparent. They might invite one-way public comment on a single document. They might invite international experts to a brief meeting before retiring in private to determine the fate of those same experts (or instead decide that a web-based contribution mechanism is sufficient).

They might perceive that if left unchecked, this experiment could undermine cherished institutions. They might find the need to engage in discussions for “establishing international control over the Internet using the monitoring and supervisory capabilities of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)”. (see transcript) They could declare what some see as an underwhelming action to be momentous.

The range of options appears to be limitless, except for the option where the Internet, its governance, and future development are left where they properly belong; in the hands of those that choose to voluntarily participate and abide by common sense practices that have proven radically successful. This appears to be unacceptable and to be avoided at all costs.

I think the ITU has gone as far as it can go. It has declared that it is open and transparent, using as evidence the public posting of a single document and a one-way comment mechanism. It has closed a meeting on Internet Governance Policy, restricting it to Member States, refusing to admit those best-qualified to discuss and establish such policy. It has made these decisions at the highest levels and unless they can be appealed, they will stand. The ITU can go no further.

Theater

Estragon and Vladimir exit the stage having never met Godot in Beckett’s acclaimed work. In our absurdist play, the Internet is entering a stage that will decide its future. That stage has been set by the ITU and contains numerous acts including WTSA 2012, WCIT 2012, WTPF 2013, and countless future fora. The script is carefully written, including only those characters needed to move the plot forward as intended by the author. The outcome is inevitable, or so some believe.

The Internet Community has an important part to play in this absurd staging. Will we play Didi or Gogo, endlessly waiting for the absurdity to complete? Perhaps we will play Pozzo, Lucky, or the boy. Or we could choose an entirely different role, that of the audience and recognize “landmark decisions” when we encounter them.

Playing any character on stage is exhilarating. Playing a part in a real life absurd tragedy is debilitating, and we are painfully close to that reality with the Internet and its Governance. The stage has been set. The script has been written. Casting is complete. Rehearsals are underway.

Will the actors follow the script relegating the Internet to an antiquated regulatory model? In considering that question, I suggest we remember that the Internet is voluntary. Nothing mandates that any network connect to any other network nor are any standards or services prescribed. It is open, transparent, accessible, generative, robust, and resilient. It belongs to no one, least of all those who would control it. And it belongs to everyone.

Reality

An Internet landmark decision would be one that moves us forward in a meaningful way. It would recognize our place in history and the requirement for 21st century solutions rather than 19th century institutions. It would acknowledge the existence of other institutions and their dominion over their own destiny. It would be inclusive not exclusive, inviting participation instead of limiting it.

For the ITU, making a single document visible to the public and permitting one-way commentary is open and inclusive. It does enhance visibility and broaden discourse within that institution and is a landmark. So too is the decision to limit participation in an Internet Policy Forum. But that decision reduces visibility, narrows discourse, and disenfranchises the community it claims to represent.

As Estonia’s President recently remarked, “We must choose between two paths – either we can change the nature of the internet by placing a Westphalian regulatory structure on internet governance, or we can change the world.”

Which will it be? Either way, it will be a landmark.

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Strange but True

On 12 July 2012, ETNO issued a press release describing a meeting between its Executive Board Chair, Luigi Gambardella, and ITU Secretary General, Hamadoun Touré. On 16 July 2012, the ITU newslog issued a similar report of a meeting between Mr. Gambardella and Dr. Touré.

Having written about the earlier ETNO release, I was interested to read the ITU’s report of the meeting and was struck by several differences in the pieces. Both articles attribute quotes to high level representatives of their respective organizations, with those quotes and content presumably vetted by their respective press agencies/staff.

The ETNO piece makes reference to the Internet, security, and a new eco-system for the Internet. The ITU piece drops all such reference and instead would have us believe the Internet was not on the agenda and was not discussed.

Is it possible for both reports to be accurate? I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

_____________________________________________________________

Comparison of ETNO Press Release and ITU newslog.

WCIT 2012 : an opportunity forto create an open, innovative, and sustainable and more secure ICT environment

On the occasion of a meeting today, the ITU Secretary General, Hamadoun Touré, and Chair of the ETNO Executive Board Chair,of the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) Luigi Gambardella, reiterated met today at ITU headquarters in Geneva. During their discussion they stressed the importance of the World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT to -12), which will review the International Telecommunication Regulations, or ITRs. They said that an update of this international treaty will lay the framework that will facilitate the furtherto support continued growth ofand an innovative, and sustainable future for the telecomtelecommunication and information and communication technologytechnologies (ICTs) sector(including the Internet)..

Dr Hamadoun Touré, ITU Secretary General, says: “The  noted that “the 1988 ITRs opened the door for thetelecommunicationstelecommunication revolution of the 1990s  and notably privatization, liberalization, and new technologies such as mobile and the Internet. Now it’s time to take the next step and open the door for the broadband revolution of the next decade –, so that all the world’s people can gain access  affordable, equitable, high-speed fixed or mobile access  to voice, video and data.”

Luigi
Mr Gambardella, ETNO Executive Board Chair, says: “The  stated that “WCIT is an opportunity-12 allows us to address the need for a new eco-systemecosystem for the Internetcommunications, enabling operators and service providers to meet the huge challenges that are being driven by the rapid rise in data increase andtraffic, while allowing users to continue enjoying the benefits and opportunitiesbrought about by the Internet”.  and other technologies.”

The ITRs, which will be revised at WCIT, set out the basic principles for interconnection ensuring that networks can connect smoothly.and efficiently across borders and among technologies. However, the environment has changed dramatically since the latesttheir lastrevision of the ITRsin 1988. The growth in traffic puts a strain on network resources and risks to worsen the userworsening users’experience of connectivity. The ITRs need to reflect changes in markets and technologies, while allowing Internet innovation to continue developing.

The ITU membership, which includes ETNO, believes that the WCIT is an opportunity to improve the current basis that has, to date, facilitated the growth of telecommunications (including the Internet) and the information society.  There are opportunities to sees WCIT-12 as an opportunity to agree on a new and sustainable economic model for international communications, favouring innovation, openness and consumer choice. In this context, ETNO has submitted an innovative proposal for the revision of the ITRs ensuring the futureproofness of the current model.

ByETNO believes that improved user experience would be encouraged by allowing commercial agreements betweenundertakingsplayers on end to end quality of service delivery ETNO believes that innovation and improved user experience would be encouraged. 

For more information, please contact: Thierry Dieu, ETNO Director for Communications and Public Policy Tel: (32-2) 219 32 42 Fax: (32-2) 219 64 12 E-mail: dieu@etno.be

. The association has put forward a proposed revision to the ITRs that it believes would ensure that the framework is future proof.

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