International Telecommunication Union
|Headquarters:||Place des Nations|
1211 Geneva 20
|Hamadoun Toure, Secretary-General|
Houlin Zhao, Deputy Secretary-General
ITU is the abbreviation for the International Telecommunication Union. It is a leading agency of the United Nations, handling information and communication technology issues. It is also the most important agency for private sectors and governments all across the world in developing networks and services. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, the ITU is dedicated to connecting the entire world through the various means of communications.
The ITU dates back to the nineteenth century. It was founded in 1865 in Paris as the International Telegraph Union. It took up its current name in 1934, and officially became a part of the United Nations (UN) in 1947. It is one of the oldest international organizations in the UN. Since its establishment, the ITU has facilitated the information and communications industry in many ways, from the invention of the electric telegraph in 1837, to organizing worldwide and regional exhibitions and forums, to bringing together government representatives from all around the world to share their knowledge, ideas and technology for the benefit of the global community, especially the developing world.
Ensuring the growth and sustainable development of the information and telecommunications network is the main mission of ITU. It also supports universal access to technology for all people, so that they are able to participate as well as benefit from the evolving information society and global economy.
The ITU welcomes governments as well as private organizations. Governments may join the ITU as Member States, whereas the organizations can join the ITU as Sector Members. Currently the ITU has 192 Member States and 535 Sector Members, making the ITU a forum wherein governments and private sector players can come together and discuss policy frameworks as well as set agendas that would have substantial impact on the global business in the future.
The ITU comprises of four sectors: Standardization, Radio Communication, Development, and ITU Telecom. Each of these sectors specializes in policy-related or technical issues in their area of interest. Each sector is led by a director who reports directly to the ITU Deputy Secretary General and the Secretary General.
Standardization: This sector of the ITU is responsible for the production of sophisticated and globally accepted telecommunication standards and related documents that are not under the purview of the ITU Radio-communication Sector.
Radio-communication: This sector is charged with managing satellite resources and international radio-frequency spectrum. It also studies and provides necessary recommendations on issues related to radio communication, ensures effective allocation of radio frequency system bands, works towards eliminating the interference between radio stations of different countries, and enhances the use of geostationary satellite orbit.
Development sector: This sector sees to it that there is equal, affordable, and sustainable access to information and communication technologies (ICTs).
ITU Telecom: This sector works towards bringing together the top names among the ICT industry.
World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT)
From December 3rd to December 14th, 2012, the ITU is holding the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai. Government representatives from 178 nations around the world will be working to renegotiate the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITR), an information and communications treaty that outlines rules for how traffic should flow between telecom networks and how to calculate charges for traffic between different international carriers interfacing with one another. The treaty has not been updated since its signing in 1988. Of the goals of the updated treaty, the ITU has said that it hopes to ensure "the free flow of information around the world, promoting affordable and equitable access for all and laying the foundation for ongoing innovation and market growth".
Any changes to the treaty must have unanimous support, as the ITU does not traditionally use a voting system, and that, "Whatever one single country does not accept will not pass." However, the ITU's Secretary-General Hamadoun Toure noted to the BBC that if there were serious disagreements a majority vote may be required.
One major aspect of the treaty could include a possible shift in internet governance structures, which may change them from regulation under a U.S.-based group like ICANN to a more global organization. Toure also stated that it was the ITU's goal to work with ICANN rather than take all responsibilities from it.
ITU & Google
Google has been vocal about their opposition of ITU control of the internet and has launched a Take Action campaign in response. The Take Action website states, "A free and open world depends on a free and open Internet... But not all governments support the free and open internet.." They note that forty-two countries filter and censor content, and says of the December ITU meeting that, "Some of these governments are trying to use a closed-door meeting in December to regulate the internet... Proposed changes to the treaty could increase censorship and threaten innovation." Google's main criticisms of the ITU are that it is a "secretive" organization with confidential conferences and proposals, which are open only to governments and not to the general public. Google states that, "Internet policy should work like the Internet -- open and inclusive."
ITU & Individual Governments
Other opponents include the European Parliament, who published a resolution stating that such a change could "negatively impact the internet, its architecture, operations, content and security, business relations, internet governance and the free flow of information online", as well as the U.S. government. The U.S. ambassador to the conference, Terry Kramer, said in a statement that, "The US is concerned that proposals by some other governments could lead to greater regulatory burdens being placed on the international telecom sector, or perhaps even extended to the internet sector... The United States also believes that existing multi-stakeholder institutions, incorporating industry and civil society, have functioned effectively and will continue to ensure the health and growth of the internet and all its benefits."
On December 2nd, 2012, the US government issued a statement in support of ICANN, signed by Lawrence E. Strickling, Administrator of NTIA, Julius Genachowski, Chairman of the FCC, and Phillip L. Verveer, U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy of the State Department. They stated: "The Internet’s decentralized, multistakeholder processes enable us all to benefit from the engagement of all interested parties. By encouraging the participation of industry, civil society, technical and academic experts, and governments from around the globe, multistakeholder processes result in broader and more creative problem solving. This is essential when dealing with the Internet, which thrives through the cooperation of many different parties... Our commitment to the multistakeholder model is based on the fact that transparency, inclusion and participation are the 21st century standards governing discussions related to modern communications. This is a view shared by many around the world and was most recently reiterated by a statement of civil society members and groups from around the world who participated in the “Best Bits” pre-Internet Governance Forum (IGF) meeting held earlier this month in Baku, Azerbaijan. The U.S. Government wishes to lend its support to the spirit of the recommendations contained in the statement."
Proponents may include the Russian government, who stated in a November 17th, 2012 letter that, "Member states shall have equal rights to manage the internet, including in regard to the allotment, assignment and reclamation of internet numbering, naming, addressing and identification resources and to support for the operation and development of basic internet infrastructure."
ITU & WCITLeaks
The ITU does not openly publish submissions from their meetings and leave it up to individual states to decide what material they wish to release. In response, WCITLeaks, a website similar to WikiLeaks but related exclusively to the ITU and WCIT, aims to bring transparency to the UN organization by encouraging those in possession of documents to publish them anonymously.
Relation to ICANN
In 2005, the ITU signed a MoU with ICANN, which superseded and suspended an earlier MoU which ICANN had with the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC). The main motive behind signing the MoU with ITU was that ICANN wanted to adopt some of ITU's proven practices, such as charging for access to documents and membership in order to make up for publication costs, which would ultimately help to ease budget pressures.
- Mission, ITU.int.
- Membership, ITU.int.
- Members, ITU.int.
- Google attacks UN's internet treaty conference, BBCNews.com. Published 22 November 2012. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
- European Parliament warns against UN internet control, BBCNews.com. Published 22 November 2012. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
- Google says ITU is 'the wrong place to make decisions about the future of the Internet', Engadget.com. Published 22 November 2012. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
- US resists control of internet passing to UN agency, BBCNews.com. Published 7 August 2012. Retrieved 26 November 2012.
- Take Action, Google.com.
- On Eve Of Start of The ITU Meeting In Dubai, The US Makes Issues A Statement In Support of ICANN, TheDomains.com. Published 2 December 2012.
- Russian Federation, WCITLeaks.org.
- ICANN, ITU merge, ICANNWatch.org.