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WCIT Off to a Flying Start

Dr Hamadoun I. Touré Secretary General, ITU at WCIT 2012 Press Conference (Image source: ITU)The buzz, debates and misinformation

This is the report on Day One of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), directly from Dubai.

The conference started off in a positive way that did not reflect the sometimes bitter debate that has taken place in the press in recent months—although, of course, there was a great deal of discussion about the comments made in the press over that period. All comments were welcomed, as an indication of the importance of the internet and telecommunications; nevertheless the Secretary-General, Hamadoun Touré, was clearly critical of some of the deliberate misinformation that has been spread before the conference. He singled out Google as an organisation that has fueled some of this.

He was rather offended by any notions that the ITU had plans to take over the internet and that the rules discussed at WCIT could undermine freedom of speech. As I’ve also indicated over the past six months, I didn’t agree with those who expressed criticism along these lines.

As in any international organisation, any country can come up with ideas, suggestions and proposals, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that such proposals will be accepted. Part of the problem in relation to miscommunication has been that some of these ideas and suggestions—and even rumours—were treated by the critics as policies that had already been accepted by WCIT/ITU.

The stakes are higher

It is also clear that this will be a much more difficult conference to manage than those which have taken place in the past, especially because of the events preceding it. The last time the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) were discussed was in 1988 in Melbourne, Australia; and at that time the member states were represented by engineers and public servants. Minister Steven Conroy from Australia was present and in Dubai the bat was handed over from Australia to the United Arab Emirates.

At the time of the Melbourne conference there were 4.5 million (yes, million not billion) mobile users. The world was still largely analogue, with the internet just appearing on the horizon. With the stakes now significantly higher, many national delegations now have a much wider participation of delegates involved in policies, civil society, businesses, etc. Security is bringing banks and lawyers to the conference as well.

Any delegation coming to WCIT is free to select its own members and they can come from any part of the society—that is, not just government representatives. There are many issues that will be discussed and many of the people participating will have very specific topics that they will be involved in.

Separating the many issues

As mentioned in previous blogs, for WCIT to be successful it will need to start separating the issues, deciding what is technical and can be addressed in the ‘usual’ way, and what are issues that don’t easily fit the ITU agenda. However, given the widespread interest that has been shown by the general public in all of the issues, the Secretary-General does not want to exclude any of them from the debate in Dubai. Once properly debated and analysed it can be decided if the ITU has a role to play; whether there are other organisations that are better-suited to address these issues; and/or if a broader multi-stakeholder approach is needed.

ITU and ICANN working together

In an historic moment, and as a sign of a new dawn of collaboration, the CEO of ICANN was invited to address the opening session. In a passionate address he embraced cooperation between the two organisations, clearly indicating that these two organisations are complementary and that neither party had any intention of encroaching on each other’s territory. The Secretary-General compared this with roads and cars—distinctly different activities, but closely related and operating closely together.

When the first concerns in relation to internet governance surfaced in the public arena I suggested a greater role for ICANN in all of this and it is great to see that this has now been achieved. This should take some of the sting out of the debate, especially in relation to the misinformation about the UN/ITU wanting to take over the internet.

This was also a solution favoured by my American colleagues. This is important, as over the last year the American delegation has taken a very strong stand on issues that the ITU can and cannot look after.


Another contentious issue is that of cybersecurity. The USA is opposed to the ITU taking any role in this, but perhaps the problem can be resolved through the use of different words. The ITU has clearly stated that it has no role to play in any security issue other than that of ensuring the infrastructure is secure and robust enough to make the network as safe as possible.

The Secretary-General also took a strong position on cyberwarfare and expressed the hope—as a matter of principle—that the conference will add to cyberpeace, and that the WCIT could play a role in this.

Rules for rates

Another contentious issue is that of international charges between operators. While there are suggestions of a receivers-based charging system it was clearly stated at the start of the conference that there was no way back to the old days of such a system. The current system of bilateral arrangements is working well in the developed economies and that will not change.

It was suggested that more emphasis is needed to assist the developing world in moving to such structures. Any extra ‘taxes’ will increase prices and therefore decrease affordability, which is a key issue. However the developing world will need to generate better policies that will allow them to profit from the social and economic benefits that telecoms, and broadband in particular, offers them. The ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Digital Development is leading the way here and such developments would assist these countries to better attract investments.

The conference will also stress the need for greater transparency so that users know what they are paying for and are given a choice between the various offerings. Non-discriminating pricing is another topic that will be discussed.

All of these rules for rates are going to be difficult topics and the key will be to emphasise the notion of a level playing field.

Connecting the Global Village

Dr. Touré also went out of his way to highlight the importance of the ITU in ensuring that all global citizens will be connected—that it is not just a matter of the one-third of the world that is already connected. It is essential to get the rest of the world connected to the internet and he expressed the hope that the delegates would keep this in mind during their deliberations. Two-thirds of the world’s population is not yet connected. It is in everybody’s interest to change that, and the ITRs can play an important role in this. WCIT should therefore be flexible and open to compromises. Again, this is not just a conference about the developed world looking after its own issues in isolation.

He also clearly wants to ensure that the 650 million people with disabilities are included in the connected world, especially as ICT can play a critical role in maximising their participation in society and the economy.

The issues are many and complex, and the only way forward for WCIT and the ITU is to build consensus. This should not be a win-or-lose situation and some of the delegations will need to find ways to compromise in order to make progress. We will have to wait for another two weeks to discover whether the world is now sufficiently mature to find compromises in our increasingly diverse global society.

By Paul Budde, Managing Director of Paul Budde Communication

Paul is also a contributor of the Paul Budde Communication blog located here.

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Paul, your comments here that are so Anthony Rutkowski  –  Dec 4, 2012 12:12 PM

Paul, your comments here that are so aligned with Hamadoun’s misinformation leads one to ask the obvious question - are you consulting for the ITU?  The WCIT is getting off to a devastating start by any reasonable analysis.

Hi Anthony,Are you at WCIT if yes Paul Budde  –  Dec 4, 2012 12:53 PM

Hi Anthony,
Are you at WCIT if yes let’s catch up and exchange notes in this issue. No I am not consulting to the ITU as I am a fiercely independent analyst and have been so for 35 years.

Despite the enormous issues ahead of the conference there so far has been a conciliatory approach which is reflected in the preamble. The conference also unanimously - incl the US - rejected the misinformation that has been spread around and in the meantime there have also been some strong articles in the press in relation to this. I have so far not seen a similar united condemnation of Hamadoun’s information, to the contrary. That is not to say that there are very difficult issues ahead of the conference and that some of the proposals are not acceptable to me and many others, but that is the nature of an international organisation everybody can bring proposals forward but we can only judge WCIT/ITU on what eventually gets accepted and I believe there has been some prejudging based om proposals that most likely will not going to make it. But I totally agree the judges are still out but we need to wait till the end in order to see if it will be a success or a disaster.

I purposely avoided being there. Having Anthony Rutkowski  –  Dec 4, 2012 2:47 PM

I purposely avoided being there.  Having run the secretariat for the last WCIT, and understanding the processes, it is frankly more effective not to be there.  My analysis of both WTSA and WCIT thus far is that Russia, Hamadoun, and allies have done very well at WTSA and continuing at WCIT.  They are very effective at orchestrating the processes.

I’m also predicting that the Western nations and allies will simply not sign the result and begin the long needed process of walking away completely from the ITU except for the radio sector.  This has largely been underway for the past 20 years, and the organization is now nothing more than a meaningless shell for mischief.  In my view, not signing and massive shunning of the ITU would be a highly successful outcome.  We can follow up on this in two weeks!

My views can be found at

The West and their allies, frankly, should have not participated - which is exactly what the U.S. did for 110 years.

For the record, my views are entirely personal - having been involved in ITU matters for 40 years, participated in innumerable delegations, served as the counsellor for two Secretary-Generals as an ITU senior official, written some of its principal history publications, and served as the ITU-T Cybersecurity Rapporteur for the past four years and thus have perhaps a unique insight into what is actually occurring.

Litmus André Rebentisch  –  Dec 4, 2012 6:15 PM

Do I trust a person who spreads counter-factual accusations? No. The criticism of Hamadoun I. Touré is completely unfounded. Actually, my European Commissioner spread the same message. But I don’t rely on her words, I examined the ITRs reform proposals myself. Indeed, we observe a considerable move to gain competences in the field of internet communications. For good or for worse. It becomes a bit surreal to claim it wasn’t about an internet mandate and then deliberate on specific ITRs reform proposals to that end.

A litmus test of an ITU/ITU-T qualification to govern the internet is the ITU-T definition of “open standards”. You may be aware that the Internet is build upon open standards. The definition has no meaning whatsoever inside the ITU procedures but it has been used to stifle national and European interoperability policies. It happened because interest groups were able to hijack the ITU-T to adopt their definition. Now, do I trust an organisation with an anti-internet definition of Open Standards to govern the internet? Do I perceive it as a good suggestion to get more weight for ITU recommendations in member states? No. Does an ITRs proposal to that end concern me? Yes, it does.

I would rather recommend to transfer the ITU-T technical work to ISO/IEC.

Surely you jest on Hamadoun. I Anthony Rutkowski  –  Dec 4, 2012 7:07 PM

Surely you jest on Hamadoun.  I was part of his own advisory committee and worked inside the ITU-T process for some years.  Please provide something other than a bald assertion about “counter-factual accusations.” 

As to transferring the technical work to ISO/IEC - that is a possible option.  It is a well established private standards body, albeit suffering from some detriments.

Being wrong André Rebentisch  –  Dec 4, 2012 9:14 PM

Of course I was completely wrong. Hamadoun Touré is like a chair. The GenSec has no other agenda than to get members to consent. It is just reform proposals from member states. Now, media does not get these subtle differences. They say: "The ITU wants to take over the internet". So when the General Secretary denies an agenda, because he formally has no agenda and it is not within the current mission of ITU to do so, the ordinary observer hears him say: "The outcome of this meeting cannot be that the ITU would take over the internet." And that is counter-factual, when you look at the proposals at the table, not only Russian ones.

He was rather offended by any notions that the ITU had plans to take over the internet and that the rules discussed at WCIT could undermine freedom of speech.
Again, look at the ITRs reform proposals. A take over of the DNS recommendations for instance, "naming and numbering", ICANN competences. Does this have implications for freedom of speech? Of course. Almost everything in telecommunications & internet regulations has implications for freedom of communications, for better and for worse. There could also be very good reasons to compromise freedom of speech. I can't see why a diplomatic conference could not accept such proposals. Some of the ITR reform propositions are worded in a blunt way, others use more subtle language to the same effect.

Hamadoun has largely driven the agenda here Anthony Rutkowski  –  Dec 4, 2012 9:52 PM

Hamadoun has largely driven the agenda here for the past ten years. How do I know? I worked with his staff along the way. He is definitely not simply an orchestrator of member state wishes. On the Internet takeover, he was hoisted on his own petard when denying it a few weeks ago, Russia with whom he has been working closely, introduced very specific proposals directed at the Internet. See Doc. C27r1. The ICT obfuscation was no longer necessary. I can also go into any level of detail you wish about any facet of this - during the past ten years, the past 25, or the past 162 years back to Dresden.

Good André Rebentisch  –  Dec 5, 2012 2:13 AM

A good chair is expected to act like that. So we have the usual hypocrisy, fine. Still he should never be put in a position to debunk realism, as uncommon as it seems within the institution, and cry catch-the-thief. Larry Downes wrote in Forbes:

As the ITU’s continued fumbling makes ever-clearer, the UN is ill-suited to play any role in the continued development of the digital economy. ...Fortunately for Internet users, setting up a Twitter feed and loading a Facebook page with lectures on the agency’s patronizing sense of noblesse oblige isn’t going to change that reality one bit.
You may not agree with the Forbes article and it damning view of the UN capabilities. Neither do I. Noblesse oblige, nice. A German proverb says a public view leads to the death of the King. We may find a lot of rabble-rousing and "misinformation", questions unforeseen by the processes, but that is all fine because it enables insiders to ask critical questions and press the right buttons for reforms.

Hi Andre something that seems hard to Paul Budde  –  Dec 5, 2012 3:34 AM

Hi Andre something that seems hard to get across is that the ITU is not regulating/taking over/intervening with the Internet. Its Charter would not even allow it to do so. It is in charge of the underlying telecoms infrastructure. They have been doing that for 150 years and that is why we can all talk to each other by phone because we have standardised and interoperable networks, That same infrastructure is also used by the Internet and what we need to make sure is that this underlying telecoms infrastructure provides access to all (also the 2/3 of the population not yet connected to the Internet) and that it remains interoperable. Yes there are some countries that would like to widen the operations of the ITU, but those proposals have no change of being accepted. Judging the ITU on the fact that some countries propose different things is a bit rich, we do need to judge them on what actually gets accepted and that will absolutely not include any interference with the Internet.

agreed André Rebentisch  –  Dec 5, 2012 9:10 AM

Of course, an ITRs reform which grants the ITU internet governance competences is not going to fly. Most nations including Europe would formally benefit from a shift to global governance, and the United States does not carry the weight anymore they used to. So all that is at stake are undue compromises. For the ITU the real issue to address is what institutional reforms are needed to win over the nations which formally benefit from global governance. It does not seem credible to argue that the ITU institutionally has no interest in global governance of the internet. Nations may support global internet governance and still reject a role for the current ITU. You cannot expect the media to communicate complicated decision making procedures, which are in any case a procedural cover. Media reports "The EU wants.." while its really just the EU-Commission that submitted a "legislative proposal". When procedures are too bycantine mainstream media has to simplify. Often the simplification gets the interests right while administrative bycantinism is set up to blur and obfuscate responsibility, techniques to defend the difficult task of finding agreements and governing an institution.

PS Paul Budde  –  Dec 5, 2012 4:05 AM

There is of course absolutely nothing wrong with objecting to some of the proposals that have been put forward. Like most people I am also absolutely against them. What I have been trying to do is separate proposals from what actually gets accepted. I have followed all of the public addresses incl press conferences from Hamadoun and there has been nothing not even ambiguously that indicates to me that he has a hidden agenda, is spreading misinformation, or anything like that. Yes he has a massive juggling job to do and he has to take all the delegation serious, which is not an easy task (understatement). I have not seen any evidence of the suggested misinformation in any of the main press (WSJ, NYT, BBC, etc).

Just as an example André Rebentisch  –  Dec 5, 2012 9:50 AM

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes "Telefonstrippenzieher im Internet", transl.: "Phone string pulling on the internet" Is it a suitable headline? Yes, it is. It is excellent. Nice catch. That is what media coverage is about. Here the teaser:

Staaten und Konzerne kämpfen in Dubai um die Macht im Internet. Auf der „Weltkonferenz über die Internationale Telekommunikation“ wird um Freiheit und Kontrolle gerungen.
Means: "Nations and corporations fight in Dubai for power on the internet. At the WCIT there is a struggle for freedom and control." Again an excellent comprehension. The same professional jounalism in the rest of the article, written by a journalist who has to uncover interests from technocratic clutter, spot the dogbiting men, and communicate a complicated scenario to an uninitiated reader. I know it is extremely difficult to write such articles when you are more familiar with the process than close to a quality newspaper audience. To suit it better Touré needs to simulate a nervous breakdown or take a shoe. Otherwise media can't take his denial seriously.

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