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The Dubai Debacle: Does It Matter?

The second phase of the Dubai Debacle is now well underway. The first of the ITU-T bodies, the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) finished its ten day meeting. The second body, the World Conference on International Communication (WCIT) completed its second day. WTSA shapes the ITU T organization and detailed agenda, while the WCIT gives it a treaty-based construct with regulatory mandates. WTSAs occur every four years; WCITs every twenty-five—although there is a proposal to hold them more frequently.

The results from WTSA confirmed a limited ability to stem what is an unfolding debacle orchestrated by a set of players to use the ITU-T to pursue Extreme Agendas. What will all this mean after next week and everyone goes home?

The Extreme Agendas consist of a set of objectives by a number of ITU-T Nation State Members together with its Secretary-General. These objectives include vastly expanding its jurisdiction and role far beyond its historical legacy telecommunications focus and competency, and imbuing it with new powers to provide force and effect to its work. The expanded jurisdiction includes anything and everything within a vast, unbounded aegis described as ICT (Information and Communication Technologies), and explicitly engulfing the Internet, “future networks,” cloud computing, and data centers. In sum, the implementation of these Extreme Agendas at the WTSA, although slightly blunted, was very successful.

The WTSA tools for pursuing these agendas consist of a set of Resolutions, the architecture of the ITU-T organization, the elected officials, and the specific questions for study. The resolutions also include directives to the ITU permanent secretariats in Geneva, and admonitions to Member States and providers.

Those pursuing these extreme agendas successfully drove the ICT jurisdiction ubiquitously into almost every resolution and ITU-T function. Attempts to constrain ITU-T to its legacy telecommunications competency clearly failed. The Legal Advisor’s finding gave WTSA resolutions further force and effect—that seem likely now to be amplified at the WCIT. Rolling out an ITU-T testing and certification regime also moved forward.

To cap off the success stories, the Secretary-General, just released an information document pointing out just which resolutions dovetail with potential new ITR provisions. Tactically, he also deserves an A+ in propaganda tactics and chutzpah by portraying to the press that the adverse reactions to these extreme agendas are all the fault of Google and Vint Cerf!

The bottom line, however, is the existing ITU-T being relied upon here has no clothes. If one actually reads the technical content of ITU-T or General Secretariat material including proposed work over the next four years, it largely runs the gamut between clueless and ludicrous. With just a couple of minor exceptions, no one goes to its meetings anymore or actually uses any of its material. Everything it has done over the past two decades to stem the degeneration has failed. It is not clear how testing and certification could be done against vaporware standards. Arguably the WCIT represents the seeds of substantial ITU self-destruction—as it is only likely to further accelerate the decline and participation by industry or Western governments. Technically competent organizations and companies—which already regard the ITU as institutional malware—will further shun them.

So what if some set of countries obligate themselves to abide by ITU-T promulgations? This was tried at WCIT-88 and it totally flopped. The only entities that suffered were the ITU-T itself as industry started to leave, and the countries which obligated themselves to standards that utterly failed in the marketplace. And, that was in the days that some of the ITU-T standards were actually capable of being implemented.

In the near term, users in some countries—probably largely developing countries—may suffer from relying on products and services purporting to be based on ITU-T standards and suffer poor network performance, diminished security, and content restrictions. Some nations mak make bad choices based on ITU Snake Oil. In the long-term, however, these kind of bad choices tend to be self-corrective.

By Anthony Rutkowski, Principal, Netmagic Associates LLC

The author is a leader in many international cybersecurity bodies developing global standards and legal norms over many years.

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Wow Phillip Hallam-Baker  –  Dec 10, 2012 6:33 PM

So Tony, how about you tell us how you really feel…

I think that what is going on here is really the death throes of the telephone system coupled with a group of authoritarian powers looking to use the ITU as a vehicle to put all that Internet toothpaste back in the tube.

So on the technical side there are the people who still expect the Internet to turn into the telephone system when it grows up. And on the political side there are a bunch of folk who just don’t get the fact that the first rule of the Internet is ‘You are not in charge here (for all values of ‘You’)’.

Now ICANN and co don’t get that either. But that is a different matter. On the Russian and Chinese side the diplomatic corps is entirely populated by people who grew up in a totalitarian system where asking difficult questions got you either ten years in a gulag or a bullet through your brain. These are the people who were the children of the privileged elite who were brought up to believe in how great the system was.

The idea that the way you change the Internet is you just go out and do it really does not occur to these people. So instead of doing stuff they try to work through systems like ITU and try to take over IETF and any number of silly schemes.

Many folk on our side don’t understand the game either of course.

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