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ITU-T - Still Living in 1924

Sometime later this year—at a venue still unknown—something short of a thousand people from around the world will gather together and engage in a now meaningless ritual almost exactly like they did in 1924. In the 1990s the name of the gathering was changed from the CCITT Plenary Assembly to a World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA). For the next four year cycle (2017-2020), they will modify the organization’s structure, adopt many hundreds of “study questions,” assign increasingly small numbers of people to keep the organization going, and produce a copious number of meaningless resolutions.

In 1924 when these gatherings began for the ITU’s precursor organization the International Consultative Committee for Telephony (followed two years later by the telegraph folks), they had to travel long distances and much of the standards work was done at the physical meetings with no easy or rapid means of information sharing. Almost a century later, the meetings and process serve no useful purpose. Indeed, the ITU-T is the only telecommunication standards body that behaves in this fashion.

The process wastes millions of dollars and the increasingly limited resources of governments and the dwindling few industry organizations who are still willing to flock like lemmings to these Assemblies. They have become such a wasteful embarrassment that they still don’t know where the next one will be held. Perhaps even more importantly, the WTSA rituals actually harm whatever purpose and viability is left in the ITU-T by adding a recurring 4-year political and institutional albatross on top of ongoing standards activities.

There is a simple and obvious alternative course of action available. Get rid of the vestigial WTSA exercises, and let the ITU-T’s existing management committee, the TSAG, manage the continuity and evolution of the standards activity based on demonstrable need. It is also hardly the first time this rather obvious course of action has been suggested. However, rituals die hard in the ITU. The organization’s phototelegram standards committee continued to meet more than a decade after the last phototelegram was sent. So the ITU-T WTSAs and four-year cycles may continue until people just stop coming.

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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