ITU: Internet policy still on its agenda

ITU is the best place to discuss issues on which there is no clear consensus, said its Secretary General

Public policy formulation in all domains, including the Internet, is the sovereign right of member states, according to ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré, suggesting that a debate over control of the Internet is far from over at the telecommunications body.

Touré was quoting from the Internet governance section of the Tunis Agenda in 2005 of the World Summit on the Information Society.

The Tunis Agenda also acknowledged the crucial facilitating role intergovernmental organizations, such as the International Telecommunication Union, have and should continue to have in the coordination of Internet-related public policy issues, Touré said.

The issue of the control and regulation of the Internet divided the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in December, hosted by the ITU in Dubai.

"It was disappointing in Dubai to see attempts to derail the conference by those who were persuaded that Internet control was an issue for discussion, when it was not," Touré said on Wednesday to the Council Working Group on International Internet-Related Public Policy, according to a transcript on the ITU website. He said he was meeting some of the members for the first time after the WCIT.

The Internet cannot and does not work without telecommunications infrastructure, Touré said.

"And that's what WCIT-12 was really all about -- creating the right environment for telecommunications infrastructure investment and rollout," he added.

The final treaty of the WCIT, which comes into effect in 2015, did not refer to the management of the Internet, but a non-binding proposal in the appendix stated that all governments should have an equal role and responsibility for international Internet governance, the security and stability of the Internet, and its future development.

Issues of Internet policy and governance are expected to come up during the current meeting as well as at the World Telecommunication/Information and Communication Technology Policy Forum (WTPF) to be held in Geneva in May, which is focused on "international Internet-related public policy matters."

The draft of the ITU's secretary general's report, which when finalized will be the background paper for the WTPF, has indicated that the forum will discuss a variety of issues relating to the Internet, though these will not result in prescriptive decisions but only non-binding opinions. The draft was posted on the ITU website and is open for comments till Feb. 1.

Among the issues to be discussed are earlier resolutions relating to Internet Protocol based networks, ITU's role with regard to international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and the management of Internet resources, including domain names and addresses, and roles of administrations of member states in the management of internationalized (multilingual) domain names.

There was also concern at the WCIT on the effects of the treaty, with some observers and participants in the discussions worried that provisions on security and spam will give some countries cover to censor Web content. Some analysts though argued that countries that want to censor the Internet already do so within their own borders.

The U.S., U.K. and some other delegations to the conference did not sign the treaty as they were worried at the outset about provisions on Internet governance and content. The U.S. and its allies maintained that the ITU, a telecommunications body, should have no role in the regulation of the Internet.

89 signatory countries representing not just most of the world's people, but an even greater majority of the world's unconnected people have signed the treaty at the WCIT, Touré said on Wednesday. Other countries can accede to the treaty between now and when it comes into force in January 2015. "Indeed we already have a number of countries that have requested details on how they should go about acceding to the treaty," Touré said.

Much of the management of the Internet, including its numbering and naming system is currently in the hands of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) under contract with the U.S. government. There have been demands that the U.S. should cut its funding to the ITU.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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