ITU goes on the defensive ahead of WCIT meeting

There is no need for the ITU to take over Internet governance, its secretary general said

Companies and organizations that are convinced the International Telecommunication Union will try to take over the Internet during next week's World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) don't understand what the meeting can decide on, said representatives of the UN body.

Controversy regarding the ITU's role in Internet governance and economics has preceeded the Dubai meeting. For example, the European Parliament warned that some of the proposals presented ahead of WCIT, if implemented, could result in the ITU gaining power over the Internet.

At a Friday news conference the organization defended its existence and explained its role.

"This conference cannot assign the ITU with regulatory powers. Despite repeating this many times, it seems the message is simply not getting through," said Hamadoun Touré, ITU secretary general.

That stance received some support Friday from Harvard Law Professor Jack Goldsmith, who posted a blog item debunking what he called pre-WCIT "hysteria" and providing detailed background on the limits of the ITU's role regardless of what proposals succeed at the conference.

The Internet and the telecommunication sectors need to work together, according Touré. They are complimentary, and therefore there is no need for the ITU to take over Internet governance, he said.

The ITU has also been criticized for not being open enough, including providing access to documents.

"A number of national governments do make documents available, so this idea that they are somehow secret and need to be leaked is simply not true," said Richard Hill, counsellor to the ITU.

Touré also addressed criticism from Google, which said "governments alone should not determine the future of the Internet. The billions of people around the globe that use the Internet, and the experts that build and maintain it, should be included" on its Take Action website.

Google will find, at the WCIT, an environment completely different from what it is expecting, according to Touré. The meeting is not a place for discussing Internet governance, he said.

One thing the WCIT will do is work to help increase the number of people who have Internet access, said Touré.

"It is very important with all the talk we have heard of Internet freedom that most people in the world can't even access the Internet ... it is out of reach infrastructurally, economically, culturally and linguistically," Touré said.

Changing that is what next week's conference is really about, he added.

Other topics will be how to deal with spam; finding ways to lower the high costs of mobile roaming; and reducing ICT tariffs.

Touré also took the opportunity to address the shutdown of Internet communication in Syria, and called on the country's government to restore access.

Article 33 of ITU's constitution, which Syria has signed, protects the freedom to communicate and the right to access critical infrastructure, he said.

The WCIT conference takes place Dec. 3-14.

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