Monday, December 31, 2012

Internet Governance and the ITU

In "What went wrong at WCIT" (Online Opinion, 24 December 2012)  Paul Budde gave his usual insightful analysis of the debate about Internet governance at the World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT-12). WCIT is convened by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a body now under the UN (but which is actually much older than the UN), which coordinates telecommunications internationally. The WCIT meetings are frequently controversial, as they deal with how telecommunication operates internationally and, to some extent, within countries. But this controversy is usually only noticed by telecommunications professionals, whereas the debate over Internet governance received attention in the popular press.

Paul Budde argues that a key problem is difference in the definition of the Internet between the USA and the rest of the world, with the USA including the information content of the Internet, as well as the telecommunication infrastructure. I am not so sure this is the problem. The main issue is that countries want to control their telecommunications infrastructure and what their citizens use it for (some more than others). The Internet was largely developed by the USA and is still largely controlled by US based organizations. As a result the USA can take the high moral ground about Internet freedom, while being comfortable with the way it is used domestically.

For an understanding of the way the Internet was envisioned and the attitude of the ITU to it, I recommend Carl Malamud's 1992 book "Exploring the Internet: A Technical Travelogue", in which he reports on discussion with Internet pioneers including Vint Cerf and Geoff Huston, as well as ITU bureaucrats.

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