The 2012 version of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) is history, and the next phase has begun, i.e., trying to figure out what it all means! Many theories abound within the Twitter-verse, blogs and various email strings.
At a minimum, WCIT served as a lens that brought into greater focus the risks and opportunities that lay before us. With only 89 countries thus far signing onto the revised International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) – less than 2/3rds of the delegations participating – the WCIT result cannot sincerely be spun as “consensus,” no matter how strongly some may argue otherwise. Even so, clearly, there is a lack of global agreement – a “polarization of views,” in Ambassador Terry Kramer’s words – on the role and future of the Internet.
The challenge to win the “hearts and minds” of governments and users in favor of an open, accessible, multi-stakeholder modelis very real and immediate, with the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU) World Telecommunication/Information and Communication Technology Policy Forum looming just over horizon (May 2013). During that conference, among other things, delegates will consider a resolution regarding “ITU’s role with regard to international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and management of Internet resources, including domain names and addresses” (click here for conference information).
No matter one’s view of the ITU, we have to acknowledge that the institution has done an effective job of positioning itself as a credible resource for developing countries. In a candid conversation earlier this year with an African telecommunications official, he essentially dismissed what he characterized as “theoretical” arguments being posed by the United States and the information and communications technology (ICT) industry against a broader ITU role in Internet governance, ICT standardization and other related matters. In his view, the ITU is the only entity making a sincere effort to reach out and engage his and similar governments, and while he readily acknowledged the ITU’s limitations in many areas, including in the ICT realm, he saw no other viable options in the marketplace. He closed by saying that if the U.S. wanted to persuade developing countries to move in another direction, then we have to provide tangible alternatives to the ITU that help governments tackle real-world challenges.
WCIT has already provided a potential roadmap for addressing this challenge and winning the “hearts and minds.” A handful of developing countries chose not to support the revised ITRs. Many of these countries have already recognized and are embracing ICT and the Internet as catalysts for economic development and societal advancement. Kenya, Costa Rica, Chile, the Philippines and others may well be excellent candidates for concentrating government and industry attention and resources to create a locus of activity that highlights and reinforces the tangible value of an open, multi-stakeholder-governed Internet in liberalizing markets and seeding economic growth.
ITI’s ITU Task Force will be exploring the question of the association’s level of involvement and possible collaborations post-WCIT. The Standardization Policy Committee will also discuss strategy on how to effectively engage developing countries at its January meeting in San Diego. We also welcome enquiries from governments and other organizations that share our view regarding the criticality of maintaining a free and open Internet.