Last night at 1:30am in the morning the fears of many citizens, businesses, NGOs and public agencies were realized as the chairman of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) called for an unexpected vote to have a UN agency, where only governments have a real voice, take on a more active role in governing the Internet. Delegates voted on the inclusion of language that drives states to engage the ITU in Internet governance. The proposal was adopted over substantial opposition and undermines the current bottom up, multi-stakeholder governance structure of the Internet.
The vote sidesteps the traditional practice of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which has always operated by consensus. It contradicts the words of the ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré
, who for months insisted that the WCIT would under no circumstances address Internet concerns – and that all decisions would be made by consensus, not voting. As an organization that has been involved in technology policy for over 40 years and which has — with its members — been actively involved in helping shape Internet policy, the Computer & Communications Industry Association is deeply troubled by these developments.
The following can be attributed to CCIA President & CEO Ed Black (While CCIA is represented on the US delegation in Dubai, we do not speak for the delegation):
“The growth of the Internet can largely be attributed to its decentralized governance structure. Although – as with many multi-stakeholder organizations — the process through which decisions are made can at times be chaotic, it is hard to argue with the results. Since the turn of the millennium, worldwide Internet penetration rate has grown from 6 percent to 35 percent of the world’s population. That is a growth of more than 2 billion users in the span of only 12 years. More than any technology or invention that came before it, the Internet has empowered citizens, supercharged commerce, inspired innovation and revolutionized education and the diffusion of knowledge around the globe.”
“Because of the Internet’s success as a means of communications and commerce, CCIA strongly objects to fundamentally changing how the Internet is governed. Although global dialogue and outreach around the future of Internet governance may be healthy, it needs to be centered on extending and updating the multi-stakeholder process that has shepherded the Internet through its unprecedented growth trajectory. Under no circumstances should the stewards of the Internet be forced to hand over the keys to Internet governance mechanisms to a body where the short-sighted political considerations of morally questionable regimes hold more weight than concerns of the very engineers and programmers who have built and maintained the Internet since its birth. The controversial circumstances that gave rise to yesterday’s Internet power grab should be illuminating. Giving this body control over the future of greatest input to the world’s economy should be a non-starter.
“The ITU has had a narrow but useful role with regard to coordinating and facilitating some aspects of the operation of multinational telecommunications systems. Going forward, if the ITU hopes to regain some of the legitimacy it has accrued in its historic areas of responsibility, it will have to recalibrate its approach and focus on more noble, less political goals. There is still much work to be done in diffusing telecommunications technology around the world, encouraging investment in telecommunications services, and facilitating dialogue among the world’s telecommunications regulators. Drastically altering the structure of an Internet governance framework that has worked well up to this point would not only be ill advised, but would call into question the very legitimacy of the ITU itself. “