Consensus-Building, Compromise Led ITU to Eschew Broader Mandate Change

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By Bryce Baschuk

Nov. 6 — International Telecommunication Union members avoided fundamental changes to the organization's mandate and embraced a multistakeholder approach to Internet policy making during the final week of the organization's plenipotentiary conference in Busan, Korea.

Despite calls from various members to incorporate new ITU provisions to oversee Internet content matters related to privacy, cybersecurity, data protection and domain name governance, members were persuaded that such matters should be considered outside of the organization's remit.

U.S. delegates said they were pleased that ITU members adopted a more centrist approach to Internet policy matters and generally avoided changes that would have expanded the ITU's governance role.

The purpose of the meeting, which concludes Nov. 7, is to set the strategic agenda for the work of the ITU, elect its management team and ensure that its resources are adequate for the next four years.

U.S. Made Its Case

U.S. Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda commended the 130-member U.S. delegation for successfully reaching out to those members that disagreed with U.S. policies and resolving their challenges.

“We made a fairly strong, compelling and convincing case that there are things that this union does very well—like creating a policy environment that encourages investment in networks—and there are things that it doesn't have the expertise to do and shouldn't be doing,” Sepulveda told Bloomberg BNA.

“There were a lot of proposals coming into this conference that were of concern for us,” he said.

Specifically, members proposed resolution amendments to expand the ITU's authority over the domain name system (DNS), implement privacy and data protection guidelines, alter cybersecurity agreements and a controversial Indian proposal to ensure the traceability of communications.

Numbering Provisions Stripped

ITU members agreed to withdraw proposals—endorsed by Russia, China, and Saudi Arabia—aimed at providing the ITU with authority to coordinate global policies related to Internet governance or the issuance of domain names.

The U.S., which recently announced its decision to cede its Domain Name System oversight role, successfully encouraged members to adopt language that ensures such a transition will occur on a multistakeholder basis.

Members included new language in the Decision 11 document to require the ITU council to recognize the “need to promote and enhance equitable geographic distribution and gender balance,” as proposed by the U.S. delegation.

Members also revised Resolution 102 to recognize the “Internet-related activities of ITU, undertaken within its mandate with respect to the implementation of this resolution and other relevant ITU resolutions.”

No Surveillance Rules

ITU members did not include any language relating to privacy or government surveillance programs into the organization's Internet resolutions.

Members generally agreed that though privacy, surveillance and human rights are important issues, they fall outside the context of the ITU's mandate.

“This particular union's responsibility is to increase the amount of connections there are to the world and not to regulate or legislate what it is that people do with that access,” Sepulveda told Bloomberg BNA.

Members did add a section to Resolution 102 to ensure that the “sovereign and legitimate interests, as expressed and defined by each country, in diverse ways, regarding decisions affecting their ccTLDs, need to be respected and ensured, upheld and addressed via flexible and improved frameworks and mechanisms.”

NSA Ripples

The issue of privacy has gained increased international attention following revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs and many international groups to have sought to increase their involvement in Internet oversight matters.

ITU Secretary-General-elect Houlin Zhao recently told Bloomberg BNA that he thought the ITU should consider new guidelines to govern the lawful intercept of consumer telecommunications data.

Brazil, which had presented several proposals regarding surveillance and privacy, was ultimately satisfied with the final text of the resolutions, sources with knowledge of the negotiations said.

The Brazilian reaction was notable considering its government's condemnations of U.S. surveillance programs and subsequent decision to deploy a $185 million cross-Atlantic broadband cable to bypass American networks.

This year the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee launched the NetMundial Initiative on Internet Governance in partnership with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and the World Economic Forum.

Europe Delegation Pleased

“The European Commission is satisfied with the outcome of the plenipotentiary meeting of the ITU,” said Eddy Hartog, the head of unit international relations at the DG Connect department of the European Commission.

“Members generally reiterated the useful role the ITU plays in the wider ecosystem and encouraged cooperation on Internet governance matters,” he told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail statement.

“There was agreement to review the need for a new discussion on the International Telecommunications Regulations without a specific end goal,” Hartog said. “Also a number of technical resolutions were updated to take on board the developments over the last four years.”

WG-PL Report

The 10 ad hoc groups within the working group of the plenary (WG-PL) spent a total of 120 hours considering 85 proposals, versus 101 proposals at the Guadalajara conference in 2010.

The working group updated 1 decision (number 11), 21 resolutions (2, 30, 64, 70 101, 102, 123, 130, 131, 133, 136, 137, 139, 140, 174, 176, 179, 180, 182, and 183) and suppressed 2 resolutions (35 and 172).

The working group adopted 9 new resolutions that considered how to:

• implement the “Smart Africa Manifesto,”

• protect telecommunications service users and consumers,

• facilitate the Internet of Things,

• empower youth through telecommunications and information technology,

• promote the early adoption of software defined networking in developing countries,

• facilitate the deployment and use of ICT applications,

• use ICT to aid global health emergency efforts,

• promote connectivity to broadband networks, and

• advance a “Connect 2020” agenda. 

“I am convinced that the decisions taken at the WG-PL will help pave the way forward for the future direction of the Union,” said Musab Abdulla of Bahrain, the WG-PL chairman in his final report.

Committee 5 Report 

The ITU editorial committee agreed not to provide a definition of the term “information and communication technology (ICT)” at the conference and suggested the issue be addressed at the next plenipotentiary conference in 2018.

“This may seem like a detail but a formal definition at the plenipotentiary conference could have substantially changed the purpose, remit and meaning of a range of ITU Resolutions,” said Sally Shipman Wentworth, the vice president of global policy development at the Internet Society in a blog post.

The editorial committee recommended the suppression of 2 existing resolutions (163 and 171) and the revision of five existing resolutions (21, 146, 166, 169 and 177).

The committee adopted 6 new resolutions related to:

• global flight tracking for civil aviation,

• the ITU's role in outer space activities,

• a review of participation rules for sector members, associates and academia,

• combatting counterfeit telecommunications devices,

• the deterrence of mobile device theft, and

• countering the misappropriation and misuse of international telecommunications numbering resources. 

Detailed information about the modifications and new resolutions was not immediately available.

Consensus Sought

There was a general sense among U.S. delegates that ITU members had approached the matters before them with an emphasis on finding compromise and common ground, according to interviews with Bloomberg BNA.

Such an approach differed widely from the organization's failure to reach consensus on revisions to international telecommunications rules at the organization's 2012 World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), which was the organization's most recent treaty-making conference.

This time U.S. stakeholders spent many months proactively reaching out to those members who had disagreements and addressing their concerns prior to the conference, delegates said.

“These were not easy discussions, but for those of us who attended the 2012 WCIT, the dialogue here in Busan was much more positive and focused on finding consensus,” Shipman Wentworth wrote in her blog post. “There are many reasons for this but I think it's fair to say that widespread efforts by many parties for dialogue and outreach since 2012 have paid off.”

Sepulveda said the U.S. delegation advanced a “particularly strong effort in the Americas in making sure our reasons were strong and that groundwork really helped to make a productive dialogue here.”

2015 WSIS+10

There is much work still to be done to resolve disagreements over privacy issues, cross-border data rules and cybersecurity protections, delegates said.

“The issues that are controversial now are all the issues that relate to what people do on the Internet—how you protect your children, how you protect yourself, how you ensure that the interaction that you have with the wider community that is on a globally connected network is a healthy one,” Sepulveda said.

A likely venue for consideration of such issues will be the UN General Assembly's WSIS+10 meeting in New York City next December, he said.

Former Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell noted that the details of the plenipotentiary conference won't be implemented until 2015 after “subsequent pivotal meetings” are held by the ITU's Council Working Group.

“The ITU will continue to find a way to become increasingly involved in the Internet ecosphere over time,” McDowell told Bloomberg BNA.

“Some proposals, such as those by Russia, were not voted down but were essentially deferred to a later date,” said McDowell, now a partner at Wiley Rein LLP in Washington.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bryce Baschuk in Geneva at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joseph Wright at