The ITU has a long and venerable history. Today that history and reputation are at risk. Negotiations in Dubai this week on updating the International Telecommunications Regulations treaty contemplate expanding the ITU’s scope to regulate aspects of online life. If this happens, the ITU will find itself on a collision course with online freedom and the aspirations of the world’s international digital citizens. The efforts to set the ITU up to regulate the Internet are written in technical terms, but they actually make global public policy on questions of freedom, such as monitoring of Internet communications, the relationship of a citizen to civil organizations and government. The ITU is on the cusp of recreating itself as a lobbying institution at odds with individual citizens.
This would be a tragedy. A tragedy for the ITU, for the Internet and for each of us.
The ITU was founded in 1865 as the International Telegraph Union and is now a United Nations agency. The ITU coordinates the shared global use of radio spectrum, as well as satellite orbits. It has done significant work on telecommunications standardization and interoperability. It strives to improve access to information and communications technologies to underserved communities worldwide. (The ITU awarded Mozilla its World Information Society Award in 2007.) The ITU is a membership organization — only governments and civil organizations can participate. Citizens do not have a right to see the materials or know the content of a discussion, let alone participate in the decision-making process. This might have been a reasonable approach for spectrum allocation and standardization. It is not acceptable for the types of issues the ITU is now contemplating under the rubric of “Internet governance.” Transforming the ITU into a global public policy maker with no accountability to any citizenry is a recipe for disaster.
It is imperative that citizens have a right to participate in the public policy question of the Internet era. These are topics that will define the tenor of our lives as everything moves online. Moving these topics to the ITU will not bring us a better Internet. It will not enhance the ITU’s venerable history.
The best thing the ITU can do to promote a healthy Internet is step away from any temptation to regulate or govern today’s Internet debates. The deeper the ITU’s commitment to empowering people, the more crisply the ITU should step away.
Citizens must insist on this and I encourage you to learn more and take action to make your voice heard.
To learn more, we’ve assembled a list of resources: https://webmaker.org/en-US/ITU/kit/#the-issues
To send a message to your country’s ITU delegation: http://www.protectinternetfreedom.net/stand
To sign a petition to keep the Internet open: choose from the options here to “Mobilize on the Web.”
To see how easy it can be to develop your own personalized video message, check out the template and tutorial.