The Tragedy of the ITU

December 12th, 2012

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:
To send a message to your country’s ITU delegation:
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.

8 comments for “The Tragedy of the ITU”

  1. 1

    tom jones said on December 13th, 2012 at 4:09 pm:

    it is very interesting that every single major company/organization that is usually considered to be “pro-internet” is against this ITU thing.

    also, as an European, i find it very interesting that all of those companies/orgs are from the US, and US is currently the one who practically “controls” major parts of the internet (de-jure or de-facto), and uses that control all around the world.

    i am not sure that the internet controlled by ITU, or its member states, would be such a worse place for non-US citizens. to date, ACTA, and other US laws and international trade agreements (sponsored by the US) have affected us non-US citizens much more than any Russian or Chinese “great firewall” censorship. and although SOPA and PIPA were not voted into laws, no one can guarantee that a similar US bill (affecting global internet) will not be in the future.

    US gov regularly shuts down websites all around the world directly (if they use a .com/net/org domain) or indirectly through big economical influence on other governments (recent ME.GA case and various torrent sites and (legal) music blogs from UK and Spain).

    (and i am yet to see a single issue where the Chinese, or any other government prevented me from accessing a single website)

    as a global mozillian, i wonder how is Mozilla ok with promoting this status quo, where interests of big companies from a single country are put ahead of the rights of the citizens all around the world?

  2. 2

    tom jones said on December 13th, 2012 at 4:20 pm:

    and in case i didn’t make it clear enough, i’m not especially pro-ITU, but at least, theoretically, in a ITU-controlled internet, some representative (that i voted for) could have a say in the way the internet is governed, and thus protect my interests (i say theoretically).

    as things stand today, as a citizen of a small european country i don’t feel anyone is fighting to protect my rights from massive US corporations..

  3. 3

    Pascal said on December 13th, 2012 at 7:45 pm:

    Hi Tom,

    As a European living in the US now I think I get your overall argument. Overall I believe the current outcry about the ITU meeting is much more about the specific suggestions which are discussed than the notion of the ITU getting involved in Internet regulation (or lack thereof). If you haven’t done so I suggest you reference the news source of your choice and read up on the proposals. They are clearly detrimental to a free and open Internet.

    The second point I would like to make is your comment about China (and other potentially oppressive states): “and i am yet to see a single issue where the Chinese, or any other government prevented me from accessing a single website”

    I believe that’s a bit short sighted. Yes – Internet traffic being firewalled in China might not affect you directly but it does affect humans in China in a very real way. And as human beings I believe we should care about other people’s right for freedom of expression and free speech as much as we should care about our own rights. Thus I would argue that we, as global citizens and participants of the free and open web, have an obligation to help where we can.


  4. 4

    tom jones said on December 13th, 2012 at 8:39 pm:

    i’m not being short sighted, i believe (practically) everyone looking at this from a US perspective (which regrettably includes my beloved Mozilla) is being US-centric and shortsighted.

    i used the Chinese firewall as an example exactly because it is being used by the opponents of ITU to spread FUD about these proposals, how Chinese gov will be able to censor US internet (similar FUD is being spread inside US about anything coming from the UN, like recent disability act, based on US laws, that failed to get ratified in the senate).

    as i see it, the current state of affairs:
    * internet in China is already under the control of the Chinese government, and any ITU decision is unlikely to change the situation much, at least not in the practical sense that affects Chinese citizens.
    * internet all around the world is currently under major control from US government, lobbyists and and mega-corporations. the ITU could change that, at least to some extent, limiting the influence of US gov to only control the internet *inside* the US.

    of course, i’m not naive, and don’t expect anything to work out perfectly, at least not when (international) politics are involved, but i also don’t believe current state of the affairs is that great, especially for non-US citizens. the majority of us don’t get a vote in any internet-related discussions, and that doesn’t sound so empowering or democratic.

    i think Mozilla is being short sighted in supporting the status quo. i believe you all are being blindsided by a few lucky “Arab springs” that just happened to be uprisings against regimes that are enemies of the US government. ask your self this: do you really believe that US government will not try to influence companies (twitter, facebook, google) and try to stifle an uprising against a US-friendly regime?

    oh, i guess we don’t have to wait to see what would happen in that hypothetical situation:
    (disclaimer: i’m neither of Jewish nor Muslim origin, i don’t have a dog in that race)

  5. 5

    tom jones said on December 13th, 2012 at 8:45 pm:

    oh, and now comment moderation. how nice it must be that the open internet fosters discussions, even when they criticize the organization?

    i vaguely remember something about glass houses and stones…

  6. 6

    tom jones said on December 13th, 2012 at 8:47 pm:

    oh, sorry, it was probably just because of the URLs in my third comment.. feel free to delete my last comment, along with this one..

  7. 7

    Laurence said on January 22nd, 2013 at 2:27 am:

    I believe the internet should remain free and uncensored by a governing authority. I will be writing to our country’s ITU delegation. Thank you for the link.

  8. 8

    تعارف بلاك بيري said on March 19th, 2013 at 9:22 pm:

    thanx for this (:

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