Not-So-Hidden Agendas Threaten the ITU “Kumbaya” Moment
Not-So-Hidden Agendas Threaten the ITU “Kumbaya” Moment
Not-So-Hidden Agendas Threaten the ITU “Kumbaya” Moment

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    One of the things that has drawn Public Knowledge to be an
    active participant in the effort to ensure that the United Nations doesn’t
    become an Internet regulatory or governance body is the fact that nearly every
    civil society group, policymaker and industry representative is on the same

    As I have said previously, it is one of those very rare
    “kumbaya” moments in communications policy debates where there is consensus –
    when the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) meets at the World
    Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai this December,
    its jurisdiction should not expand to encompass Internet policymaking.

    Unfortunately, some US policymakers and industry players
    have tried to leverage this harmonious moment into an opportunity to gain
    advantage on a number of other, mostly controversial policy matters.  These not so-hidden agendas not only divert
    attention from US Government’s main goal at the WCIT, but even worse, threaten
    to fracture the unity among industry, policymakers and civil society – a
    fissure that will almost certainly be noticed and highlighted by those looking
    to expand the ITU’s power. 

    Here are the side agendas that have reared their heads over
    the past several months:

    1. The Black
    Helicopter Agenda
    .  Some policymakers
    are using the WCIT as an opportunity to beat on the United Nations generally
    and China and Russia specifically.  And
    while it is true that China and Russia (along with some repressive Arab states)
    have made several very worrisome proposals that would allow the ITU to have
    control over free expression, they are not the sole supporters of expanding the
    ITU’s power.  A number of countries,
    particularly developing countries in the Global South, have concerns over  US and US industry control over Internet governance.  And others, particularly African countries,
    believe that an expanded ITU role over Internet traffic will somehow result in
    increased economic benefits. 

    Framing this issue as nothing more than a fight with China
    and Russia minimizes the legitimate concerns of these other countries, many of
    which might be our allies.  And it gives
    credence to the folks who say we are all being hyperbolic, there is nothing to worry about and we should just move
    on.  Better than dismiss or ignore the legitimate
    concerns of our potential allies, we should validate them and commit to address
    them, albeit in a forum other than the ITU.

    2. The
    “Multistakeholder Processes” is Always Good All the Time Agenda.
      There is much to commend multistakeholder
    governance in a fast-changing Internet economy, particularly for Internet governance
    and technical issues.  But those pushing
    the expansion of multistakeholder processes to all manner of Internet policy
    issues rarely mention their main shortcoming – civil society and developing
    countries rarely have the resources to participate fully.  Until multistakeholder bodies provide all stakeholders with an opportunity
    for effective participation, those left out will try to find other forums (like
    the ITU) to find relief. 

    In a domestic policy context, particularly in matters where
    there are clear winners and losers, multistakeholder bodies (with representation from all stakeholders) may be useful to determine where there are areas of agreement
    and disagreement and to make recommendations. 
    But in those cases, government still needs to serve as the ultimate
    decisionmaker and enforcer of whatever norms or regulations result. 

    3.  The “We must not regulate the Internet the
    way we regulate the telephone network” (or Title II) agenda. 
    Not content with their victory over the
    so-called “nuclear option” of the FCC classifying Internet access as a Title II
    telecommunications service in the net neutrality context, some telecom industry representatives and their friends in Congress have decided to use
    the consensus over the ITU to revisit both the Title II debate and net
    neutrality itself.  They argue that if you don’t want international government control over
    the Internet, you shouldn’t want domestic “control” over the Internet

    Of course, as we said ad nauseum in the open Internet
    debate, net neutrality (and Title II) speaks to Internet access and not the content,
    applications and services that make up the Internet itself.  Regardless, and as Harold so eloquently states, one can advocate against the ITU expanding its powers and still support
    a specific policy that is being proposed at the ITU.   If that were not the case, net neutrality opponents would be
    duty-bound to support ITU regulation of the Internet because all of the
    proposals with regard to an open Internet have been ones that would undermine
    net neutrality by permitting prioritization and quality of service (QoS)

    *        *       *

    With December and the WCIT approaching rapidly, everyone
    who is united in the belief that the ITU should not expand its powers should keep
    their eyes on the prize.  Using the WCIT
    as a stalking horse for other agendas threatens to derail the progress the US
    Government, industry and civil society have already made to persuade our allies
    to join with us to preserve an open Internet free of centralized control.