At the end of last year, the ITU’s WCIT conference in Dubai saw governments sharply divided on controlling the Internet. On the one hand, authoritarian governments such as Russia and China wanted governments in charge of the Internet. On the other, democracies led by the US, including New Zealand, favoured a multi-stakeholder model.
Now comes the next round, the World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum (WTPF) in Geneva from 14th to 16th May.
Much of the meeting agenda sounds positive and progressive. For example, the Strategic Dialogue on Building our Broadband Future. However, the real heart of the WTPF is the report of the ITU Secretary General (Word document) and six draft opinions for consideration of policy makers.
For me, a key paragraph is 126.96.36.199 b) iv) on page 11 which states:
all governments should have an equal role and responsibility for international Internet governance and for ensuring the stability, security and continuity of the existing Internet and its future development and of the future Internet, and that the need for development of public policy by governments in consultation with all stakeholders is also recognized.
In other words, governments are in charge of the Internet while all other stakeholders only play a consultative role.
There are several other mentions in the report that try to set out the lack of government control over the Internet as the major policy issue. While setting out arguments both for and against greater government control, it is clear which way the ITU is leaning. Consider paragraph 188.8.131.52 c) i) on page 13:
Another view is that further evolution is needed to keep pace with the spread of the Internet around the world, how the Internet is used today and that the various players need to work together to ensure its ongoing evolution. Those holding this view state that, with regards to international Internet-related public policy, the role of one stakeholder – Governments – has not been allowed to evolve according to WSIS principles, paragraph 35 of Tunis Agenda specifying that “Policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States. They have rights and responsibilities for international Internet-related public policy issues”. They consider this to be one reason for ongoing challenges in dealing with various issues (e.g., exploitation of children, security, cyber-crime and spam, etc).
Note the elevation of Internet policy to a sovereign right of governments and how undermining those rights are the cause of evil issues online.
In summary, the ITU seems to be happy to go along with the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance provided it can re-define the term to mean government control! That’s what makes the ITU such a useful tool in the hands of authoritarian governments and master of the long-term game.
And so it continues, sharply divided governments manoeuvring and battling on the question of controlling the Internet while the rest of the world moves on.