ITU on Internet governance debates

From IP Watch, an extensive interview with ITU Strategist Alexander Ntoko, which covers among other things, ITU's recommendation to member states to continue the IGF, and the ITU's preparations for the upcoming Plenipot this October in Mexico, including how the ITU-ICANN debate is “about countries wanting to play an equal role in those global policies that affect the internet,” how “the management of IPv6 is peanuts” compared to international spectrum management, but “there has to be clarity in what membership wants us to do”:

IPW: ITU has had quite a role in internet governance. But there was concern a couple of years ago that the Internet Governance Forum that arose from the ITU-led World Summit on the Information Society [2003 and 2005] was a meaningless exercise. What is the view now of ITU of that exercise and the IGF now that a decision must be made about its future?

NTOKO: This was discussed in a meeting with membership and we were asked this question. There is a Council working group dealing specifically with this subject. I was asked what the Secretary-General said in Sharm El-Sheikh [the latest meeting of the Internet Governance Forum, held in November 2009]. He and the other elected officials will recommend to membership the continuation. It is a decision of the membership. It will start in the Council, and this will be a serious topic at the plenipotentiary. His proposal is posted. As far as the secretariat is concerned, our recommendations have been made. This recommendation will be subject to discussion by membership.

IPW: In the past, some have seen a competition between ITU and other bodies like ICANN for the leading role in global internet governance.

NTOKO: Our role in internet governance, or internet policies, stems again from clear decisions of ITU membership. A good reference would be on our website on internet governance. You will see decisions of ITU membership. They have to do with ITU playing a significant role in internet domain names and addresses. One of the concerns that a number of countries have raised is that the model for governing this global network needs to change from what it was when it came out 35 or so years ago when it was a research and academic network. Today it is a core infrastructure for countries, including security, health, all types of services governments that provide and businesses are relying on. It is no longer a research network for people who knew each other. It is a global infrastructure and its governance model needs to take into account the policies. For example, you are a minister of health or minister of defense, you have your national health policy or national security policy. The tool that you are using or that everybody is using is the internet. How do you reflect, what influence do you have, in the policies that govern the internet so they can take into account your national needs. I think it is a lot about sovereignty, it’s a lot about countries wanting to play an equal role in those global policies that affect the internet. And that is one of the reasons why WSIS came up with those types of languages where no country should be involved in the management of another country’s ccTLDs and all of that. Those pressures have moved into ITU.

Our policy is not defined by IGF, it’s not defined by ICANN, it’s not defined by the ICANN community but it is defined by ITU member states. This means we have to look for ways of addressing this consensus. We don’t have a battle with ICANN. There are misunderstandings sometimes. These misunderstandings are more to do with, ‘ITU wants to take over what we are doing’. We believe the resolutions, the decisions taken by ITU members, particularly taken at plenipotentiary conferences, are very clear. Governments need to play a role in public policies, and our membership is saying we need to play that role on an equal footing. The plenipotentiary will tell us how far they want to push on this.

There are signals that it is a topic of high interest [this year]. That is very clear. What will come out of this high interest will depend on the beginning that will take place in Mexico. But it is clear it is an area of high interest on both sides. There are two sides. We are caught in the middle. We try to make sure we don’t go out there and say things that will upset either one side or the other. We as secretariat stick to the decisions and we defend them because they are taken by sovereign countries, and they are taken by consensus. Not all countries necessarily agree on how these will be implemented and the role it will have, and that is the difficult thing we fight with on a daily basis.

IPW: On the work on the IPv6 [the next generation internet], how does that represent ITU’s role in the internet infrastructure?

NTOKO: ITU was formed to harmonise the global coordinated development of telecommunication networks and services. That’s the core mandate of ITU. ITU in that regard ensures the fair and equitable access to public resources related to global telecommunications networks and services, it’s important, and services. We do that for spectrum, which has more implications than IPv4, IPv6 addresses. When you remember WRC [ITU’s World Radiocommunication Conference], you cannot imagine the implications of the treaties that ITU arrives at for spectrum management. Spectrum was sold for billions when the Europeans were launching 3G. We have done that, and the only organisation who [does]. Some of the WRC people will sit at the [Geneva conference centre] for a six-month conference, they have to agree. Spectrum is … from your mobile phone to military and very sensitive applications, [so] there should be no interference. If we can manage something that complex, which requires extreme calculations, renting supercomputers to manage the interference, the management of IPv6 is peanuts, it’s a trivial matter. People should not continue with this argument that this is too technical for ITU. We are doing much more complex matters than IP address management could ever lead to. This is locating blocks of numbers.

What will ITU do there? It is important to put it within the context of the public resource it has become today. Internet protocol v6 and v4 are considered today as a public resource like spectrum. Some of our member states believe that the policies that govern the v4 addresses which led to the almost depletion of the v4 address space might be used in the v6. So there’s a debate going on right now on this, with of course the two sides again. We will have to see what the membership wants us to do. Probably they will have to make it very clear and say, ‘Well, we want you, ITU, to manage IPv6 at the global level, and discuss with the relevant entities’ – in most cases that has to be the IANA [Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, which solely makes underlying changes to the internet root] contract and the US Department of Commerce [which retains control of IANA]. So the decision has to be clear, hopefully this will come in the plenipot. I don’t know which way it’s going to go, but now we are playing a facilitating role, a role to study, to maybe work on global policies, build capacity, raise awareness amongst developing countries, promoting IPv6 deployment.

People should not feel worried or scared that ITU is trying to take over anybody’s responsibility. We are driven by decisions of our membership. If they make a decision that we should become a global registry then we would have to work this out. But there has to be clarity in what membership wants us to do.


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