A memo (WCIT-12 Memo 1-23-12 (871)) from the US government dated January 23, 2012, makes it clear that the ITU World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) to be held in Dubai this December poses little threat of a “takeover” of the Internet by intergovernmental institutions.
The memo, circulated among private sector stakeholders by the US government policy makers, says that “One year ago there was great and widespread concern that WCIT-12 would be a battle over investing the ITU with explicit Internet governance authority.” The memo goes on to note, however, that to forestall this threat the USG “developed a detailed WCIT-12 position” that pushed to make the existing International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) the basis for treaty negotiations. Within the “narrowly circumscribed scope” of the existing ITRs, the US sought to achieve “further deregulation and liberalization of international telecommunications markets” rather than major changes in Internet governance.
According to the US memo, that strategy was completely successful. “The existing ITRs have been accepted as the framework for negotiations,” the memo says. “There are no pending proposals to invest the ITU with ICANN-like Internet governance authority.” Although the memo does say that it is “wise to continue preparing for the possibility that foundational internet issues may arise at WCIT-12,” it admits that “the probability of that occurring seems low at this time…”
That’s good news for those of us who favor a denationalized, liberalized approach to Internet governance and telecommunications. But why, we must ask, are some journalists, consultants, and even U.S. government officials still going around saying that WCIT-12 is set to become some kind of battle royale over the future of Internet governance? Why are people like David Gross and Phil Wieser, advisors or ambassadors to the US government, quoted in these articles as if they are deeply concerned about the Internet sliding into some Russo-Chinese statist abyss? If, as the memo says, the US wishes to expand the coalition of actors paying attention to WCIT-12, does it think that scaring people with false or inflated threats is an appropriate way to do so? Why not make the case for further liberalization of international markets honestly, on the merits?