Tuesday, June 12, 2012
Does the ITU Want to Regulate the Internet?
Remarkably the International Telecommunication Union (“ITU”) has flown under the radar scope of critics. This specialized United Nations agency does have a substantial impact on telecommunications, spectrum management and the Internet. Wireless carriers in the United States can blame the FCC all they want for spectrum scarcity, but the true originator of spectrum allocation decisions typically is the ITU. Nations usually follow the ITU consensus in their domestic allocations. While nations can take a “reservation” to the ITU consensus and make a unilateral, national decision, few do. Pursuing an exception usually ends up costing the outlier, because equipment adhering to that specification may not have the same scale and efficiency as one adhering to a global standard. Think first generation cellular AMPS versus GSM.
It should come as no surprise that the ITU has turned its attention to the Internet: as we migrate more information, communications and entertainment to an IP-centric network, the ITU surely will offer its “good offices” to anticipate and resolve conflicts.
The U.S. has disproportionately low influence in the ITU, largely because few U.S. citizens serve in senior management positions. Such underrepresentation results from limited second and third language skills and the perception that working at the anything related to the United Nations won’t enhance one’s career. Of course it does not help that the organization of structure and unstated philosophy of the ITU tends to favor non-Western nations, even when the matter does not involve development and bridging the digital (or analog) divide.
The ITU has not engaged in a power grab as much as pursue its real or perceived mission.