An update from the ITU's Plenipotentiary Conference

Friday 2 November
A blog post from Jordan Carter, CEO of InternetNZ

Hello and welcome to an update from the ITU's plenipot conference in Dubai.

Background

One of the constant tensions in the world of "Internet Governance" is a tension between the way that Internet resources are coordinated at the global level, and how some governments would like them to be.

In brief, organisations like InternetNZ locally, APNIC regionally and ICANN globally, aren't part of a treaty framework. They are private organisations that operate in an open way, and have proven able custodians of some critical Internet resources - domain names, IP addressing, AS numbers, protocol parameters and so on.

Some countries believe that this state of affairs is not right, and would like governments through international treaties to have control over these resources. That'd be a major change to the foundations of the Internet. Other countries, NZ included, believe the current system is working well, and that new roles for governments aren't required.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU)

The International Telecommunications Union (https://itu.int) is a U.N. system agency that is a key forum in this debate. It has roles in development of communications, radio spectrum and space access for communications, and telecommunication standards and regulations. Check out their website for more detail. It's a Treaty-based intergovernmental organisations. Only governments have a say and a vote. Industry, civil society, academia are either here as part of government delegations (as I am), or as spectators and corridor lurkers. It's a very strange system compared to the openness and even footing of, for instance, the ICANN world.

I've been at the ITU this week to learn a bit more about how it works. Other InternetNZ colleagues are or will be here for the three weeks of the event. 

Jordan Carter at ICANN 63

The methods are arcane

It's a strange environment. About 2,000 delegates in a huge conference centre in Dubai in working groups, ad hocs, committee meetings and plenaries. A diverse range of perspectives are on the table in most areas, grouped into texts by regional groups (e.g. Arab States, Inter-Americas, Asia Pacific, Europe) to amend Resolutions of the Plenipotentiary conference.

It's a taste of intergovernmental work that is at once fascinating and concerning, because the methodology (a three week event, elections held by means of paper ballots with special pens, a major conference on a four-year cycle) would not at all suit the Internet and its ongoing development. But some are trying to put Internet topics on the table.

The issues: AI, cyber security and more

Among the issues are some ITU member states seeking a greater role for the ITU in domain name management and other Internet policy issues (the transition from IPv4 to IPv6, IP networks and broader Internet policy matters), suggested resolutions on Artificial Intelligence, over the top (OTT) services, cybersecurity and more. 

More significant than the policy debate perhaps are calls by some member states to have another treaty-based conference on cyber security in 2020. This would be a concern in two ways: it would expand the ITU's scope into areas which aren't core to its role, and would potentially duplicate or cut across the Budapest Convention process where cyber security is otherwise being dealt with.

InternetNZ people here are helping make sure New Zealand's voice is heard, and our general perspective is aligned with the Government. ITU is an organisation with a clear role and scope, and we would rather it does not adventure into new areas, clashing with Internet governance organisations that have specific roles already.

Elections - the ITU's first woman Director!

Besides the policy issues under discussion, the Plenipotentiary (which happens every four years) elects the leadership roles. It was very exciting to see that for the first time in its history, the Union has elected a woman to its top slate - Doreen Bogdan-Martin from the US - to lead the Telecommunications Development Bureau. This role has been traditionally held by African candidates, as the continent is a key location where development is needed to connect more people, so there is more than one first represented by her election.

As part of those elections, I had the privilege of dropping New Zealand's votes in the ballot box. Exciting ballot-box photo:

Jordan Carter casts New Zealand's votes at the ITU Plenipotentiary 2018, 1 November in Dubai, UAE

Why we're here

InternetNZ is a strong supporter of the open system of Internet governance both in Aotearoa New Zealand and globally. Since the Internet is global, our interest in protecting the openness of the Internet and its technologies and governance is also global. Putting governments in charge would undermine the nature of the Internet we have today, with all the opportunities it has brought to date and will bring in future.

So that's why we are here, helping out. The aim of being here is to support the government officials who lead the New Zealand delegation, and help to add subject matter expertise into debates on some key issues.

If you'd like to know more about any of the matters on the table at the ITU, please do get in touch.