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UN plans Internet governance amid outcry to defund ITU

U.N. telecom arm ITU moves forward on control of internet governance and seeks to redefine "multistakeholder." A new petition demands ITU's U.S. funding stop.
Written by Violet Blue, Contributor

A petition to de-fund the U.N.'s telecom arm emerges just as the ITU readies to hammer out internet governance plans at the World Telecommunication Information and Communication Technology Policy Forum meetings in February and May 2013.

The website De-fund the ITU surfaced on the January NANOG (North American Network Operators' Group) email list. 

Its Whitehouse.gov petition De-fund the ITU demands the U.S. government stop its financial contributions to the ITU.


It comes after the ITU's recent attempt at internet governance and monetization through tolls at its WCIT-12 summit in Dubai last month.

The U.N. debacle prompted widespread internet outrage, an unprecedented unanimous U.S. House of Representatives vote in opposition, and refusal from 55 countries to sign the ITU's treaty.

No matter - as usual, the ITU has its own plans.

Five days ago ITU's Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré released the fourth and final ITU/WTPF-13 report outlining groundwork for internet governance (and internet regulatory topics) at upcoming meetings on February 6-8 and May 14-16.

Discussions at WTPF-13 will be based on this report and will serve as the sole working document of the Forum.

ITU re-defines "multistakeholder"

The ITU/WTPF-13 report explicitly includes the creation of "Global Principles for the governance and use of the Internet" and resolving issues pertaining to "use of Internet resources for purposes that are inconsistent with international peace, stability and security."

The Report explains the current multistakeholder model of internet governance is "under discussion" and acknowledges that members Cisco, U.K., U.S., and ISOC view the current governance of the Internet as "sufficient."

However, "with regards to international Internet-related public policy, the role of one stakeholder – Governments – has not been allowed to evolve."

For the Policy Forum, the ITU also has 64 "informal Experts" weighing in.

The "experts" are comprised mostly of Member State telecom representatives (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iran, others), plus individuals representing the interests and opinions of Verizon, Cisco Systems, British Telecom, the FCC, The Internet Society, ARIN, ICANN, and PayPal.

Who funds the ITU?

The website promoting the petition, defundtheitu.org, provides details and ITU funding summaries showing which countries contribute to the ITU and the tech companies (Member Sectors) that provide millions to continue the ITU (and its subgroups) respective missions.

According to The ITU’s 2012-2015 membership roll and dues one Contributory Unit is equivalent to CHF 318,000 (1 Swiss Franc equals $1.10).

Currently the US pays 30 Contributory Units (nearly $11 million per year) to the ITU as does Japan, making the two countries its top donors. Other big contributors include Germany at 25 units, Italy: 15, Saudi Arabia: 13, China: 12, UK: 10, Russia: 10.

Member Sector donations contribute additional monies to ITU subgroups. American Member Sector companies include Apple, AT&T, Cisco, Intel, Motorola, Sprint, Verizon and many more.

(Member Sector entities pay self-elected Contributory Units for ITU-T, R and D participation currently set at one-tenth what Member States pay - 31,800 Swiss Francs per "member" contributory unit per sector.)

Financial support for ITU is also provided by the U.S. in that international organizations - namely the ITU and its employees - are exempted from U.S. Federal tax withholding (Exhibit 5.19.11-13: International Organizations Exempt from Federal Withholding Requirements).

WCIT-12 outrage, ITU duplicity, and aftermath

One month ago the U.N.'s ITU held its World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT-12) in Dubai, where Member States proposed revisions to the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR) - to expand jurisdiction over the Internet, such as creating pay-per-use tolls, heightening surveillance, and to give nation states increased control over the Internet.

Global opposition created an epic backlash, fueled by the ITU's insistence to keep conference documents from the public - despite ITU's insistence its process was transparent.

In response to ITU's secretive processes researchers at George Mason University created WCITLeaks, a website that solicited and shared copies of leaked WCIT/ITU documents.

As WCIT-12 unfolded, leaked proposals revealed plans from Russia, China, and similar regimes for an ITU-supported play at WCIT-12 to define the internet as a system of government-controlled networks, among other deeply disturbing intents.

Democratic and free speech organizations joined internet giants in the outcry, such as Google with its Take Action campaign, and the formation of country blocs included the U.S., the European Parliament, Canada, Mexico and more.

At WCIT conference end, the ITU went back on its specific promises that the treaty would not be about the internet and would not be put to a vote.

Eli Dourado is a co-founder of WCITLeaks and was a member of the US delegation to WCIT-12. In Behind closed doors at the U.N.’s attempted "takeover of the Internet" Dourado wrote,

The purpose of the meeting, claimed ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré, was simply to update the treaty that governs international phone calls; it had last been revised in 1988, when most phone companies were state-owned monopolies. Claims that the conference would implicate the Internet were part of a misinformation campaign pursued by unnamed opponents of the ITU, Touré said.

Dourado described how the ITU forced its treaty agreement with a vote that it insisted was not a vote:

(...) What followed was surreal. The Chairman calmly said that he had a long list of countries wishing to speak, and that in lieu of going through the list, he was going to take the “feel of the room” by asking countries to hold up their voting boards if they supported the resolution as amended by the Secretary-General. After also asking for those against, the Chairman said simply, “The majority is with having the resolution in.” After some applause, he added, “Thank you. Now we can go to Corrigendum 2.”

There were immediate inquiries from the UK and Spain as to whether we had just decided the issue by a vote. We had been promised, after all, that there would be no votes, that all decisions would be decided by consensus. In response to the UK’s inquiry, the Chairman replied, “The majority agreed to adopt the resolution as amended.” In response to Spain’s, the Chairman answered, “No, it was not a vote, and I was clear about it. Thank you, Spain.”

De-fund the ITU claims,

Their goal was a coup: to overthrow the open and transparent system of Internet governance that ensures the Internet’s freedom and accessibility, and replace it with their own central point of absolute control, through which policies of censorship and repression could be enacted.

The U.S. and 54 countries revolted and refused to sign. This prompted subsequent headlines that claimed the ITU had failed its attempt at an Internet power-grab, and that the treaty was defeated.

Meanwhile, some the 89 signing countries hurried home to begin implementation of the problematic new treaty.

At The Internet Society's Post-WCIT Roundtable panel on December 21, U.S. Ambassador Terry Kramer, head of Delegation WCIT-12, expressed serious concern about what will happen as the 89 governments move toward treaty implementation.

Amb. Kramer unequivocally stated that, "the ITU needs to step back from governance and content." He cautioned the room that America may have taken a stand against the treaty, but that "the U.S. does not own the internet."

Kramer said, "The internet must be left alone."

If the De-Fund The ITU petition and movement is successful in the U.S., the ITU stands to lose 7.7% of its budget.

It could indeed hurt the slippery organization, which has had to increase the dollar amount of Contributory Units as membership and elected contributions have dwindled over the past decade.

And if Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré's ITU/WTPF-13 far-reaching internet governance report is any indication, ITU needs the internet now more than ever.

One thing is certain: the internet does not need the ITU.

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