Dear ITU: A Complex Process Where Delegates Who Fly To Dubai Can 'Lobby' Is Not 'Transparency'
from the words-mean-things dept
The EU Parliament recently joined the US government in speaking out against the ITU’s upcoming WCIT event, which we’ve been discussing. This is where the ITU — an ancient organization designed to deal with telegraphs, and whose relevance today has been widely questioned — is seeking to take over certain aspects of internet governance, well outside its mandate. Certain countries — Russia and China in particular — and certain large telcos (including many EU ones) are looking at this as a way to advance very specific interests, either for increased control and censorship over the internet, or in forcing successful internet companies to fork over money to telcos who have failed to innovate. Thankfully, the EU Parliament has now spoken up about its concerns, noting a number of key points (these are just the first half, but they give you an idea):
1. Calls on the Council and the Commission to ensure that any changes to the International Telecommunication Regulations are compatible with the EU acquis and further the Union’s objective of, and interest in, advancing the internet as a truly public place, where human rights and fundamental freedoms, particularly freedom of expression and assembly, are respected and the observance of free market principles, net neutrality and entrepreneurship are ensured;
2. Regrets the lack of transparency and inclusiveness surrounding the negotiations for WCIT-12, given that the outcomes of this meeting could substantially affect the public interest;
3. Believes that the ITU, or any other single, centralised international institution, is not the appropriate body to assert regulatory authority over either internet governance or internet traffic flows;
4. Stresses that some of the ITR reform proposals would negatively impact the internet, its architecture, operations, content and security, business relations and governance, as well as the free flow of information online;
5. Believes that, as a consequence of some of the proposals presented, the ITU itself could become the ruling power over aspects of the internet, which could end the present bottom-up, multi-stakeholder model; expresses concern that, if adopted, these proposals may seriously affect the development of, and access to, online services for end users, as well as the digital economy as a whole; believes that internet governance and related regulatory issues should continue to be defined at a comprehensive and multi-stakeholder level;
6. Is concerned that the ITU reform proposals include the establishment of new profit mechanisms that could seriously threaten the open and competitive nature of the internet, driving up prices, hampering innovation and limiting access; recalls that the internet should remain free and open;
The ITU has taken to its blog to hit back, claiming that it is deeply disappointed in the resolution. No surprise there. It tries to hit back on some of the points, but fails wildly. Take, for example, its response to the transparency issue:
However, it is important to point out that WCIT is inclusive of 193 national delegations which are participating in WCIT-12. Private sector companies and civil society organizations have also registered to attend WCIT-12 in large numbers.
Everyone attending WCIT-12 is free to lobby for their specific positions.
Added to this, in the run-up to the conference, the ITU Secretariat created a platform to allow any individual, civil society player or company to make its views known.
The very thorough and inclusive preparatory process leading up to the WCIT-12 has been completely transparent. Every European parliamentarian could have obtained all the documents from their own government, or from the European Commission.
At ITU, transparency is achieved at the national level, through national consultations in national languages. Surely this process is far more inclusive than just posting an English language text on a web page?
Note the key false equivalency here: that transparency means that you can have your voice heard (if, that is, you’re willing to sign up to fly to Dubai and take part as a delegate). First of all, being heard is not transparency. Transparency is about sharing information in the other direction. It’s about making the discussions and details public so everyone knows what’s going on. Hearing what people are saying is listening and it’s important — but it’s not transparency.
Second, the fact that parliamentarians could obtain the documents is not transparency either. It does not involve the public.
It’s this kind of misleading rhetoric that makes people so concerned about the ITU. The fact that it pretends transparency is something other than it is seems like a real problem.