Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


Who’s Afraid of WCIT-12?

• August 21, 2012 • 9:10 AM

As obscure government meetings go, a mid-winter conclave of telegraph agency bureaucrats feels about as distant from power as one gets. And yet, great sturm und drang is greeting the run-up to this December’s meeting of the International Telecommunications Union, a United Nations body that used to regulate telephone communications and now does…something undecided. Which is where the problems have started.

The ITU, arguably the modern world’s first international body, theoretically regulates humanity’s communications networks. However, as explained in this helpful backgrounder from Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, the ITU hasn’t updated its bylaws and or redefined its basic function since 1988. Meaning the UN’s telecommunications regulation agency doesn’t have any rules about modern mobile or Internet communications, which both were born after ’88. (As were many of the new technology’s most ardent users).

That changes this year with the ITU’s next meeting in Dubai, called the World Conference on International Communications 2012 (WCIT -12). The meeting, a debate of the agency’s role as defined in this working paper, appears to be pitting advocates of various models for control of the internet. Put crudely, the different sides are those who want greater control over the Internet by governments, those who prefer greater control by “multiple stakeholders,” and advocates of expanding the dispersed power of the global network’s two billion or so users.

Six months of negotiation have already occurred, and no one outside the meeting rooms knows what they have produced. A recent story in Bangkok’s Post newspaper—one of the preparatory meetings happened in Thailand a few weeks ago —quoted a participant in the negotiations arguing that the U.N. body shouldn’t be involved in the Internet at all, and should stick to regular telephone communications. Per the Post’s informative story:

Among the changes being proposed for discussion are amendments dealing with human rights of access to communications; security in the use of ICT [International Communications Technology]; protection of critical national resources; international frameworks; charging and accounting including taxation, interconnection and interoperability; quality of service, and convergence.

The current system of internet governance uses a “multi-stakeholder model” in which decisions about technical and operational aspects are made through international non-profit and non-governmental organizations. These include participation by academics, engineers, representatives of the private sector and governments.

Internet policy scholar Jonah Force Hill, author of the Harvard Belfer Center analysis linked above, notes that some believe the whole thing is a tempest in a teapot. Hill, though, leans toward it being as big a deal as critics say it could be:

Currently, the Internet is regulated by a patchwork of independent public and private so-called ‘multi-stakeholder’ organizations that share responsibility for the Internet’s core governance functions….

…Not all nations are happy with this somewhat informal regulatory structure.  Many governments have argued, with some justification, that the present regulatory environment unfairly serves American business and ideological interests.  Moreover, they assert that the “multi-stakeholder” model of governance is unresponsive to their state interests and that it allows for a degree of freedom fundamentally inconsistent with the social norms of some non-Western cultures.

For years, China, Russia, Iran and many Arab states have tried to shift power away from these multi-stakeholder organizations that today regulate the Internet, and to place increased authority within the ITU, believing that the U.N. affiliate, with its state-centric one-country-one-vote decision making structure, would be more representative of their interests and more responsive to their influence.

Interestingly, an effort by various transparency and internet-access advocates managed to make this a big enough controversy that the ITU opened its agenda up to public comment, starting last week. If you’d like to tell the U.N. how you want the internet run, you can do so here.

Marc Herman

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 1 • 1:00 PM

Midlife Neuroticism Linked to Alzheimer’s Disease in Old Age

New research from Sweden suggests that the personality dimension is connected to who ultimately suffers from late-in-life dementia.



October 1 • 11:11 AM

The Creative Class Boondoggle in Downtown Las Vegas

On Tony Hsieh and the pseudoscience of “collisions.”


October 1 • 9:14 AM

Mysterious Resting State Networks Might Be What Allow Different Brain Therapies to Work

Deep brain stimulation and similar treatments target the hubs of larger resting-state networks in the brain, researchers find.


October 1 • 6:00 AM

Would You Like a Subscription with Your Coffee?

A new app hopes to unite local coffee shops while helping you find a cheap cup of good coffee.


October 1 • 4:00 AM

How to Plant a Library

Somewhere outside of Oslo, there are 1,000 newly-planted spruce trees. One hundred years from now, if everything goes to plan, they’ll be published together as 100 pieces of art.



September 30 • 10:09 AM

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.


September 30 • 8:00 AM

The Psychology of Penmanship

Graphology: It’s all (probably) bunk.



September 30 • 6:00 AM

The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later

Five decades on, what can Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media tell us about today?


September 30 • 4:00 AM

Grad School’s Mental Health Problem

Navigating the emotional stress of doctoral programs in a down market.


September 29 • 1:21 PM

Conference Call: Free Will Conference


September 29 • 12:00 PM

How Copyright Law Protects Art From Criticism

A case for allowing the copyright on Gone With the Wind to expire.


September 29 • 10:00 AM

Should We Be Told Who Funds Political Attack Ads?

On the value of campaign finance disclosure.


September 29 • 8:00 AM

Searching for a Man Named Penis

A quest to track down a real Penis proves difficult.


September 29 • 6:00 AM

Why Do So Many People Watch HGTV?

The same reason so many people watch NCIS or Law and Order: It’s all a procedural.


September 29 • 4:00 AM

The Link Between Depression and Terrorism

A new study from the United Kingdom finds a connection between depression and radicalization.


September 26 • 4:00 PM

Fast Track to a Spill?

Oil pipeline projects across America are speeding forward without environmental review.


September 26 • 2:00 PM

Why Liberals Love the Disease Theory of Addiction, by a Liberal Who Hates It

The disease model is convenient to liberals because it spares them having to say negative things about poor communities. But this conception of addiction harms the very people we wish to help.


September 26 • 1:21 PM

Race, Trust, and Split-Second Judgments


September 26 • 9:47 AM

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what’s new and different more attractive.


September 26 • 8:00 AM

A Letter Becomes a Book Becomes a Play

Sarah Ruhl’s Dear Elizabeth: A Play in Letters From Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell and Back Again takes 900 pages of correspondence between the two poets and turns them into an on-stage performance.


September 26 • 7:00 AM

Sonic Hedgehog, DICER, and the Problem With Naming Genes

Wait, why is there a Pokemon gene?


September 26 • 6:00 AM

Sounds Like the Blues

At a music-licensing firm, any situation can become nostalgic, romantic, or adventurous, given the right background sounds.


Follow us


Mysterious Resting State Networks Might Be What Allow Different Brain Therapies to Work

Deep brain stimulation and similar treatments target the hubs of larger resting-state networks in the brain, researchers find.

Trust Is Waning, and Inequality May Be to Blame

Trust in others and confidence in institutions is declining, while economic inequality creeps up, a new study shows.

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what's new and different more attractive.

School Counselors Do More Than You’d Think

Adding just one counselor to a school has an enormous impact on discipline and test scores, according to a new study.

How a Second Language Trains Your Brain for Math

Second languages strengthen the brain's executive control circuits, with benefits beyond words.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.