ITU PP-14 Day 17: A day of approvals

By on 7 Nov 2014

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On the second to last day of the conference, the day was largely spent in approvals. There was a range of documents including resolutions, decisions, committee reports and meeting minutes. Not all passed without discussion. Much of the morning was spent in discussion on two matters: Access to Documents and the Definition of ICT. (The more cynical of participants relegating these ongoing discussions to a delaying tactic while the matter of Resolution 99 was negotiated in private).

Resolution 99 deals with the status of Palestine in the ITU. In many respects, this is not of interest to an Asia Pacific Internet industry audience, but it does highlight the political nature of this conference.

Nonetheless, it is an important negotiation for those directly affected by it and one that is so highly charged on the Foreign Affairs circuit that many delegations were made uncomfortable by the placement of voting boxes in the room overnight. Some had clear instructions from their Foreign Affairs Departments, others had those staff with them, and still others had a clear understanding about how they would, or that they planned to, abstain.

In the end the matter was resolved without a vote, leaving this Plenipotentiary the first in decades to proceed on the basis of consensus. This was seen as a grand achievement by the Secretariat and a success for our Korean hosts.

All this is not to say that the matters raised in the plenary about access to documents and the definition of ICT are without merit.

Recommendation 3: Committee 5 advises in part: “To provide public access to all input and output documents of all conferences and assemblies of the Union starting from the beginning of year 2015 unless where disclosure would cause potential harm to a legitimate private or public interest that outweighs the benefits of accessibility”.

The legitimate question was raised about who will decide on this matter. Who is to say if a document would cause sufficient harm to outweigh its disclosure? At the end of the discussion on Thursday morning, it was agreed to keep the text as is and deal with the issue if it arises. Transparency and access to documents is an important issue and has been a cause of significant disruption since the 2012 WCIT discussion when several administrations proposed highly controversial changes to the International Telecommunications Regulations. So controversial, in fact, that some might prefer that their own citizens were not entirely aware of what their Government was proposing. This landmark decision, which doesn’t reveal the temporary drafts created during the conferences, at least makes public the positions different regions and administrations are taking as they enter the negotiations regarding international telecommunications.

The other major discussion for the morning related to the agreed position on the definition of ICT. The ITU has been including the acronym in its decisions and resolutions for some time now. The fact that it isn’t entirely clear what the ITU means by that should be a matter of concern for any person who deals with public policy in the technology space. The fact it has rushed ahead in an effort to create a mandate to control something it doesn’t entirely explain exemplifies the current state of the Union.

More than one delegate questioned the Conference’s inability to decide what to do with this monster it has created – my words not theirs. Their words ran something like: “We are saying that the ITU cannot provide a definition of the term ICT? It has decided not to define it? It cannot define it?”

These are valid questions, but somehow I doubt it will not curb the Union’s enthusiasm for the term.

The outgoing Secretary General, Hamadoun Touré, gave an impassioned performance throughout the day, ending with certificates and Gold Medals for the elected executives that make up his team and ultimately one for himself, which was presented by his successor, but included a certificate signed by himself as no other has the authority to do so.

In what will probably constitute his main closing speech for PP-14, Touré gave an account of the world conference’s achievements which included the approval of the strategic plan, a balanced budget plan, and the passed Resolutions on “Flight tracking, combating Ebola, the protection of users and consumers, youth and ICTs, gender equality, combating counterfeit devices, software defined networks, the Internet of Things, connectivity to broadband networks, and the setting up of an experts group on the ITRs, among many others”.

“PP-14 has renewed and strengthened the consensus among ITU Member States on the role that should be played by the Union in the fields of Internet and security, further enhancing ITU’s engagement with all stakeholders, as well as recognizing the importance of contributing to the WSIS process. I was also pleased to see renewed emphasis on the need for affordable international Internet connectivity for all the world’s people, as well as the importance of nurturing a truly multilingual Internet. It is also important to note that for the first time since 1992, we made no amendments to the Constitution and Convention,” he said.

Other  numbers that give some concept of the scale include:

  • 107 Policy speeches
  • 2,500 delegates from 171 countries
  • 167 Ministers, Deputy Ministers and Ambassadors
  • 2,500 host country and local staff
  • 250 ITU staff, including 73 interpreters
  • 1,600 shuttle bus journeys
  • 800 onsite meetings
  • 452 proposals
  • 650 journalists accredited
  • 4,000 people posting Tweets
  • 100,000 visits to the PP-10 website
  • Half a million page views
  • 50,000 pictures have been taken by ITU photographers
  • More than 100 videos and podcasts
  • More than ten terabytes of data passing through the conference network
  • 6,000 unique devices registered
  • Over 120 hours of live broadcast webcasts
  • 1,500 hours of interpretation
  • Nearly 6,000 pages of translated documents
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