ITU Plenipotentiary Conference sees little middle ground

By on 9 Nov 2018

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Delegates at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference

As the ITU 2018 Plenipotentiary Conference reaches its midway point, the mood remains collaborative and civil despite the lack of consensus on the most contentious issues surrounding the Internet.

Staged in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the Plenipotentiary (or Plenipot) began on 29 October and will run another eight days until it closes on 16 November 2018.

As mentioned in my previous blog post, the conference updates and considers a raft of existing Resolutions and sometimes reaches consensus on new Resolutions that deal with emerging issues and technologies, such as artificial intelligence and big data.

The story so far

At this mid-point in the proceedings, it is usual that progress seems glacial, but much work is going on behind the scenes. There are plenty of issues under discussion that are contentious, where agreements are being negotiated during sessions over the weekend and into the first few days of next week.

Delegations of Member States are holding firm to their commitments and refusing to yield to compromise on issues that seem to divide the Conference in half.

As always, issues related to the Internet and the ITU’s role in regulating access services and the applications that run across it, are causing the greatest disagreement.

Proposals designed to insert the ITU into the domain name policy processes are being fiercely fought by defenders of the multistakeholder Internet Governance model, who try to assist those with concerns to find a better understanding of the Internet ecosystem.

Proposals for a new ITU Resolution dealing with OTT (Over-The-Top) applications is consuming large amounts of time as proposals effectively call for international regulation of OTTs, while many Member States believe it is beyond the mandate of the ITU and encroach on sovereign rights.

As always, the resolution on cybersecurity is seeing very slow progress in formal negotiations and if things don’t improve there, we could see a repeat of the Resolution 45 discussions at the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) in Buenos Ares, Argentina. During that conference, days of cybersecurity negotiations (resulting in most of the text being agreed upon) were thrown out as both sides refused to compromise on calls for an international treaty-style agreement on cybersecurity.

Still to come

It is likely that the biggest showdown of the conference will involve international telecommunications regulations — the subject of the well-known World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) here in Dubai back in 2012.

On this subject, the conference delegates are divided their positions for or against proposals to hold or continue working towards a new WCIT in an attempt to find consensus for a new Treaty.

All these issues and more, including the role of the Council Working Group on Internet (CWG-Internet) and what to do with the World Telecommunications Policy Forum (WTPF), need to be resolved one way or another in the next week.

To achieve this, the Chairman of the conference has begun canvassing regional groups for inputs in what will likely be a package of proposals to serve as a compromise where everybody loses a little, but nobody walks away empty-handed.

Before then, delegates will be locked away in late night sessions and will work through the weekend locking horns and arguing without giving any ground.

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