Controversy Over Internet Governance: ITU Families And ICANN Cosmetics?

Print This Post Print This Post

By Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch
The Council of the UN International Telecommunication Union is set to talk Wednesday about the Union’s contribution to follow-up of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) and the third Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

Turkey has tabled a resolution on strengthening the ITU’s role in the IGF. The discussion comes at a time when a tense debate between the ITU and its critics has arisen over the best governance models for the internet. The debate culminated in a highly critical speech by ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré at a recent meeting in Cairo of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the other “multi-stakeholder” competitor to the ITU. Touré labelled the IGF as becoming “a waste of time sometimes” and criticised the participation of governments in ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee (GAC) as being “cosmetic.”

“It is cosmetic,” echoed Alexander Ntoko, head the ITU Corporate Strategy Division, who represents the ITU in the GAC and other internet-related for a. Ntoko told Intellectual Property Watch that even governments in the GAC themselves were frustrated at times with the non-responsiveness of the ICANN board. “There had been an exchange between the US government GAC representative about this non-responsiveness during the meeting in Paris,” said Ntoko. Touré had said because of its pure advisory nature the GAC was “the weakest part of ICANN.”

Core Internet Resources Management

Ntoko at the same time pointed to the right of “equal representation of all sovereign states” as being a problem in ICANN, while the principle is well established in the ITU. As the IGF is not making progress with regard to the latter principle – with the United States retaining its internet oversight role – Ntoko said the secretary general’s “waste of time” comment on the IGF was correct. “It is an official ITU position,” he said.

The management of core internet resources, IP addresses and domain names, had been one of the main unresolved issues of the WSIS, said Ntoko. The WSIS “child,” the IGF, had been asked to tackle exactly this issue, yet it had tried to avoid the topic instead. “We have been very disappointed,” said Ntoko, complaining about a “lack of courage” to address it. According to Ntoko, there were calls by some governments to shift the resource debate to ITU if IGF does come to a decision.

Instead of addressing the main problem, IGF is reopening issues where government consensus was already there in the Tunis Agenda (from the 2005 Tunis phase of the WSIS). “Security in the IGF is talked about in the IGF as if it was something new,” said Ntoko.

Duplication of this kind must be avoided in order to be successful, he said. Ntoko pointed to the key role that ITU had been given in the Tunis Action Plan for Cybersecurity. Cybersecurity was made a central issue of the ITU by Touré from the start of his tenure, and the “Global Cybersecurity Agenda” was launched with reference to the cybersecurity action line of the WSIS.

Cybersecurity on ITU Plate

At a high-level meeting on cybersecurity before the Council meeting the ITU announced an early warning project for cybersecurity sensitive attacks, together with the government of Malaysia. ITU also extended the “security” focus to a new project on the protection of children on the internet. But the announced global cybersecurity framework so far is still a matter of planning. It is not yet clear what kind of legal instrument would best suited to implement it, said Ntoko.

Ntoko meanwhile rejected criticism of ITU by other cybersecurity policy actors that it would not cooperate with other actors. A Council of Europe expert recently warned that ITU should better return to its facilitator role. The Council of Europe tried to promote its Cybercrime Convention during the whole WSIS process as a single legal instrument in place for international cooperation in that realm. Ntoko reacted by saying that ITU was supporting the Convention very well, but so far only 23 of 47 Council members had ratified it. “Let’s not fool ourselves,” he said, a cybersecurity framework without countries like China and Russia just is not effective.

The ITU Family

ITU brings together 191 member countries and is well prepared to reach global consensus on issues like cybercrime, Ntoko said. “ITU is not a political organisation,” he said, and is perhaps the only organisation where Syria could back a US government proposal and both delegations could go home without being in trouble. Decisions include ones by the much-cited World Radio Conference that decided upon more frequency allocations for new media applications. “It’s a family,” said Ntoko.

But it is also old-style governance, said Wolfgang Kleinwächter, professor at the University of Aarhus (Denmark), special advisor to the chair of the Internet Governance Forum and one of the believers in what has been coined as multi-stakeholder models. ITU represents a 20th-century model of sovereign governments taking decisions and other stakeholders, civil society and business, being kept in a consulting function, he said. The multi-stakeholder governance models allowed cooperation of the different partners based on what they can offer for a comprehensive solution.

That was the modern, twenty-first century governance model, said Kleinwächter, and more apt to solve global problems from ICT governance to climate change and global warming. Governments when trying to find consensus on possible solutions needed too much time or had to agree on minimum consensus. Governance based on the cooperative multi-stakeholder model is more flexible and adaptive, he said. ICANN and IGF were experiments and laboratories for this.

Both models have advantages and disadvantages, said GAC secretary Janis Karklins in an immediate reaction to Touré’s condemnation of the government participation in the multi-stakeholder approach.

“Maybe from a governmental perspective, the model where governments are advisors seems weak, because in an intergovernmental model the governments are running the show,” said Karklins, who said he expected Touré’s remarks would evoke government reactions at the Council meeting.

Two-Track Move by ITU?

What is most astonishing to some observers in the debate is a certain schizophrenia in the ITU’s actions and comments. While making strong comments against the IGF, for example, ITU is a main contributor, spending €200,000 euro alone to bring more representatives of developing countries to the IGF. IGF Secretary Markus Kummer answered questions from Intellectual Property Watch about his reaction to the attack by saying: “I can only stick to what I see as an ongoing good cooperation and considerable activities planned of the ITU for Hyderabad.” ITU will partner on several workshops and also some dynamic coalitions at the 3-6 December IGF in Hyderabad, India, the Swiss diplomat said.

Another double track was evident in Touré’s ICANN speech, the first ever of an ITU boss at an ICANN meeting. Touré commended ICANN for its work, but at the same time did not spare with criticism. It was like a handshake on the one side and a slap in the face on the other, as some observers put it.

The ITU also keeps increasing the number of work items that are actually dealt with by ICANN, the Regional Internet Registries or other related bodies. Resolution 64 of the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) last month in Johannesburg, for example, instructs the ITU Study Groups 2 and 3 “to study the allocation and economic aspects of IP addresses” and also support developing countries with IPv6. The new IPv6 activities are added to a list of issues like internationalised domain names and country code domain names also covered by the multi-stakeholder competitors of the ITU.

The ITU further gets itself between possible cyberwar-inclined countries asking in WTSA resolution 69 on “non-discriminatory access and use of internet resources” that member states should refrain “from taking any unilateral and/or discriminatory actions that could impede another member state from accessing public internet sites.”

WTSA resolution 75, finally shows that there is a vital interest in competition in addition to the announced cooperation with the other internet governance-related bodies. The resolution asks the ITU Council “to establish, as an integral part of WG to WSIS, a dedicated group on international internet-related public policy issues, open only to all member states, tasked to identify, study and develop matters related to international internet-related public policy issues, to disseminate its outputs throughout ITU’s membership, and to contribute to the work of WG to WSIS on international internet-related public policy issues within the mandate of ITU.”

The new body originally proposed by the Arab countries, China, Russia and others, while internal for the moment, seems to have a very similar scope to the ICANN GAC. For the IGF there’s also a competitor, the ITU’s World Telecom Policy Forum that will be held in 2009 and possibly also in 2010. There were countries that have warned that an IGF failure should be answered by shifting the debate of the core resources over to the ITU, Ntoko said. The discussion of Touré’s Cairo speech at the Council tomorrow might reveal how large the opposition is to that.

Monika Ermert may be reached at

Creative Commons License"Controversy Over Internet Governance: ITU Families And ICANN Cosmetics?" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


  1. says


    I think it is worth pointing out that the GAC Chairman, Ambassador Janis Karkins of Lativa said in reference to Secretary General Toure’s comments:”Indeed, I can confirm that yesterday we had a very lengthy conversation with Dr. Toure on issues he was referring to, especially on the weakness of the GAC. And in my view, there is a considerable difference between the ITU as an intergovernmental organization, this is a different model of organization, and ICANN, which is different model. This is a multistakeholder organization, where governments are participating on equal footing with other constituencies.
    We cannot compare two different models.
    And both models have advantages and disadvantages. And maybe from enter governmental perspective, the model where governments are advisors seems weak, because in enter governmental model, governments are running the show.
    In ICANN, it is different. And that’s why I would be very careful saying that this is a problem.
    Both models have challenges. Intergovernmental organizations have many challenges to address. ICANN, in this model we also have many challenges.
    And we need to learn to live or act in different type of models and I think that this is the difference what we have, and of course we are defending the positions, and I’m very glad that we had this opportunity to exchange our views.’

    I point this out because ICANN is a unique model and to apply traditional measures of what ‘works’ in other models misses the point. ICANN’s model is about coordination not control.

    Finally, we were very pleased that Dr Toure attended and was so frank and also constructive. The dialogue, as demonstrated above, led to better understanding. Dr Toure’s attendance was historic and he made it clear he wanted to work together in the interests of all.

    Paul Levins
    Executive Officer and Vice President
    Corporate Affairs

Leave a Reply