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ITU refuses to accept net governance agreement

Head claims ITU will be in charge in five years

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The ITU has refused to accept the internet governance consensus reached after torrid negotiations during its own summit process, further damaging its credibility in eyes of the net community.

Speaking at the closing press conference for the World Summit in Tunis, ITU secretary-general Yoshio Utsumi said that while it would continue to discuss issues in the newly created Internet Governance Forum (IGF), an increased "regionalisation" of the internet would mean the ITU will be called upon to take over in five years' time.

"The internet need not be one Net controlled by one centre," he said. "Regionalisation has already started and I suspect in a few years, the simile of the internet will be a quite different one."

As an example of this "regionalisation", Utsumi, a Japanese national, brought up the controversial topic of China's efforts to create a form of intranet within its country in order to more easily control access to information. "In China, they have already started on a Chinese address not provided by the so-called global ICANN system yet."

Claiming that domestic networks were "more efficient and economical", he then tried to draw a parallel to the existing telephone system, saying: "Telephone networks are made up of regional, domestic networks united together in agreement of the ITU framework. A similar situation may start with the internet." And, in that case, "the role that the ITU plays for the international telephone network will be called upon."

The statement is a depressing pointer to the fact that the four-year debate on net governance, which ended in agreement on Tuesday with only hours to go, may have achieved very little. Utsumi effectively said that the international consensus reached was the wrong one.

It is the second time recently that the outgoing head of ITU has made a major blunder with regard to net governance. At the end of September's PrepCom meeting in Geneva, Utsumi told the assembled world governments that the ITU was ready to take over running of the internet.

It was this bold and unthinking statement that lent much of the power behind the subsequent lobbying for the existing infrastructure to be retained - a view that eventually prevailed. There are very strong historic reasons why people do not wish the ITU to be involved with the internet in anything but an advisory role. If it were up to the ITU, the internet as we know it - a vast, cheap, interconnected network - simply would not exist.

In the early days of the net, the ITU saw the network as an extension of the international telephone network that it oversees. It foresaw - and heavily pushed - the image of a network where governments and telephone companies controlled the means of access, something that would have resulted in enormous connection charges and greatly reduced individual freedom on the Net.

In many ways, the ITU is the antithesis of the culture borne up through the dedicated engineers and academics that created the Net and for that reason the organisation will remain public enemy number one in many people's eyes.

Utsumi's comments will not only uphold that view but strengthen it because they come after an exhaustive discussion process that clearly rejected the notion of ITU control.

It will now be up to the new head of the ITU, to be chosen in just under a year's time, to try to repair bridges if the ITU is to have any credibility within the internet community.

You can listen to Utsumi's exact words here.

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