The topic of Ukraine was still being avoided, but at the end of the week a US representative and a former Russian minister will be competing at the ITU conference
On Thursday, the 190 member countries of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) want to elect a new management at their general assembly in Bucharest. The American Doreen Bogdan-Martin and the former Russian Telecom Minister Rashid Ismailov want to succeed the outgoing Chinese ITU Secretary General Houlin Zhao. Observers speak of a competition between the systems.
War in Ukraine splits international community
Every four years, the so-called Plenipotentiary Conference (“Plenipot”) sets the guidelines for the work of the ITU. For many years, there has been a regular struggle over the influence that the oldest UN organization, founded as the Telegraph Union in 1865, is supposed to have on Internet standards and policy. The war in Ukraine and its condemnation by the Western alliance split the international community into this “Plenipot”.
On the first day, however, there was no exchange of blows between the parties, which is currently common for many other UN events. For the EU, the Czech Deputy Minister for Digital Affairs, Petr Očko, underlined the need to “redouble efforts to make the ITU’s procedures more transparent and accessible, including for organizations that actively represent the human rights aspects in the field of telecommunications/ICT.”
Global connection or super regulator?
Dan Graves of the US State Department noted that the war is also making the work of the ITU more difficult, in the process of closing the digital divide. In order to connect the 3.7 million people worldwide who are not yet connected to the network, the new ITU initiative Partner2Connect Digital Coalition (P2C) has already collected 26 billion euros.
The P2C is an idea of US candidate Doreen Bogdan-Martin, who has been director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau for three years. In Bogdan-Martin’s campaign documents, the topic of global connection comes first. The American emphasized that connectivity is a key factor in achieving the UN Development Goals for 2030.
Bogdan-Martin’s Russian challenger, who was appointed digital minister by Vladimir Putin until 2020, also sees the uneven development as a field of action for the ITU. But Ismailov’s priorities underscore Russia’s claim to a “powerful” ITU. Ismailov’s list of priorities includes works such as “simplification of taxation and legal norms”, “demonopolization of ICTs” through open international standards or the creation of uniform international rules for the use of drones and autonomous systems with AI elements.
The election will be based on the majority principle on Thursday. In the end, it could be the Ukraine war that puts a spanner in the works for Ismailov.
ITU and the Internet
Ismailov’s idea of a more political, and above all Internet-political, ITU can also be found in numerous proposals for the so-called Internet decisions of the ITU (Resolution 101, 102). The work orders of the ITU are defined in such resolutions, or reviewed by the member states assembled in the Plenipot and revised if necessary.
For Resolution 101, the Group of Arab States proposes the working topic of domains and IP address assignment as a topic for the telecommunications union. The ITU is to become more active in these areas, which have so far been reserved for the self-governing bodies of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and the regional IP address administrations, as well as in 5G, AI, IoT, Big Data, Cloud Computing and OTT platforms.
The ITU should contribute to the fact that all domain names, including new top-level domains and non-Latin domains, can be treated equally and “used by everyone”, the group of African states demands, as noted by an overview of the Internet Society. It is unlikely that this means that branded domains must also be opened. But the drafts illustrate the desire to give the ITU more weight in the area of Internet administration.
Europe, on the other hand, is trying to shift the focus from network management to the more development-political area for the network. The country blocks are also moving in two opposite directions when it comes to the cooperation between the ITU and other standardization and network management organizations. Europe would like to reaffirm the relevant clauses. The Arab countries plead in several places for the deletion of corresponding footnotes in the resolutions.
Cooperation with other standardization organizations (such as IETF, GSMA, W3C) would ultimately also concern the candidate that the German federal government is sending in the race to chair the standardization arm of the ITU (Telecommunication Standardization Bureau), where proposals such as Huawei’s controversial “New IP ” to be negotiated.
As a lawyer, Thomas Zielke, who has been responsible for international standardization and patent policy at the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology since 2016, may have disadvantages compared to his competitors from Tunisia and Japan, who come from the industry (Nortel and NTT Docomo). But at the end of the day, regional proportional representation plays an even greater role at the ITU. If Bogdan-Martin wins the race, representatives from other regions will be more likely to fill the directorate posts (standardization, development, frequencies). In addition to the top management positions, the members of the Radio Regulation Board and the ITU Council are also elected.