nettime's_roving_reporter on Fri, 26 May 2000 09:53:41 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> CWI editorial, 29 nov 99: Keep that ITU camel out of our tent

<> [Communications Week International Online]

Bottom Line: Keep that ITU camel out of our tent

By Tony Rutkowski

29 November 1999 

The ITU is asking for help. A few weeks ago one of the general
secretariat staff sent out a formal circular letter to all the
ITU's member states and the private-sector telecoms players who
act in its standards groups. The letter, which describes
questionable Internet dabbling over the past four years by the
ITU, asks what more the ITU can do to help the Net it has been
trying to kill in the past 20 years.

The letter and its attached report are themselves studies in

The ITU's turf is radio spectrum management plus legacy public
telecoms networks and services traditionally provided by
government monopolies, and it moves at a glacial pace under the
careful scrutiny of the world's governments.  The Internet
consists of global private shared user networks and computer
resources completely outside the ITU's purview and harnesses the
autonomous activities and innovations of millions of
entrepreneur-users to move at hyperspeed.

Some ITU staff have been trying the past few years to get the ITU
camel's nose under the Internet tent. Indeed, the latest circular
is directed at nudging the nose a bit further. The amusing thing
is that the nudging is justified on assertions that ITU members
"provide most of the infrastructure of the Net," and that the PSTN
is "providing most of the physical pipes over which the Internet
Protocol and related application services" run.

Well, guess again. While this may have been true some years ago,
it certainly is not true today for the preponderance of Internet
infrastructure. However it is an indication of just how remote
these folks are from the real world; or maybe it's just

So, one of the first things I did was to call my old friend Bill
Schrader to ask him to respond to the ITU solicitation. Bill is
chief executive of PSI - the first private ISP and the only
remaining large independent one. He describes himself as
aggressively focussed on heading the world's best large-scale ISP.

Bill also doesn't mince words. His recent keynote speech to the
libertarian-oriented Cato Institute annual meeting in Silicon
Valley had people cheering in the aisles. He regards traditional
telecoms institutions as dead; and had the chutzpah to boycott the
ITU's Telecom '99 show, while creating a media event by floating a
huge lighted PSI balloon over the Palexpo and holding press
conferences to celebrate the dying days of the ITU.

Bill's response to my query came swiftly. He said "even working
against them seems like a waste. It's like observing a dying
dinosaur convention.

Since they are almost too dead to hurt us any more, why go there
only to listen to them explain why they are dying and wishing to
harness all the wild young turks to extend their doomed existence
for even another few months. Nope, I am a busy guy." But he
suggested that others "might wish to assist their funeral or

So is it time to call the death doctor Jack Kevorkian over to

Well, considering two-thirds of the ITU provides useful services
to spectrum managers and assisting developing countries to
transition to competitive environments, the ITU's demise is not
going to happen.

In the Internet arena, however, the best thing it could do is
realize finally that this is outside its jurisdiction and
competence, and become a good user.  In other words, realize that
Bill Schrader really knows what he is talking about, and focus on
other things that need reforming within the ITU's existing
purview, such as removing the controls on spectrum and creating a
global Internet-like revolution for wireless connectivity.

Tony Rutkowski ( is principal of NGI Associates in
Herndon, Virginia, and executive director of the Center for Next
Generation Internet. 

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: contact: