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Overall scope, role and budget of the ITU

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PP14 adopted two new Decisions and 20 new Resolutions. Three existing Decisions and 51 Resolutions were modified and seven Resolutions were suppressed. The final acts are available here. While there were rumors leading up to the meeting that there might be a push to formally expand the scope of the ITU beyond “telecommunications”, no changes or modification were proposed or adopted to either the Constitution or Convention of the ITU. While this is important, it likely reflects political realities (difficult to make changes at this level in this environment) more than substantive agreement about what the ITU should be doing. Many important countries believe the ITU’s scope is broader than telecommunications and that multilateral cooperation on a variety of ICT issues is imperative. For now the Constitution and Convention still say “telecommunications” but juxtaposed against the existing work of the ITU and the language in the Resolutions adopted in Busan, the picture is much more complex.

Perhaps the most politically sensitive issue in Busan was one that most policy experts find rather mundane and boring: budget. The ITU is suffering budget constraints and there are strong divisions on how to manage the situation. One side, largely led by the ITU Secretariat, is looking to increase revenue to balance the budget. The other side, led by many member states, is more interested in reducing costs by closer management of programs and spending. After intense discussions regarding the generation of revenues by selling international telephone numbering resources, the committee in charge agreed to have the ITU Secretariat conduct further work on the specific points with the participation of Sector Members. In the intervening four years between Plenipotentiary conferences, this work will be reviewed and considered by the ITU Council – one of the governing bodies of the ITU comprised of elected member states. The budget realities did impact the policy discussions as many member states questioned the ability for the ITU to expand work and in some cases start work that was agreed to in Guadalajara four years ago, but never acted upon (e.g., ITU study on internationalized domain names).

Following the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in 2012, there have been calls for the ITU to hold another WCIT to resolve the divide from that meeting. However, the PP14 deferred any decision about when to hold the next until the next Plenipotentiary Conference in 2018.

Policy experts analyzing the PP14 outcomes, especially those of us in the private sector, are often focused on the details of specific resolutions and provisions on issues of interest such as Internet policy. Participating in the Busan meeting was an important reminder of the broader themes on the ITU agenda and the breadth and depth of issues that member states are expected to cover at one meeting: everything from how much money they will spend over the next four years to whether the ITU should hold a meeting at some point on a particular topic of interest such as child online protection. When considered in this context, it is easy to understand how member states will save their objections for priority issues while remaining silent on issues they may disagree with but are not high on the political agenda. This is how consensus is achieved at the ITU.