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Consequences of the Dubai Debacle

The Economist’s take on what happened in Dubai.

In the medium term, however, the outcome of the conference in Dubai will weaken the ITU—which may not be such a good thing. Among all the controversy it was forgotten that the organisation actually does very useful work, for instance in managing the international radio-frequency spectrum and developing technical standards. And some of the good ideas about which the delegations could agree may now fail to come to fruition. The WCIT reached consensus on a resolution to create a worldwide emergency number (although this would take years to implement). It also agreed on wording to make it easier for landlocked countries and certain island states to get into international fibre-optical networks.

The fact that most major concentrations of Internet Users (with the exception of China and Russia) did not go along with the final text may also have implications for the future of the ITU, the organization, whose remit the proponents of an expansive view of the ITRs tried to expand. In the last decade, the centrality of ITU Telecom World, which used to be the premier multi-stakeholder interaction space for telecom, decreased as a result of mismanagement by the ITU. Will the rest of the ITU follow?

The Secretary General, as quoted by the NYT does not see it that way:

According to Hamadoun Touré, secretary-general of the telecommunication union, the goal of the treaty was not to take control of the Internet — as critics had contended — but to narrow the digital divide.

While the United States was talking about the open Internet, Mr. Touré and developing countries were talking about opening the Internet to more of the 4.5 billion people around the world who remain offline.

Mr. Touré emphasized treaty proposals for stimulating investment in broadband networks, for reducing cellphone roaming costs and for extending Internet access to disabled people in developing countries. The goal was to expand broadband at an affordable cost, not to regulate the content that travels on the Internet, he said.

“What is the meaning of building cars if there are no highways for them to drive on?” Mr. Touré said at a news conference on Friday, where the telecommunication union tried to put a positive spin on the messy pileup of the previous evening.

He is still sticking to his tune about how poor in our part of the world will be connected to the Internet by taxing suppliers of Internet content. It appears that the contrary evidence has not penetrated the screens that strong-minded leaders erect around themselves.

Our take on the consequences is here and here.

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