On the ITU’s slide into irrelevance

Posted on May 21, 2015  /  2 Comments

Yoshio Utsumi should know what he speaks of. He was elected as Secretary General in 1998. I remember casting the vote on behalf of Sri Lanka in Minneapolis. He served two terms and was succeeded by Hamadoun Toure, who was elected as Director of ITU-D also in 1998. Utsumi served two terms and stepped down in 2007. Now Toure has retired too after the fiasco of WCIT in 2012 in Dubai. So I guess there was a decent enough interval to speak candidly. When outspoken people criticize the ITU their words are taken as sour grapes or worse (because the ITU in recent times has been very good at excluding and marginalizing those who did not toe the party line). But a soft-spoken Japanese former Secretary General?

Whilst celebrating the ITU’s long life and praising past achievements, Yoshio Utsumi writes, “The liberalisation of telecommunications involves very high level political policy-making processes and the ITU lacks the ability to handle them.”

He adds that “The ITU which emphasises consensus, does not suit to the liberalised telecommunications market. To begin with, consensus decision-making is basically incompatible with the principle of free competition where those who make innovations get benefits and the strongest wins. Consensus decision-making practice also requires much time. It is too slow for today’s advancement of technology”. And that’s from the man who used to be in charge.

And it gets worse: “Decision-making in the ITU is by majority-rule, but most people participating in ITU activities – whether in a state of paralysis or dogmatically committed to consensus – do not even realise that consensus decision-making practice is a major cause of difficulties. If consensus cannot be discarded there can be no progress. This has become a common occurrence at the ITU. As a result, except for the field of radio frequency allocations for which there is no other venue for finding resolutions, people dislike the ITU as a venue to harmonise differing interests. As such, hundreds of private groups – so called Forums – have been established and are replacing ITU activities. And, even in the field of radio frequencies, issues such as co-ordinating satellite orbital positions are being carried out more quickly, directly by the parties concerned, and not through the ITU”.


  1. This is sad but true, but the causes include much more than the ITU’s consensus and majority rules decision-making structure. Strong leadership and informed, committed representation can faciltate reform and fundamental change, as it did when the ITU was led by Dick Butler and Pekka Tarjanne.

    Unfortunately the ITU has failed to keep up with the technology, market and national policy developments associated with ICT convergence, and allowed itself to become a haven for bureaucratic privilege with gradually declining power, influence and relevance.

    There is still a need for international consensus and facilitation of cutting edge ICT technology and development issues, but the ITU probably carries too much dead weight now to be transformed from a barrier to a facilitator of progress. These activities are already being taken up by other institutions.

  2. ITU-AJ has deleted the article of Yoshio Utsumi without any explanation. But someone has saved it in the cyberspace.