Remarks at United States ITU Association

Ambassador Daniel A. Sepulveda
Deputy Assistant Secretary and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Washington, DC
September 8, 2014

Remarks as prepared

Thank you very much. I appreciate the work you are all doing to ensure that we achieve a successful outcome at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary conference in Busan in October and November.

As you know, the Plenipotentiary is the ITU’s quadrennial constitutional convention. It is where the world’s representatives assess the Union’s purpose and mission for the following four years. Its successful execution is critical to your sector’s interests, our economy, the health of global communications, and our relationships and standing in the world.

This is a unique Plenipotentiary gathering because it comes two years after the Union divided in Dubai over differences of opinion on its role and authority over Internet based communications. Because of that, there is some anxiety and tension as we enter this critical event. However, we believe that the work we have done over the last two years, building relationships and engaging leaders across every stakeholder community in every region of the world, has created an environment for a productive and constructive gathering in Korea.

Today, I want to present for you what we believe is required for a successful outcome in Busan and solicit your continued support in these last few weeks and at the event itself.

As you all know, the ITU is a critical and venerable institution. It is a specialized agency of the United Nations, with almost 150 years of experience bringing the world’s governments together to promote and secure the health of global communications. It began with a focus on international telegraph networks and evolved to exercise expertise and authority over the world’s system of telephone and satellite communications as well as the management of the use of our airwaves for wireless communications across international boundaries.

If the ITU did not exist, we would have to invent it. The successful execution of its responsibilities are critical to the health of this sector and the ability of people at home and abroad to reach each other for the purposes of making the world more peaceful and prosperous.

More than a year and a half ago, I assumed the position as Ambassador and Coordinator for Communications and Information Policy knowing the importance of this event. Since that time, my team and I, along with our colleagues from other offices at State and in the interagency, have been traveling the world. We have spent time in hotels and conference rooms getting to know our colleagues and stakeholders across multiple sectors, listening to their concerns, and building the kinds of relationships that will allow us to achieve consensus positions on contentious issues at the Plenipotentiary. Or at least allow us to disagree without being disagreeable and avoid a divisive or harmful outcome.

It is those relationships that will form the foundation on which we will succeed in Busan. As important as it is to know the issues and master the policy, none of that is as important as knowing what the people with whom you work value, why they value it, and what it is that they are trying to achieve. I feel honored and privileged to represent the United States in that effort and will be forever enriched by what I have learned from my staff and colleagues during my tenure.

Two weeks ago, we were in Korea meeting with the hosts for the Plenipotentiary. Last week we were in Istanbul meeting with stakeholders attending the 9th Internet Governance Forum. This week, we are off to Argentina to insure that our region heads to the Plenipotentiary united, with common proposals and positions on the role of the ITU and its purpose for the coming four years.

We have successfully led delegations to every major event at the ITU since Dubai, including the World Telecommunications Policy Forum, two ITU Council Meetings, the World Telecommunications Development Conference, and the World Summit on the Information Society +10 review meeting that the ITU convened. We have also attended numerous gatherings of the Internet multi-stakeholder community at ICANN and the Internet Governance Forum in Bali and Istanbul. And beyond that, my staff and I have engaged in and held bilateral gatherings everywhere from Tokyo to Johannesburg to Buenos Aires.

From those discussions and deliberations we have outlined what we believe will constitute success in Busan and concluded the following.

While protecting the Internet’s underlying protocols and multi-stakeholder institutions from centralized regulation or ITU control, the United States will have to set a positive agenda for the role and future of the ITU that enjoys support from every region of the world.

We must work to increase member oversight of the ITU’s activities in the areas where it has chosen to pursue work subject to its delegated authority for action lines it was assigned by the United Nations General Assembly at the World Summit on the Information Society in 2005. Among those areas of work needing oversight, we need to construct a mechanism for members to assess and guide the ITU’s engagement in cybersecurity in order to focus on national security, cybercrime, content, and privacy issues. None of which are in its remit and all of which are being addressed in more appropriate venues.

We will need to work to ensure a stable Union by avoiding major changes to the ITU Constitution and Convention.

We will need to construct a more accountable ITU by strengthening the role of the ITU Council in the management of ITU resources and by expanding opportunities for nongovernmental stakeholders and experts to play a role in ITU deliberations and decision-making.

We will need to retain day-to-day U.S. influence in the ITU through reelection to the ITU Council and the election of the U.S. candidate to the Radio Regulations Board (RRB).

And lastly, for us, a successful Plenipotentiary will mean that bring about greater transparency in ITU budget processes, prioritization of ITU activities, and support for a balanced budget, thereby ensuring that the U.S. monetary contributions provide real value.

We all know that the desire of some member states to expand the Union’s authority and regulatory scope over Internet related issues poses the greatest threat to a successful outcome in Busan. The United States believes strongly in the multi-stakeholder system of Internet governance because it has worked and reaped immense rewards for us and the world. We intend to defend it from any effort to centralize control or to regulate multi-stakeholder Internet governance institutions or their functions at the ITU.

The United States recognizes a role for the ITU in Internet-related activities only to the degree with which those activities are consistent with the ITU Constitution and Convention, focused on appropriately scoped capacity building, sharing best practices, and developing consensus standards related to the underlying infrastructure layer, and only to the degree that work is done in collaboration and coordination with, but not in competition with or duplication of, existing organizations.

The United States will oppose management, coordination, oversight, operational, or regulatory roles for the ITU pertaining to the Internet. We do this respectfully but firmly. We do it because we believe that the Internet and its governance are fragile, valuable, and working in the public interest, producing unprecedented innovation and establishing the world’s strongest platform for economic and social development.

It is impossible to know in advance all the specific issues that will arise at the Plenipotentiary for deliberation, but the regional preparatory processes provide a good sense of proposals we can expect to require debate. Final preparatory meetings in three of the six regions will not be complete until 18 September 2014. Our final regional preparatory meeting is this week in Argentina.

The very good news is that as of now, there are no controversial proposals to modify the Constitution or Convention. Nonetheless, we know that other countries and regions will propose Resolutions at the Plenipotentiary that we cannot accept. We will defeat some and negotiate others to an acceptable conclusion. On those resolutions adopted over our objection or other conference decisions that we cannot accept, we will have to issue reservations. That is common practice at Plenipotentiaries and does not implicate our underlying commitment to act as members in good standing at the ITU or our commitment to working in good faith with our colleagues abroad on the issues and activity that they wish to engage.

I am optimistic for a positive outcome in Korea. I am optimistic because we have done the necessary ground work. And I am optimistic because I believe in my team and I believe in you. Nonetheless, I know how deliberative processes work. And a three week deliberative process yields ample ground for drama. There will be some tough calls and moments of emotion. I ask you to stand with us, give us your best guidance, and stay focused. Together, we will succeed.