New ITU head extends olive branch to ICANN

The new head of the ITU, Malian citizen Hamadoun Toure, gave his first press conference on Friday to the press corps in Geneva and it would appear he used the opportunity to try to settle matters with ICANN.

The quote doing the rounds of the press reports is: “It is not my intention to take over the governance of the Internet. There is no one single issue that can be dealt with by one organisation alone.”

I haven’t been able to find a fuller rundown of what Toure said, so I don’t know whether the Internet was all he talked about, or whether that was just the most exciting and newsworthy bit. But from reading the various reports that have come out (AP’s here and Reuters’ here), it seems as though the Internet was the main focus of Toure’s talk.

The other subjects mentioned by Toure were: broadband standardisation, e-commerce security, and video-recording systems that will enable 3G to be accessible to the Internet.

Some more quotes from Toure:

“We all must work together, each agency has its role to play. We must come to a better cooperation … and avoid setting up a superstructure which would be very controversial and very difficult to put into effect.”

“I will continue to contribute to the debate over Internet governance and continue to provide technical support.”

“We have to avoid a ‘cyberwar’ between governments”

“I will be focusing on cyber-security”

So it *looks* as if Toure, unlike his predecessor, is willing to accept ICANN’s role. There was certainly none of the coded language that Yoshio Utsumi was always putting out. And none of the peculiar arrogance that the ITU often emits, where it makes it clear that it believes it will get the Internet in the end.

However, I think it’s worth pointing out that at no point did Toure actually say the name “ICANN”. This is something that the ITU uniquely does. Everyone else is perfectly happy to discuss ICANN and ICANN’s role but the ITU always talks about “organisations” and “bodies”.

If Toure had mentioned ICANN by name, then we really would be getting somewhere. But it seems that level of acceptance is still some way off. Nonetheless, it is unmistakably a sign that Toure doesn’t want to start off on a war-footing.

And it would appear (but only because it isn’t mentioned in the press reports) that Toure didn’t talk about any of the subjects that will form the field of battle between the ITU and ICANN – most significantly, internationalised domain names.

We are *still* in a state of flux with this Internet governance business. The governments are still waiting to see if they are happy with their final GAC role in ICANN. The language that came out of the ITU Plenipotentiary recently appeared to show that they aren’t disuaded – which is certainly a step forward.

And there is the IGF. The funny thing about the IGF is that governments really aren’t sure what to make of it. They can see how useful it can be but at the same time a number of them want to use it to get some changes made. And they can’t decide whether having it multi-stakeholder makes life easier or more difficult.

The big things to watch, in no particular order are:

  • ICANN – can it start building trust? Can it be seen to work in everyone’s interests? Will the US government start making noises about letting it go?
  • IGF Rio – the Brazilians in charge of the next IGF in November. Whatever happens here could affect the course of Net governance forever.
  • The ITU – in Turkey recently they started discussing how to involve non-governments in their processes. It’s the right approach if they want a piece of the Net, but I just can’t see the ITU going for it – it is completely alien to its nature.

Now, if Toure wants to give an interview over changes he intends to make to the ITU’s approach and infrastructure *that* will be something worth listening to. I may try to persuade the ITU to let me interview him.