International Telecommunication Union

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International Telecommunication Union
Emblem of the United Nations.svg
Itu-international telecommunication union-logo-blue.png
AbbreviationITU / UIT
Formation17 May 1865
TypeUN Specialized Agency
Legal statusActive
HeadquartersGeneva, Switzerland
Houlin Zhao
Monument in Bern, Switzerland. The text reads: "Union Télégraphique Internationale fondée à Paris en 1865 sur l'initiative du gouvernement français. Érigé par décision de l'Union Télégraphique prise à la conférence internationale de Lisbonne en 1908." (In English: "International Telegraph Union founded at Paris in 1865 on the initiative of the French government. [This monument was] erected by a decision of the Telegraph Union made at the international conference at Lisbon in 1908.")

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU; French: Union Internationale des Télécommunications (UIT)), originally the International Telegraph Union (French: Union Télégraphique Internationale), is a specialized agency of the United Nations (UN) that is responsible for issues that concern information and communication technologies.[1] It is the oldest among all the 15 specialised agencies of UN.

The ITU coordinates the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promotes international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, works to improve telecommunication infrastructure in the developing world, and assists in the development and coordination of worldwide technical standards. The ITU is active in areas including broadband Internet, latest-generation wireless technologies, aeronautical and maritime navigation, radio astronomy, satellite-based meteorology, convergence in fixed-mobile phone, Internet access, data, voice, TV broadcasting, and next-generation networks. The agency also organizes worldwide and regional exhibitions and forums, such as ITU Telecom World, bringing together representatives of government and the telecommunications and ICT industry to exchange ideas, knowledge and technology.

ITU, based in Geneva, Switzerland, is a member of the United Nations Development Group,[2] and has 12 regional and area offices in the world. ITU has been an intergovernmental public–private partnership organization since its inception. Its membership includes 193 Member States and around 800 public and private sector companies, and academic institutions as well as international and regional telecommunication entities, known as Sector Members and Associates, which undertake most of the work of each Sector.[3]


ITU was formed in 1865, in Paris, at the International Telegraph Convention; this makes it one of the oldest intergovernmental organizations in the world.[4][5] The International Radiotelegraph Union was unofficially established at first International Radiotelegraph Convention in 1906. Both were merged into the International Telecommunication Union in 1932.[6] ITU became a United Nations specialized agency in 1947.[5]

ITU sectors[edit]

The ITU comprises three sectors, each managing a different aspect of the matters handled by the Union, as well as ITU Telecom.[7] The sectors were created during the restructuring of ITU at its 1992 Plenipotentiary Conference.[8]

Radio communication (ITU-R)
Established in 1927 as the International Radio Consultative Committee or CCIR (from its French name "Comité consultatif international pour la radio"), this sector manages the international radio-frequency spectrum and satellite orbit resources. In 1992, the CCIR became the ITU-R.
Standardization (ITU-T)
Standardization was the original purpose of ITU since its inception. Established in 1956 as the International Telephone and Telegraph Consultative Committee or CCITT (from its French name "Comité consultatif international téléphonique et télégraphique"), this sector standardizes global telecommunications (except for radio).[8] In 1993, the CCITT became the ITU-T.
Development (ITU-D)
Established in 1992, this sector helps spread equitable, sustainable and affordable access to information and communication technologies (ICT).
ITU Telecom
ITU Telecom organizes major events for the world's ICT community.

A permanent General Secretariat, headed by the Secretary General, manages the day-to-day work of the Union and its sectors.

Legal framework of ITU[edit]

International Telecommunication Union – 100th anniversary. U.S. stamp, 1965.
International Telecommunication Union – anniversary 125 years. Post of USSR, 1990.
International Telecommunications Union, 1977 Postage Stamp from Libya
International Telecommunication Union – anniversary 150 years. Post of Azerbaijan, 2015.

The basic texts of the ITU[9] are adopted by the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference.[10] The founding document of the ITU was the 1865 International Telegraph Convention, which has since been amended several times and is now entitled the "Constitution and Convention of the International Telecommunication Union". In addition to the Constitution and Convention, the consolidated basic texts include the Optional Protocol on the settlement of disputes, the Decisions, Resolutions and Recommendations in force, as well as the General Rules of Conferences, Assemblies and Meetings of the Union.[citation needed]


The ITU is headed by a Secretary-General, a Deputy Secretary General and the three directors of the Bureaux, who are elected to a four-year terms by the member states at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference.[11]

On 23 October 2014 Houlin Zhao was elected 19th Secretary-General of the ITU at the Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan, Republic of Korea. His four-year mandate started on 1 January 2015, and he was formally inaugurated on 15 January 2015.[12] Houlin Zhao was reelected at the 2018 Plenipotentiary Conference in Dubai.

Directors and Secretaries-General of ITU[edit]

Directors of ITU
Name Beginning of term End of term Country
Louis Curchod 1 January 1869 24 May 1872 Switzerland
Karl Lendi 24 May 1872 12 January 1873 Switzerland
Louis Curchod 23 February 1873 18 October 1889 Switzerland
August Frey 25 February 1890 28 June 1890 Switzerland
Timotheus Rothen 25 November 1890 11 February 1897 Switzerland
Emil Frey 11 March 1897 1 August 1921 Switzerland
Henri Étienne 2 August 1921 16 December 1927 Switzerland
Joseph Raber 1 February 1928 30 October 1934 Switzerland
Franz von Ernst 1 January 1935 31 December 1949 Switzerland
Secretaries general
Léon Mulatier 1 January 1950 31 December 1953 France
Marco Aurelio Andrada 1 January 1954 18 June 1958 Argentina
Gerald C. Gross 1 January 1960 29 October 1965 United States
Manohar Balaji Sarwate 30 October 1965 19 February 1967 India
Mohamed Ezzedine Mili 20 February 1967 31 December 1982 Tunisia
Richard E. Butler 1 January 1983 31 October 1989 Australia
Pekka Tarjanne 1 November 1989 31 January 1999 Finland
Yoshio Utsumi 1 February 1999 31 December 2006 Japan
Hamadoun Touré 1 January 2007 31 December 2014 Mali
Houlin Zhao 1 January 2015 present China



International Telecommunication Union member states

Membership of ITU is open to only Member States of the United Nations, which may join the Union as Member States, as well as to private organizations like carriers, equipment manufacturers, funding bodies, research and development organizations and international and regional telecommunication organizations, which may join ITU as non-voting Sector Members.[14]

There are 193 Member States of the ITU, including all UN member states except the Republic of Palau, plus the Vatican City.[15] The most recent member state to join the ITU is South Sudan, which became a member on 14 July 2011.[16]

The Republic of China (Taiwan) was blocked from membership[17] by the People's Republic of China, but nevertheless received a country code, being listed as "Taiwan, China".[18] Palestine was admitted as an observer in 2010.[19]

Regional groupings[edit]

Six Regional Offices and seven Area Offices guarantee a regional presence of ITU: Regional Office for CSI (in Moscow) Africa Regional Office in Addis Ababa, with Area Offices in Dakar, Harare and Yaoundé Arab States Regional Office in Cairo Asia-Pacific Regional Office in Bangkok, with Area Office in Jakarta America Regional Office in Brasilia, with Area Offices in Bridgetown, Santiago and Tegucigalpa. The sixth is a Coordination office for Europe Region Europe at ITU Headquarters.

Other Regional organizations, connected to ITU, are:

World Summit on the Information Society[edit]

The ITU was one of the UN agencies responsible for convening the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), along with UNESCO, UNCTAD and UNDP.[20] The Summit was held as two conferences in 2003 and 2005 in Geneva and Tunis, respectively, with the aim of bridging the digital divide.

World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT-12)[edit]

In December 2012, the ITU facilitated The World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT-12) in Dubai. WCIT-12 was a treaty-level conference to address International Telecommunications Regulations, the international rules for telecommunications, including international tariffs.[21] The previous conference to update the Regulations (ITRs) was held in Melbourne in 1988.[22]

In August 2012, ITU called for a public consultation on a draft document ahead of the conference.[23] It is claimed the proposal would allow government restriction or blocking of information disseminated via the internet and create a global regime of monitoring internet communications, including the demand that those who send and receive information identify themselves. It would also allow governments to shut down the internet if there is the belief that it may interfere in the internal affairs of other states or that information of a sensitive nature might be shared.[24]

Telecommunications ministers from 193 countries attended the conference in Dubai.[24]

Changes to international telecommunication regulations[edit]

The current regulatory structure was based on voice telecommunications, when the Internet was still in its infancy.[25] In 1988, telecommunications operated under regulated monopolies in most countries. As the Internet has grown, organizations such as ICANN have come into existence to manage key resources such as Internet addresses and Domain Names. Some outside the United States believe that the United States exerts too much influence over the governance of the Internet.[26]

Proposed changes to the treaty and concerns[edit]

Current proposals look to take into account the prevalence of data communications. Proposals under consideration would establish regulatory oversight by the UN over security, fraud, traffic accounting as well as traffic flow, management of Internet Domain Names and IP addresses, and other aspects of the Internet that are currently governed either by community-based approaches such as Regional Internet Registries, ICANN, or largely national regulatory frameworks.[27] The move by the ITU and some countries has alarmed many within the United States and within the Internet community.[28][29] Indeed, some European telecommunication services have proposed a so-called "sender pays" model that would require sources of Internet traffic to pay destinations, similar to the way funds are transferred between countries using the telephone.[30][31]

The WCIT-12 activity has been attacked by Google, which has characterized it as a threat to the " and open internet."[32]

On 22 November 2012, the European Parliament passed a resolution urging member states to prevent ITU WCIT-12 activity that would "negatively impact the internet, its architecture, operations, content and security, business relations, internet governance and the free flow of information online".[33] The resolution asserted that "the ITU [...] is not the appropriate body to assert regulatory authority over the internet".[34]

On 5 December 2012, the lower chamber of the United States Congress passed a resolution opposing U.N. governance of the Internet by a rare unanimous 397–0 vote. The resolution warned that "... proposals have been put forward for consideration at the [WCIT-12] that would fundamentally alter the governance and operation of the Internet ... [and] would attempt to justify increased government control over the Internet ...", and stated that the policy of the United States is "... to promote a global Internet free from government control and preserve and advance the successful Multistakeholder Model that governs the Internet today." The same resolution had previously been passed unanimously by the upper chamber of the Congress in September.[35]

On 14 December 2012, an amended version of the Regulations was signed by 89 of the 152 countries. Countries that did not sign included the United States, Japan, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, India and the United Kingdom. The Head of the U.S. Delegation, Terry Kramer, said "We cannot support a treaty that is not supportive of the multistakeholder model of Internet governance". [36][37][38] The disagreement appeared to be over some language in the revised ITRs referring to ITU roles in addressing unsolicited bulk communications, network security, and a resolution on Internet governance that called for government participation in Internet topics at various ITU forums.[39] Despite the significant number countries not signing, the ITU organisation came out with a press release: "New global telecoms treaty agreed in Dubai".

WCIT-12 conference participation[edit]

The conference itself was managed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). While certain parts of civil society and industry were able to advise and observe, active participation was restricted to member states.[40] The Electronic Frontier Foundation expressed concern at this, calling for a more transparent multi-stakeholder process.[41] Some leaked contributions can be found on the web site. Google-affiliated researchers have suggested that the ITU should completely reform its processes to align itself with the openness and participation of other multistakeholder organizations concerned with the Internet.[42]

See also[edit]

International Telecommunications Union, Geneva


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