WCIT and the ITU?

Flag of ITU.svg

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is making the news these days, in part because there is about to be a treaty conference called the World Conferences on International Tariffs (WCIT).  What is the ITU? and what do they do?

The ITU is a specialized agency of the United Nations that focuses on telecommunications.  It has four components:

  • A general secretariat;
  • A standardization sector or ITU-T;
  • A radio coordination sector or ITU-R; and
  • A development sector or ITU-D;

The radio sector coordinates spectrum allocation and so-called “orbital satellite slots”.  It also is responsible for standardization of time.  The development sector focuses on the special needs of developing countries.  The standardization sector has over 150 years set international standards for telecommunications, starting with the telegraph.  The general secretariat manages logistics of the three sectors, and represents the ITU to other international fora, and to the U.N.

How has the ITU been relevant to you?  There are several key standards that are worth taking note of:

  • E.164 specifies pretty much what a telephone number looks like, starting with the international dialing code.
  • G.711, G.719 and others specify how voice is encoded into data.
  • X.509 is the basis for the public key infrastructure that is in use on the World Wide Web.
  • D.50 specifies accounting standards by which international carriers bill each other, or so-called settlement rates.  There’s real money involved in this one.

This is some pretty important stuff.

The ITU-T was formed out of the CCITT, which was a coordination committee, primarily made of European governments.  These days, its membership spans 193 countries. Only governments may vote, although civil society and paying sector members may have some influence.

So what is WCIT?  WCIT is a treaty-level conference in which all those lovely accounting rates are agreed upon.  But they’re not stopping there.  The ITU-T has had a very limited role in the Internet’s development.  Standardization and governance over the Internet falls to several classes of entities:

  • National governments with their own sets of laws;
  • Standards organizations such as the IEEE, IETF, W3C, and 3GPP; and
  • Not-for-profit organizations such as ICANN and Internet Registries.

This latter group focuses on what I call “internals”.  That is- how do you get an IP address or a domain name?  The Internet has grown over 1.25 billion users with very limited involvement of the ITU-T.

Now governments want to take a firmer hand in areas such as how addresses and names are allocated and cybersecurity.  That is what WCIT is about.

More about the ITU and WCIT in the future.

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Reddit] [Twitter]

Off to Dublin (well sort of)!

Today, the Internet Engineering Task Force begins its 72nd in person meeting.  The IETF as it is known is a standards organization that primarily focuses on, well, the Internet.  The work done in this body has included Multimedia Internet Mail Extensions, Internet Calendaring, Voice over IP, and many others.  Not all work done by the IETF has worked out.  An effort I worked on some time ago weeded out the stuff that either was never used or is no longer used.  One of the key areas that any standards organization struggles with is how much potentially useful stuff to let through versus sure bets.  Sure bets are those things where a necessary improvement or change is obvious to a casual observer.  The people who make those changes are not the ones with imagination.

It’s the people who use their imaginations who make the bucks.  Always has been.  The problem is that there are a lot of people who may have good imaginations, but are unable to convert a good idea into something that can be broadly adopted.  This is a problem for a standards organization because each standard takes time and effort to develop, and each failed standard diminishes confidence in the organization’s overall ability to produce good stuff.

On the whole the IETF has done demonstrably well, as demonstrated by the vast amount of money organizations have poured into personal attendance at the in person conferences, even though no attendance is required to participate.

This summer’s conference is being held in Dublin City West at a golf resort, a bit away from the major attractions.  There are two benefit of this: first the cost isn’t absolutely outrageous.  Second, if people know they the attractions are a bit far off, then fewer tourists will come.  I actually don’t mind the idea of an IETF in Buffalo in the winter, but I may be taking things a bit too far.

Among the many discussions that will take place at this conference include one about what to do about email whose domain cannot be ascertained to have authorized its release.  The standard in question that identifies email is called Domain Keys Identified Mail (DKIM), and is relatively new.  What to do, however, when DKIM is not employed or if the signature sent is broken in some way?  This is the province of a work called Author Domain Sender Policies (ADSP).  The specification provides a means for sending domains to communicate their intentions.  After a year of arguments we hope to have a standard.  Whether it proves useful or not will only be shown by the test of time.

[del.icio.us] [Digg] [Facebook] [Reddit] [Twitter]