Centre for Internet & Society

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is a specialized agency of the United Nations. It is an intergovernmental organization which coordinates between governments and private sector bodies with respect to global telecommunication and information communication technology (ICT) services.

Note: Chart would be put up soon.


The ITU is headquartered at Geneva, Switzerland, having been established as a successor to International Telegraph Union which was set up in 1865. Subsequently in 1947 the ITU became as specialized agency of the United Nations.

This unit will deal with the ITU’s main areas of work and with special focus on review of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) during the World Conference on International Telecommunications 2012 (WCIT ’12) and its impact on the internet. It will also briefly touch upon the various functions of the ITU.

Amongst other functions[1] the ITU is mainly responsible for management of radio spectrum globally and coordination and setting of technical standards related telecommunication/ICT. The ITU also has active involvement in the sectors of broadband internet, next generation wireless technologies, data, access, television broadcasting and convergence in mobile devices.

Composition of the International Telecommunication Union

The ITU comprises of Member States, Sector Members and Associates.
Member States
Member states have the right to vote in the ITU proceedings. Each member state nominates one member to represent the State in ITU proceedings. Currently, 193 member states participate in the ITU proceedings. For example, India, the United States of America, Sudan, etc.
Sector Members
Any interested organization can become a member of any of the sectors or all the sectors (ITU-T, ITU-R and ITU-D) for a payment of a fee. Sector members can be from industry, international or regional organizations. The rights and obligations of the Sector Members are laid down in Article 3 of the Constitution of the ITU.[2] The Internet Society is an ITU-D and ITU-T sector member.
Associates and Academia
Any interested industry, international or regional organization can become Associates on a payment of a fee. University and research organizations can also become members from academia. HMR Institute of Technology Management, New Delhi and Sinhgad Technical Education Society, Pune are academia members at ITU from India. The Associates can participate in Study Groups which will be explained below. Each sector convenes study groups in order to support and carry out research and study related to the three sectors of the ITU. They are also responsible for the formulation of the draft recommendations. Companies such as Ericsson and Samsung are associate members of the ITU.

Structure of the International Telecommunication Union

The ITU has certain bodies which are convened as per the Constitution. The Plenipotentiary Conference is convened every four years which decides upon the future mandates of the ITU. Similarly the world conferences on international telecommunication are convened as decided upon in the Plenipotentiary Conference. Although these bodies are not permanent, they play a major role in functioning of the ITU.

The structure of the International Telecommunication Union is laid down under Article 7 of the Constitution of the ITU. According to Article 7, the ITU comprises of the following mechanisms/bodies:

Other Bodies

This acts as the platform for high level debate, networking and knowledge sharing for the global ICT community. It basically tries to drive industrial success and tackle socio-economic problems. The ITU telecom also hosts many annual events where these debates occur.

[1]. Article 1(2), Constitution of the ITU, “...effect allocation of bands of the radio-frequency spectrum, the allotment of radio frequencies and the registration of radiofrequency assignments and, for space services, of any associated orbital position in the geostationary-satellite orbit or of any associated characteristics of satellites in other orbits, in order to avoid harmful interference between radio stations of different countries;
b) coordinate efforts to eliminate harmful interference between radio stations of different countries and to improve the use made of the radio-frequency spectrum for radiocommunication services and of the geostationary-satellite and other satellite orbits;
c) facilitate the worldwide standardization of telecommunications, with a satisfactory quality of service;

d) foster international cooperation and solidarity in the delivery of technical assistance to the developing countries and the creation, development and improvement of telecommunication equipment and networks in developing countries by every means at its disposal, including through its participation in the relevant programmes of the United Nations and the use of its own resources, as appropriate;

e) coordinate efforts to harmonize the development of telecommunication facilities, notably those using space techniques, with a view to full advantage being taken of their possibilities;

f) foster collaboration among Member States and Sector Members with a view to the establishment of rates at levels as low as possible consistent with an efficient service and taking into account the necessity for maintaining independent financial administration of telecommunications on a sound basis;

g) promote the adoption of measures for ensuring the safety of life through the cooperation of telecommunication services;

h) undertake studies, make regulations, adopt resolutions, formulate recommendations and opinions, and collect and publish information concerning telecommunication matters;

i) promote, with international financial and development organizations, the establishment of preferential and favourable lines of credit to be used for the development of social projects aimed, inter alia, at extending telecommunication services to the most isolated areas in countries.”

[2]. Art. 3, Constitution of the ITU, “In respect of their participation in activities of the Union, Sector Members shall be entitled to participate fully in the activities of the Sector of which they are members, subject to relevant provisions of this Constitution and the Convention:

a) they may provide chairmen and vice-chairmen of Sector assemblies and meetings and world telecommunication development conferences;

b) they shall be entitled, subject to the relevant provisions of the Convention and relevant decisions adopted in this regard by the Plenipotentiary Conference, to take part in the adoption of Questions and Recommendations and in decisions relating to the working methods and procedures of the Sector concerned.

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