The Role of the ITU in Standarization Pre-eminence Impotence, or Rubber Stamp?

by Stanley Besen, J. Farrell

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This article, reprinted from Telecommunications Policy, argues that the historic preeminence of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in setting international standards is likely to be increasingly threatened by the regional standards organizations (RSOs) and by formal or informal coordination among the RSOs. The interests the RSOs represent are powerful enough that the ITU cannot ignore agreements among them, nor is it likely to be able to set standards if they cannot agree. At the same time their size, structure and procedures are likely to make them more effective at agreeing on standards than the ITU, despite the latter's attempts to improve its procedures. The authors conclude that, whether or not their participants intended it, RSOs threaten the ITU's pre-eminence in setting telecommunications standards. The RSOs are apt to be swifter and more successful in reaching agreement than is the ITU. Moreover, their participants have enough authority in the market to ensure that agreements among them can neither be ignored nor seriously disputed. Thus the ITU's attempt to retain its pre-eminence will probably fail.

Originally published in: Telecommunications Policy, August 1991, pp. 311-321.

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