The INTUG Story

The International Telecommunications Users Group (INTUG) was formed in 1974 after an European Commission spokesman complained that the it was deprived of telecom user input as it could not treat with national user groups without treading on the corns of member states, and no international group existed.

The first Chairman of INTUG, Alex Tromberg, was provided by EUSIDIC, an organisation dedicated to promoting electronic information services. Alex was a Finnish national who worked for Shell International in the Hague. Thus INTUG came to be registered in the Netherlands as a charity, status which it still has today.

INTUG’s first members were European national telecom user groups and, although it later admitted multinational companies to Associate Membership, it has been careful to this day to ensure that the user groups, which form its Council, control its policies and actions. Membership was to be worldwide, although it was five years before its first extra-European member joined, a Japanese group, which sadly is no longer in existence. Australia, Canada, and USA soon followed, and later, Hong Kong and New Zealand.

George McKendrick (on the right) with other past Chairmen, Peter Smith, Ernst Weiss, Ernie Newman and Bill Coopman

INTUG’s role was seen as representing internationally the interests of national user groups and so it sought involvement in the ITU. The PTTs, which comprised ITU on behalf of their governments, were very much against user participation in their affairs, but the Secretariat was sympathetic.

INTUG, however, began to haunt ITU meetings in search of information in the corridors and coffee rooms and, in 1979, it was at last admitted to official observer status. This conferred the right to attend meetings, make interventions, and submit reports. In time, INTUG came to be accepted as the voice of progress. A series of joint ITU/INTUG conferences was arranged under the title USERCOM, to encourage ITU member interest in the user-view.

INTUG is now active in both the standards and development sectors and its current Vice Chairman Regulatory Affairs is regularly invited to serve on ITU Committees.

In 1981, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) formed an IT Commission with a Telecom Working Party, in which INTUG participated with gusto. We saw this as a means of reaching a non-technical audience with a wider spread than we ourselves possessed. The long liaison has proved fruitful. This also led us to involvement with the Business and Industry Advisory Committee of the OECD which had begun to interest itself in IT matters and had the power to persuade its member states in the direction of deregulation and competition.

INTUG made common cause with OECD and ICC in pressing for free trade in telecom services in the GATT, now WTO. It was active behind the scenes in the recent conference in Geneva, which saw a successful conclusion to these efforts.

It is not an exaggeration to say that the Green Paper of 1987, which committed member states to deregulation, was largely the work of INTUG and a few other user organisations. There was nowhere else the CEC could go for informed knowledge to support the cause of deregulation.

The PTOs were diametrically opposed; the suppliers were under PTO control; organised labour was against. Only business users were in favour and their international voice was that of INTUG.

To its credit, the CEC was always receptive to INTUG’s ideas and would have gone further and faster had it thought it could carry its Member States with it.

I believe that in penetrating these corridors of power and in propagating the cause of competition, as it has done in conferences and written material, INTUG has largely fulfilled, if not exceeded, the objectives of its founders. Perhaps more could have been done with greater resources. It has always depended largely on voluntary effort. Looking back it is amazing to me that so much has been achieved with so little. INTUG’s commencement in 1974 was only 6 years after the Carterfone decision in the USA, which is generally regarded as the first crack in the PTO monopoly edifice. In this time, the telecom world has been revolutionised to the benefit of all users.

At a less macro level, INTUG has served well many of the people who attend its meetings. It provides an opportunity three times a year for telecom professionals and those who run telecom user groups, to get together and learn from one another. Sometimes, as many as 15 nationalities are represented. It has helped new user groups to get going and has done much work to encourage awareness of the user view in the supply industry and with regulatory authorities.

As a result of modern tendencies towards leaner and hungrier business enterprises, organisations like INTUG which depend on voluntary effort, are finding that fewer and fewer people are able to give their time, however worthy the cause, to extra-mural activities. This creates a need for more paid work and the use of consultants and hence larger budgets. At the same time companies are belt-tightening and subscriptions seem a painless budget item for them to cut.

In a way, this challenge reminds me of the early days of INTUG when it seemed a very ambitious task to breach the walls of the PTT-controlled world which then existed. I am confident that we shall succeed now as we did then.

George McKendrick 
INTUG Executive Director 
2001–2011