For most of its near-150-year history the ITU has been the preserve of bureaucrats and telecoms execs and has rarely, if ever, entered the broader public's consciousness.
But then the Internet came along and ruined everything by building the most effective and extraordinary communications network the world has ever known. And it did so entirely outside of this cosy world. Parts of the ITU have been trying to get back control every since.
Last time around
The last Plenipotentiary in 2010 in Guadalajara became controversial because of a number of efforts by governments (most notably Russia and Saudi Arabia) to pull control of parts of the internet under the auspices of the ITU. As an arm of the United Nations (UN), the ITU's main decisions are decided by the world's governments, so a UN-led evolution of the internet would slowly but inevitably equate to a government-controlled internet - something that a lot of internet users (and some governments) did not want.
At the end of that conference, after a lot of wrangling, things stayed pretty much the same and there was even the mention of some of the world's key Internet bodies in a footnote to a resolution (this may sound like small beans but in the complicated world of the UN it was a big step).
The fight was then pushed forward to 2012 and another ITU conference, the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT,) at which the goal was to update an old international treaty on telecoms regulations.
The same governments as two years earlier tried again to pull the internet under these regulations (and hence expand the ITU's control over them), which ultimately resulted in a big split between the world's governments with approximately one third refusing to sign the end result.
Which leads us to the 2014 Plenipotentiary in Busan, Korea.
What is critical to understand straight away is that several hundred people spending all day every day in a room talking about a relatively small set of issues creates an extraordinary amount of discussion and documents.
It is extremely difficult to follow. To give an indication, here is a graphic created by crowdsourced policy analyst Sam Dickinson trying to capture all of the concurrent discussions and working groups going on at any given time.
As you can see there are 10 groups working to consolidate all the different ideas and proposals put forward by member states; and 9 "ad hoc groups" (AHGs) thrashing out areas of disagreeing in the hope of providing an agreed finally text for the final session on 7 November.
The reality is that you, as an internet user, are likely only going to be interested in one of these working groups: number 7. Number 7 is looking at all the internet-related resolutions: 101, 102, 133, 180 and four proposed new resolutions (although there are many, many more issues on the table as this matrix by the Internet Society makes clear).
What you probably also need to know at this stage is that the ITU does a lot of its work by going back and revising old resolutions. The theory is that at any given point you have a series of resolutions that provide the current best thinking on telecoms policy. In reality, this process is often used to define a battleground.
Here's what you need to know about each of those resolutions:
Resolution 101: Internet Protocol-based networks.
Russia wants to make the ITU a provider of IP addresses (everything attached to the Internet needs an IP address). There are currently five organizations - representing five regions of the world - that do this job, called Regional Internet Registries (RIRs). They feel they have things under control and so does the entire internet community. But some governments want the ITU to adopt this role as a way of sticking the UN into the machinery of internet governance.
Once inside, the ITU could start handing out IP address blocks through its own systems and potentially bypass the current system. And it could possibly do so on terms that favor governments. All in all it is an unnecessary change that would sow discord.
Some governments are also using this resolution as an opportunity to poke and embarrass the United States over the mass online surveillance that was revealed by Edward Snowden last year.
Risk of disruption: High
Chances of success: Low
Resolution 102: The ITU's role with regard to international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and the management of Internet resources, including domain names and addresses
This is the big beast in terms of the internet governance. Broadly speaking some governments was to make it so that all "public policy issues" as they pertain to the Internet are left solely in the hands of the world's governments.
This approach would completely undermine the current systems for running and governing the internet and so, unsurprisingly, many users are not happy about it.
At the moment all the actual work done is this area by the ITU is done through the Council Working Group on the Internet (CWG-Internet), which is closed to member states only, although others are allowed to send it documents to be considered.
There is an effort afoot to expand the CWG-Internet to other groups and to make its documents readily available. The idea behind that is that it would 100 times harder in future for the CWG-Internet to try to push through something unseen (which it has tried to do repeatedly in the past).
Risk of disruption: High Chances of success: Medium, although there are a lot of suggested changes so it's hard to know exactly where the ball will fall at the moment.
Resolution 133: Role of administrations of Member States in the management of internationalized (multilingual) domain names
This one could actually work in everyone's favor. This resolution has been a battleground in the past. But due to the fact that ICANN has - finally - started putting a lot of new internet extensions online that use other languages/scripts, such as Chinese, Arabic, Cyrillic, and so on, the world's governments are actually feeling quite happy about how things are going.
That doesn't mean that some of them would seek to extend their influence over this critical issue or try to figure out a way to bypass the current internet governance systems. But in general the new top-level domains are working well and it's a sign that maybe the current systems don't need changing, simply improving.
It may also see existing internet organizations pulled a little bit more into the ITU's world but can only be a good thing as neither group is going away any time soon.
Risk of disruption: Medium
Chances of success: High
Resolution 180: Facilitating the transition from IPv4 to IPv6
Again, this is an area where governments are seeking to insert the ITU into the current internet governance systems, ostensibly to help with the rollout of the next generation of the internet.
What should be pointed out is that the ITU, for all the criticism it receives from the internet world, is far more effective at expanding technology into developing countries than the rich Western nations will ever be.
With luck, this will be one area where warring parties can see the value that each side can bring.
Risk of disruption: Medium
Chances of success: Medium
98: ITU’s Role in realizing Secure Information Society
One more effort to include the ITU in IP addressing systems. In this case, India has proposed the entire system is changed so IP addresses are more traceable. This issue has come up before and the internet community has complained about it but India's seems determined that it is a good idea. It isn't.
There are some others but depending on what happens in the next few days, they may become something or may be nothing. We'll keep you posted.
So, in terms of the actual discussion that have been had so far. What has actually happened?
Well, we would sum it up as: lots of talking, lots of disagreement, some progress, and big fights coming next week.
Hopefully this primer will mean that when the updates do come in that you'll be able to understand what is happening.
It should also be noted that there are a range of good resolutions and good proposed changes, and that the ITU often does an excellent job in areas such as capacity building and spectrum allocation. And it is slowly changing and improving. But who wants to hear about that?