Badge envy at ITU PP14

Overheard this morning as a Member State delegate inspected the collection of electioneering badges on another delegate’s lanyard: “Aw, you’ve got the Chinese one. I really wanted one of those!”

Yes, folks, the most coveted items at PP14 are election badges being distributed by States. Personally, I’m coveting the “Bruce” badge from Canada.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you have any intention of voting for the country whose badge you are wearing/are trying to obtain. What matters is that the badge is cool. Australia’s koala badge is cool. Australia’s wattle blossom flower badge is not. There are still plenty of Australian wattle badges, if you want an extra badge and aren’t particularly fussy about what’s on it.

badges

ITU PP14 Day 2: An overview

Plenipotentiary Conference 2018 announcedpp14-busan-twitter

We’ve hardly begun this conference, and we already have a venue for the next Plenipotentiary in 2018: the United Arab Emirates. The UAE hosted another big ITU event, the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), in 2012.

Women’s breakfast

There are now regular breakfasts at big ITU events aimed at helping women in the ITU community network. The first networking meal between women took place in 1992, with only 13 women present. This has grown over the years until there are now this many women and their supporters at the PP14 women’s breakfast:

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

A series of rather grim statistics about women’s participation in ICTs was presented, including:

  • Only 9% of app developers in Europe are women
  • Only 6% of the CEOs world’s top 100 technology companies are women
  • There are 200 million fewer women online in the world than men
  • The ratio of women studying ICTs has reduced significantly over the past couple of decades

In contrast, attendance by women at ITU Plenipotentiaries 2010 and 2014 looks positively rosy: in both plenipots, women have formed around 21% of the total delegate population.

The breakfast ended on a more upbeat note, with four female ICT ministers from Nigeria, Poland, Qatar and Sudan answering questions about the role and prospects for women in ICT.

Policy statements

There were 37 policy statements by Member States on Tuesday. While most of the statements on Day 1 were within the five-minute limit, statement lengths started to creep over that time limit on Day 2. The countries that spoke were:

  1. Malaysia
  2. China
  3. Kirgizstan
  4. Ukraine
  5. Sudan
  6. Mali
  7. Bhutan
  8. Gabon
  9. Uganda
  10. Kenya
  11. Argentina
  12. Ethiopia
  13. South Africa
  14. Singapore
  15. Bahrain
  16. Egypt
  17. Brazil
  18. Romania
  19. Hungary
  20. Mauritania
  21. Burkina Faso
  22. United Arab Emirates
  23. Algeria
  24. Tanzania
  25. Afghanistan
  26. Côte d’Ivoire
  27. Zambia
  28. India
  29. Myanmar
  30. Iran
  31. Peru
  32. Angola
  33. Dominican Republic
  34. UK
  35. Mexico
  36. Cyprus
  37. Lithuania

Most of the statements followed the standard format of thanks, facts and figures about ICT developments in their countries and a request to please vote for them in this week’s ITU elections. Many developing countries also referred to the assistance they had received from ITU and other ITU Member States to help develop their ICT infrastructure and services. It is worth remembering that the assistance the ITU has been able to provide to developing countries is one of the main reasons so many developing countries are such strong supporters of ITU. For these countries, ITU really has been an effective UN body. Of course, the other side of the coin is that the occupants of the some of the largest donor States do not see ITU doing anything to progress their needs or wants, and wonder if their money is being well spent (for example, there was a 2013 petition asking the US government to stop funding the ITU).

Highlights from the policy statements:

  • Afghanistan reported on the exponential growth of ICTs in its country since 2002, when its citizens needed to cross into adjoining countries to make a simple phone call. If you ever wondered whether the ITU is relevant in this day and age, cases like Afghanistan prove that it can and does play a fundamental role in supporting the development of ICTs in developing countries.
  • Brazil, which couldn’t get any mention of NETmundial included in this year’s CSTD draft ECOSOC resolution on WSIS follow-up, did make sure it highlighted NETmundial in its policy statement. It also highlighted President Roussef’s speech at the UN General Assembly in 2013, where she presented her principles for management of the Internet, which then became the underlying framework of the NETmundial outcome document.
  • India, which has a reputation for having a rather multiple personality approach to Internet governance (it depends which department is doing the talking), presented a pro-multilateral position in its policy statement. It highlighted its concerns that a country’s critical information infrastructure could be knocked out by cyber attacks and hoped that via ITU, Member States would work to harmonize their national policy and regulations to provide an effective response to cyber threats. India’s policy statement is directly linked to their very recently proposal for a new resolution, ITU’s role in realizing Secure Information Society. India previously submitted the proposal to the regional Asia Pacific group of ITU Member States, the Asia Pacific Telecommunity, but there was no consensus to support it as a common Asia Pacific proposal. Finally, clearly having missed the memo that ITU now embraces gender equality and mainstreaming, it referred to its fellow Member States as “brotherly”. Hm.
  • Iran had one of the most interesting of speeches to date. Not particularly known as a vocal supporter of the multistakeholder principles of WSIS, Iran referred a number of times to “stakeholders”. It never actually said the “M” word (“multistakeholder”) but the mere use of the term “stakeholder”, a concept that is integral to multistakeholderism, is significant.
  • Malaysia, with their recent experience of the loss of two Malaysian Airlines planes, stressed the importance of developing more advanced systems of communications for the airline industry. While this may seem like a very specific concern to be raising, it demonstrates the fact that Member State priorities at ITU are often direct responses to immediate and very personal experiences of the country.
  • Mexico announced that it is so committed to the work ITU is doing, it is raising its financial contribution to ITU from one contributory unit to three. That amounts to an extra CHF 600,000 per year.
  • UK, which supports a common European regional proposal to open the vast majority of ITU documents to the public,took the opportunity toemphasize its believe that ITU should make its processes and forums transparent and made publicly available wherever possible. This is probably linked, in particular, to previous debates in ITU Council about making the meetings and documents of the Member States-only Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet) available to other Internet governance stakeholders. Those ITU Council meetings decided that it wasn’t up to the Council to decide on the issue, but it had to be a matter for all States at the Plenipotentiary to reach agreement on.
  • Ukraine, deeply unhappy about Russia’s annexation of Crimea, took the opportunity to describe Crimea as a “temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine” and protest the use of Ukrainian telecommunication networks and frequencies by Russian telecommunication operators and broadcasting organizations now operating in Crimea. So we can add the new set of tensions between Ukraine and Russia to the traditional tensions between USA and Cuba and Palestine and Israel to the mix of geopolitical hostilities that will crop up from time to time during the week. Of course, a specialized UN forum like the ITU is not going to be able to settle such problems, but given there is no one-stop-shop venue to settle these inter-country disputes, the aggrieved countries will use every UN forum to raise the profile of their dispute in the hope that specialized resolutions from individual UN forums may over time help their greater cause.

Still to come in Week 1 of PP14

pp14-busan-twitterWeek 1 of Plenipot is largely about elections, food and gifts. The food and gifts are direct results of Member States trying to convince other Member States to vote for them in the countless positions that are up for election here in Busan. I asked one Member State if rich food diplomacy really convinced others to cast votes in a certain way. I was told that it didn’t, but it did help raise awareness of who was running for elections, particularly for those running from less well-known States.

bang-the-drum-for-pp14

We will also hear a lot more five-minute policy statements from Member States and do a lot of general preparation for the following two weeks where the real work will take place. While the policy statements can seem a little mind numbing to listen to, given the general similarity of their content, they can also be useful indicators of the general positions the States will maintain in the following two weeks. You just have to find the nuggets of gold from amongst all the national ICT facts and figures, “vote for us” and thank you and congratulatory messages that they contain.

Week 1 is also a chance to build relationships between delegates, which will help with negotiations in Weeks 2 and 3. Never underestimate the power of inter-personal connections to bridge geopolitical divides.

A lot of delegates will disappear once elections have taken place at PP14 as they came to Busan to help with the lobbying for votes and won’t have a role to play once participants begin the hard work of drafting updated resolutions. The delegates remaining behind will then have two weeks of late nights and early mornings in drafting groups without much access to food to work off the weight gained at all the receptions held this week.

itu-cake

There will also be an influx of new delegates arriving toward the end of the week and early next week. These new delegates will be focussed on doing the less glamorous, but substantive, work of the conference: drafting resolutions and other key documents that will steer ITU’s path over the next four years.

ITU PP14 Day 1: An overview

pp14-busan-twitter A lot of Day 1 of PP14 was about looking good. The South Korean hosts of the event wanted to present the best of Korean ICTs and culture to the world. The outgoing Secretary-General wanted to present his stewardship over the last four years of ITU as a success (yep, even that WCIT bit). Member States wanted to present themselves as being progressive leaders of ICT adoption and innovation.

There wasn’t much of substance discussed on Day 1, so the overview of the day below is rather short:

Opening Ceremony

Opening ceremonies like this are fairly predictable affairs, whether they be at ITU, ICANN or the IGF: they’re full of very earnest statements to the already converted about the importance of the organization whose meeting it is, followed by a bunch of facts and figures showing how the local host country is a leader in the area of whatever topic the meeting is focusing on. This is followed by glitzy videos of local culture and attractions. Everyone agrees with the speakers on how important the work of the meeting is (“Yeah! We’re doing Very Important Things!”) and then wonder if they can slip away at some point to experience some of the touristy things they’re being shown glimpses of.

The highlight of the P14 Opening Ceremony was the president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, speaking. She spoke about the hyper-connected digital world we are moving into. Her presence, however, resulted in wifi and mobile phone signals being jammed in the room for the duration of the Ceremony. People had to pay attention to the speakers instead of surfing the Net. Oh, the hardship of it all.

Plenary 1

Outgoing Secretary-General Dr Hamadone Toure spoke confidently about how well the next three weeks would proceed and how much cooperation and collaboration there would be between delegates to develop goals for ITU to achieve in the next four years. In other words, there will be good outcomes, y’all hear? Even if it means Dr Toure has to come into the room and beat heads together until you learn the value of cooperation, ‘kay?

qatar-speaking

Member States embarked on the first of many sessions that will include Policy Statements from Member States. There are 193 Member States, and all have the option to speak for five minutes, so we could be in for a bit of marathon over the next few days as we try and get through them all.

Countries that delivered their speeches on Day 1 were:

  1. South Korea
  2. Japan
  3. Russia
  4. Saudi Arabia
  5. Viet Nam
  6. Qatar
  7. Azerbaijan
  8. Jordan
  9. Poland
  10. Kazakhstan
  11. Lebanon

Not all have been translated into other languages yet, but policy statements are published shortly after they have been presented on the floor.

Rather than try and explain what the contents of all these policy statements were about, here’s a summary of it in 140 characters:

Finally, three highlights from the policy statements:

  • Japan supported the multistakeholder model of ICTs without ever using the word “multistakeholder”. Is “multistakeholder” becoming as taboo as references to “NETmundial” in some circles? Is it possible that Japan is trying to encourage some of the other States to embrace the concept of multistakeholderism by repackaging it in ways that they won’t balk at?
  • Russia emphasized their deep concerns about cyber threats and the need for an international (intergovernmental) approach to tackling these problems. This should not surprise anyone as it is a position they have had for a long time now. The English interpretation of their speech talked about concerns about domain names and databases being corrupted, causing routing problems. Until we get a more leisurely translation of the written version of the speech, however, I would advise not becoming overly excited or concerned about this reference, as nuances of meaning can be lost in live interpretation.
  • Saudi Arabia requested that the ITU play a leading role in the preparatory process for the overall review of the 10th anniversary of WSIS happening in 2015. The UN General Assembly resolved earlier this year that the preparatory process begin in June 2015, culminating in a High-Level Meeting during the General Assembly in December 2015. ITU was the initiator of the original WSIS process, having first passed a resolution on WSIS back at its 1998 Plenipotentiary. In 2001, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that turned it into a UN-wide event. Given ITU’s pivotal role in creating the WSIS process, it is understandable that some Member States may want ITU to have a pre-eminent role in the upcoming WSIS+10 overall review. Particularly as two of the other key UN bodies involved in the WSIS+10 review process, UNESCO and CSTD, have demonstrated a more multistakeholder-friendly attitude toward the WSIS process. The ITU, on the other hand, is still an active battle ground between States that want ITU to be more multistakeholder and those that want ITU to remain predominantly intergovernmental in nature.