Funding woes, sadly, but inevitably, have a negative impact on IGF

The Internet Governance Forum’s lack of resources is leading to a vicious circle where lack of funding means less ability to organize events that are interesting to a wide range of stakeholders, meaning less stakeholders are willing to invest resources in the IGF, meaning that the IGF becomes less of a robust forum for discussion and debate.

From my perspective, these are some of the key reasons IGF has ongoing funding woes:

  1. The IGF is part of an ever-expanding universe of Internet events and initiatives that are vying for a finite set of resources
  2. There is an ongoing lack of a high level advocate for the IGF
  3. There is an increasing imbalance amongst stakeholder groups actively participating in the IGF
  4. The intersessional program of work seems to be suffering from community burnout and an inability of the short-staffed IGF Secretariat to fully support it this year

There is an ongoing lack of a high level advocate for the IGF

Since the end of 2010, IGF has lacked high profile champions at a level that all governments respect and will listen to. Since Markus Kummer resigned as Executive Coordinator of the Secretariat at the end of 2010 due to reaching the UN mandatory retirement age, nobody has replaced him. Why? Because UN rules mean you can’t appoint someone to a position unless there’s at least a year’s salary for that role in the bank. Nitin Desai, Special Adviser to the UN Secretary General for Internet Governance, also stepped down from his role at the end of 2010, again, because of retirement. The Special Adviser role retired with him.

Without weighty advocates for the weird Frankenstein creation that is the IGF, it’s no wonder that the WSIS Forum, with the full weight of the ITU behind it [1], has attracted the funding and attention of many of the governments that, back in the WSIS days, had argued so vociferously for the need for a forum/agency for Internet policy issues.

For a while, the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) Chair role might have functioned as a suitable replacement for that advocacy role, but the UN DESA’s decision to rotate the Chair position amongst stakeholder groups means that any non-government occupant of that seat will lack full credibility in intergovernmental circles.

The current MAG Chair is a representative of civil society: Lynn St Amour.[2] The reality is that majority of governments, even many of those who are pro-multistakeholder, are never going to view a civil society representative with the same degree of respect as they would a senior diplomat or other government representative. Therefore, the MAG Chair role could only play the advocacy role when it is occupied by a representative of government or of an intergovernmental organization.

There is an increasing imbalance amongst stakeholder groups actively participating in the IGF

The IGF is beloved of civil society. Civil society is the IGF’s staunchest defender. Unfortunately, most of civil society is not flushed with enough cash to even attend the IGF without assistance from other sources, let alone help fund the IGF to the levels it needs. Enthusiasm and volunteerism from civil society is helping keep IGF on life support, but long-term, this is not a viable strategy. Volunteers can burn out. I have already observed a number of initially very optimistic IGF supporters gradually fall away as they’ve become disillusioned with their ability to move IGF out of the ICU ward and back into peak fitness.

As noted in the previous section, the lack of a respected champion of the IGF means the IGF has not been able to sustain, let alone expand upon, governments’ interest in the IGF. Governments do not participate in IGF these days at the same level as they do in competing forums such as the WSIS Forum or the Global Conference on Cyber Space. Those forums attract dozens of government ministers and ambassadors. IGF struggles to get a handful.

Not only has the IGF been unable to keep up the interest of government stakeholders, it’s also losing the private sector. The following are paraphrased complaints that I’ve heard privately from business stakeholders:

  • “Why would we keep funding the IGF, and going to the IGF, if all we get is criticism and attacks on the private sector as a whole when we’re there?”
  • “Why should we keep going if our workshop proposals are constantly rejected? IGF complains about lack of diversity, but then selects workshops from the same small set of proposers, year after year.” (Workshop selection is an endless topic of debate amongst the IGF MAG and there is constantly a tension between trying to ensure quality and trying to increase diversity).
  • “Why do so many in civil society and developing country governments lump all businesses into the category of global economic cannibals and pillory us as an entire stakeholder group? The vast majority of the private sector are not US-based global giants. Don’t they realize that the private sector also includes all the SMEs that developing countries hope will take advantage of the Internet to improve their countries’ living standards?”
  • “Why does the IGF only care about businesses that sell Internet-related products and services? Why doesn’t IGF care about the many more businesses that rely on the Internet? To be honest, as a business that relies on the Internet, at the IGF, I have more in common with civil society, as end users of the Internet, than I do with the members of the Internet services-based business community that the IGF courts.”

The private sector could be a great source of funding for the IGF, but until the private sector can be convinced that the IGF really matters to businesses, whether they be providers of Internet services or users of Internet services, global businesses or SMEs, the private sector is not going to commit funds to a forum that they are attending less and less.

The core organizations of the Internet technical community, which have the most to lose if things move away from the multistakeholder model of Internet governance and towards a more intergovernmental approach, has long shelled out big bucks to keep the IGF going. But there are limits to how much longer these organizations can prop up the IGF’s funding. Members of the ICANN community, for example, have questioned why ICANN is spending so much money on wider Internet governance activities that have little to do with ICANN’s core DNS mandate. Even worse, too many IGF workshops and open forums by the Internet technical community organizations have ossified over the years into “look what great things we do” sessions that, while possibly of interest to IGF newcomers, provide no new insights to the majority of the participants who attend them (usually, supporters of the organizations that have organized the session).

The intersessional program of work seems to be suffering from community burnout and an inability of the short-staffed IGF Secretariat to fully support it this year

As a result of lack of funding at the IGF Secretariat and increasingly stretched resources amongst IGF stakeholder groups, the IGF’s flagship Connecting and Enabling the Next Billion(s) intersessional process, as well as the three Best Practice Forum processes have not received the attention or support that previous years’ intersessional activities received, despite the best efforts of their most committed champions. The intersessional work programme of the IGF has been seen as one of the best ways to make the IGF more solid and attractive to potential participants. But this year’s efforts to continue the previous two years’ level of intersessional activities seems to have overstretched resources to the point that the final outputs (yet to be published) run the risk of not being truly representative of different perspectives and not of the same quality as previous years. In IGF’s favour here is the fact that the community behind these intersessional efforts like to promote the outcome documents as “works in progress” or “snapshots” that will need iterative updating rather than as canonical, static outputs. But even the “work in progress” angle cannot fully hide the fact that this year’s intersessional program has not lived up to the standard of the previous two years’ efforts.

An 11th hour bid to save the IGF

In an effort to improve IGF more long-term, this year, UN DESA took the extraordinary step of paying the MAG Chair to oversee work to address the ongoing funding shortfall for the IGF as well as “set up the 2nd decade to meet the potential of the IGF”.[3] But funding remains a serious issue, and with the MAG’s Working Group on Multi-year Strategic Work Programme (WG-MWP), established in April this year still very much undecided about the best way forward, the vision of a robust, dynamic and “can’t miss” IGF is still a couple of years away, at best.

Notes

[1] Although, as the ITU Secretariat is increasingly at pains to emphasize, the WSIS Forum not just an ITU event, but an event organized by many UN agencies.

[2] Lynn St Amour used to be CEO of the Internet Society, but because the technical Internet community isn’t a recognized stakeholder group at the UN, she occupies the MAG Chair as civil society.

[3] The decision to pay the MAG Chair raises an important issue for the multistakeholder IGF: while governments and the large businesses can afford to fund the activities of their staff performing the role of MAG Chair, civil society, least developed country governments and SMEs generally do not have such resources. Paying or reimbursing MAG Chairs might be the only way to diversify representation at that level, but also risks creating the sort of Internet governance gravy train already seen in some ICANN constituencies.


This is part of a 4-part series on the IGF. The other 3 parts are:

Why I still hold out hope for the IGF

While I’m not attending IGF this year, I still believe IGF has much value, and very much hope that IGF can be rescued from its funding woes and reclaim its place as a vital and indispensable centre of coordination, exchange and facilitation in a dynamic system of Internet governance events and processes.

There are still very good reasons that IGF exists and should be supported:

  1. Internet policy is so politicized these days, we need a place where people can express their views openly and honestly without fear that it will be used against them in a “final text”
  2. IGF keeps the other bastards honest
  3. If you’re only able to attend one or two meetings per year, IGF is the best place to meet the widest range of contacts in one location

1. Internet policy is so politicized these days, we need a place where people can express their views openly and honestly without fear that it will be used against them in a “final text”

The recent ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference in Buenos Aires reminded me why we need something like the IGF. As soon as you have an event that has concrete outcomes (resolutions, compacts, declarations), you also create a nightmare of negotiations that go through to the small hours of each morning, where people stop focusing on finding solutions to the real issues that make everyone happy and instead focus on fiercely arguing about individual words of no real consequence in outcome texts.

In those environments, governments rule the day because they have decades of experience at tough multilateral negotiations. Other stakeholder groups, however, are relative babes in the woods, with limited political experience of how such negotiated recommendations and resolutions can be used to advance positions that most of the participants of the negotiations never even considered to be a possibility.[1]

2. IGF keeps the other bastards honest

A now-deregistered Australian political party, the Australian Democrats, had the slogan “keep the bastards honest”. The Democrats were only ever a minority party, but as the largest of minority parties, their few votes could help influence the behavior of whatever party was governing the country or state at the time.

The IGF has a similar effect on other Internet-related forums. As I’ve noted elsewhere, the WSIS Forum duplicates the IGF format. The World Internet Conference is another attempt to coopt the format, albeit in a way that is more in line with the particular political sensibilities of the government of China.

Multiple organizations now hold open consultations on Internet-related issues:

The IGF as viewed by many stakeholders as the new standard of what a multistakeholder Internet governance process should be. Basically, any process today that discusses Internet-related issues tends to be compared to the IGF, even if the process has no aspirations to be multistakeholder.

3. If you’re only able to attend one or two meetings per year, IGF is the best place to meet the widest range of contacts in one location

For the last couple of years, my reason for recommending that people attend IGF hasn’t been the formal sessions or workshops. Instead it’s been, “You can hold an amazing range of side meetings with everyone you could possibly want to discuss issues with”. The IGF Secretariat makes this possible by making sure there are is a range of small meeting spaces that can be booked on a first-come-first-served basis.

Even if you don’t organize formal side meetings, it’s possible to have amazing conversations in the corridors. Last year at the IGF in Jalisco, I spent almost an equal time in such corridor meetings as I did in actual workshops and sessions.

There are lots of online mapping and observatory initiatives that aim to provide paths of entry into the world of Internet governance, but in reality, attending the IGF is still the best way to get a crash course in the often-confusing world of Internet issues.

The WSIS Tunis Agenda gave the IGF a number of mandates, five of which are about coordination and facilitation:

  • Facilitate discourse between bodies dealing with different cross-cutting international public policies regarding the Internet and discuss issues that do not fall within the scope of any existing body.
  • Interface with appropriate intergovernmental organizations and other institutions on matters under their purview.
  • Facilitate the exchange of information and best practices, and in this regard make full use of the expertise of the academic, scientific and technical communities.
  • Strengthen and enhance the engagement of stakeholders in existing and/or future Internet governance mechanisms, particularly those from developing countries.
  • Identify emerging issues, bring them to the attention of the relevant bodies and the general public, and, where appropriate, make recommendations.

Notes

[1] I have witnessed this naivety firsthand at the CWG-Internet physical open consultations, where non-government stakeholders in the room are basically silent during the negotiations on the summary report of the day’s discussions, but governments are highly proactive, because non-government stakeholders have no understanding how the summary report can be used in the closed CWG-Internet meeting later in the week.


This is part of a 4-part series on the IGF. The other 3 parts are:

Drafting the WSIS resolution for ECOSOC at the CSTD 19th Session

The 19th Session of the Commission for Science and Technology (CSTD) was held in Geneva, 9-13 May. At each of its annual sessions, the Commission drafts two resolutions for the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC):

  • Draft Resolution on Science, Technology and Innovation (2016 draft adopted by CSTD)
  • Draft resolution on the Assessment of the progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (2016 draft adopted by CSTD)

These resolutions use the previous year’s ECOSOC resolutions as starting points. ECOSOC has the ability to amend the resolutions when they consider them during their annual sessions, but in reality, it tends to rubber stamp what the Commission has submitted.

Please note that this blog post focuses on the WSIS implementation resolution as it is the set of negotiations that I followed last week.

Participation in the CSTD: its 43 Member States are not the whole story

The CSTD has 43 Member States. These Member States are chosen by the 54 Member States of ECOSOC. The UN General Assembly has 193 Member States. Therefore, the ECOSOC resolutions on science and technology and WSIS implementation are developed by a UN agency that contains just over one-fifth of all UN Member States. In practice, though, any Member State can participate in the CSTD’s development of the draft resolutions. CSTD membership only matters if things need to go to a vote. And the general feeling is that if things need to go to the vote, it basically means the process has failed. So, to date, there has never been a vote on CSTD’s draft resolutions.

As well as all UN Member States, the CSTD allows a number of non-governmental entities to participate in its work, including those with WSIS accreditation or ECOSOC accreditation. At the 19th Session, representatives from ITU, UNESCO, UN Women and UN DESA, staff members from ICC BASIS, ICANN, ISOC, and APC were present, as well as a researcher from the University of Essex and a small business operator (mCADE LLC). I attended under the ARIN banner. There were also some other faces present that I did not recognize.mics

Non-Member States have gradually been able to participate more fully in the drafting negotiations over the past few years, at the discretion of the chair of the negotiations. This year, the chair of the WSIS-related negotiations (Canada) was very receptive to the inputs of non-government participants and regularly called on any non-government participant who raised their flag (what you and I would call a large “tent card” if we weren’t in a UN meeting). In addition, rather than making the non-government participants trudge around the corridors in the breaks, hoping to find a Member State willing to “adopt” their proposed text as their own (and therefore making it possible to appear as part of the official compilation draft), the Chair, after a non-government representative had presented their idea, would ask, on the spot, if any government in the room was willing to sponsor/adopt the proposal.

The starting point: the 2015 ECOSOC WSIS resolution

Last year’s WSIS implementation resolution was adopted by plenary at the unusually early hour of 6:40 pm on May 10. Previous years had dragged on well past midnight, and on at least one occasion ending at 2:30 am on the Saturday morning. Usually, the Internet-related parts of the resolution were the biggest sticking points. The only reason that the CSTD’s draft of the 2015 WSIS resolution was adopted so early was that it had become very clear that there would be no agreement to proposed changes to the resolution. At issue was the fact that some Member States had wanted to add forward looking text to the resolution, looking beyond the WSIS+10 anniversary toward the next phase of implementation, while others believed it was premature to make decisions before the UN General Assembly had completed its 10-year review of the WSIS (in December 2015). Late on the Friday afternoon, it was very clear that there was not going to be any possibility of compromise between those two positions.

The only possible solution – other than to not have a resolution at all – was to stick with the 2014 resolution, just with updated dates and names/numbers of annual meetings and resolutions referenced in the resolution. Everyone agreed that substantive changes would be deferred until after the WSIS+10 UN General Assembly (UNGA) had been decided.

Optimism in action: 2016 zero draft assumes WSIS+10 and SDGs will be reflected in the 2016 resolution

The zero draft sent to Member States highlighted sections of the text that may have been useful to consider updating in the wake of the WSIS+10 resolution at UNGA (December 2015) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (September 2015) being adopted.

However, in hindsight, it was perhaps a little ambitious in its expectations that Member States would want to overhaul the complicated, often redundant, text that had built up over many years of compromises that allowed the resolutions to be passed, if not to make particular sense to anyone who hadn’t been in the room at the time.

States are divided on the way forward

Pro-overhaul parties

The Western European and Others Group (WEOG) were keen to start afresh and streamline the resolution and make the issues it contained clearer and more succinct. For WEOG states, the resolution had become overly complicated and unreadable. Because of the difficulties in previous years’ negotiations, it had built up a considerable amount of text about events and activities that had long since been held or begun. For the WEOG states, it was more important to focus on the future, particularly since they viewed the WSIS+10 UNGA resolution as a kind of “reset” button on WSIS activities.

Pro-“keep existing text” parties

Many of the developing countries were suspicious of WEOG proposals to delete paragraphs and replace them with merged, shorter text on the same issues. For those developing countries, there was consternation that the deletions seemed overwhelmingly related to text aimed at the challenges faced by developing countries and that deletion of this text would disadvantage them. In addition, for governments who felt that the existing resolution was to their advantage, deletion of text from that resolution would mean risking their ability to maintain an advantage in the new text. Finally, some states were concerned that there was not enough time to update the text. It is certainly true that unlike other UN bodies and processes, where governments submit their proposed changes weeks or months in advance, CSTD’s process is very truncated, with governments only submitting their edits the week of the CSTD session, leaving a maximum of 2.5 days to negotiate together on the text. However, it is also symptomatic of UN glacial slowness that the UN can pass two major resolutions that set the way forward for development and ICT for the next 10-15 years but one of its subordinate bodies chooses not to incorporate those big changes in a resolution designed to monitor the implementation of one of those processes.

Key areas of difference

As usual, Internet governance was a big area of contention.

Enhanced cooperation

The composition of the second Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC 2.0), announced during the WSIS Forum 2016, particularly problematic. Developing countries felt that their interests were being sidelined in the final lineup of the working group. The overwhelming majority of the intergovernmental and international organizations and the technical and academic community representatives were from the developed north. In addition, for the CSTD regional groups that had had a very difficult time in nominating only four states to represent them on the WGEC, it was hard to accept that the WEOG and African Group had five members each (WEOG had such a hard time that the Chair of the CSTD, Peter Major of Hungary, had to choose the final member). The fifth member of those two groups was a result of Switzerland (CSTD membership ends 2016) and Tunisia (not a CSTD member) being the hosts of the WSIS process, 2003-2005. However, if you were a state that had missed out because you weren’t a CSTD member now, or wouldn’t be a CSTD member for the entire life of the WGEC, the inclusion of these two states could be seen as a bit of an insult. Therefore, there was a big push to allow all UN 193 Member States to be able to participate on an equal footing, should they wish to participate, in the working group. There was an equally big push, however, from the other side, which pointed out that the WSIS+10 resolution had left it up to the WGEC itself to decide its modalities – not the CSTD.

IGF

IGF supporters wanted to add text that mentioned some of the progress made in improving the IGF, such as the inter-sessional work on policy options to connect the next billion, the Best Practice Forums and Dynamic Coalitions. Those less supportive of IGF thought that this was unnecessary detail for the ECOSOC resolution.

Development was also a big issue.

Activities aimed at addressing the needs of developing countries

WEOG states had tried to consolidate various sections of the past resolution so that all development-related material would be shorter, less distributed throughout different parts of the text, and easier for people to understand. However, many states from the developing world felt that the proposals to consolidate the text were removing subtle, but important, nuances in the development oriented text. WEOG states said they had no intention of deleting anything important and, during the negotiations, had been working to update their proposed texts to incorporate elements that the developing states had said were vital to them. However, with the limited time available, there just wasn’t the time to complete this exercise to everyone’s satisfaction.

A war of attrition: Member States and observers start leaving the room

late-night-negotiationsOnce 6 pm hit on Friday night, gradually, a number of the Member State representatives and some of the observers started leaving. Partially, this was because a number of the Member States were represented by their mission staff who were only there to observe, rather than be active participants. After 6 pm, for Member States who weren’t actively invested in the outcomes of the draft resolution, there really was no point in staying. Other Member States had multiple representatives in the room, and so didn’t need to have all their representatives stay on. Others simply had prioritized their lives over being stuck in small room eating vending machine supplies for dinner and had booked flights out of Geneva on Friday night. This meant that only the incredibly committed (and possibly certifiably insane) stayed on to the end.

Trying to find a consensus text on a Friday 13th, with a full moon, while exhausted and subsisting on caffeine and sugar

The nuclear option is proposed: Let’s dump it all

At around 1 am, one of the governments suggested that given the massive amounts of text left to work on, and the late hour, there needed to a decision to either hold a resumed session in a few weeks or to produce a massively truncated text that basically recalled the WSIS+10 and SDG resolutions and reaffirmed a commitment to implement the goals. Then, next year, the government representative said, we could embark on a longer preparatory process that could consider the various ways to develop a post-WSIS+10 resolution that met everyone’s needs.

The Chair proposes an alternative option: Tread water

In response to the nuclear option, the chair of the drafting group suggested that the group could adopt a different type of barebones resolution: this one would recall the 2015 ECOSOC resolution on WSIS (the one that was the 2014 ECOSOC resolution, just with updated dates and resolution and meeting references) as well as recall the SDG resolution, the WSIS+10 resolution, and request the Secretary General to submit his report to ECOSOC.

At this point, the chair of the drafting group called for a break while he consulted with various delegations about how to proceed.

A compromise solution: When all else fails, try a facilitator’s text

After a break that lasted just over an hour, the chair of the drafting group resumed the meeting with a new proposed way forward: a facilitator’s text. In the event that participants are having so much trouble reaching any form of consensus, a facilitator’s text can be the best way forward. The idea is that the facilitator/chair of the drafting negotiations could put together his/her own compromise version of a resolution based on her/his sense of what could gain consensus in the room.

This is how the WSIS+10 resolution at the UN General Assembly was drafted during the preparatory process last year in New York. Recognizing how very difficult the topic was, the two co-facilitators, United Arab Emirates and Latvia, “held the pen” throughout the drafting process, even though there were some attempts by some of the Member States to have direct control over the drafting.

In this CSTD case, the chair of the negotiations noted that the facilitator’s text would be based on:

  • Development language proposed by WEOG that had been largely agreed to already plus existing resolution language (but no other additions)
  • WSIS Action Lines text proposed by Russia (not yet looked at by the room at this point, but there had been agreement for Russia to go away and consolidate various proposals and existing texts on Action Lines and the WSIS Forum. This compilation text was truncated significantly by the facilitator, not because there was anything wrong with it, but simply to ensure that this section on Action Lines didn’t form the majority of the text of the resolution (given all other sections were reduced significantly as part of the general compromise)
  • Compromise text on enhanced cooperation developed by Brazil, which had facilitated informal discussions on that section on Thursday night.
  • Existing language on Internet governance, including the IGF (proposed new language had not been agreed to)

Text on the reporting mechanism from the CSTD to the ECOSOC High Level Political Forum would be deleted (many hours had been devoted to trying to understand what exactly CSTD reports consisted on and whether or not Member States could change the format of the reports that were sent to this particular High Level Political Forum).

Some other bits of text that had not had complete consensus were, in the spirit of compromise, were either kept in or deleted.

Finally, we get to go home, at 2:55 am on Saturday 14 May, all knowing we’ll probably repeat the experience next year

Not everyone in the room was happy with the resulting text, but there was widespread recognition that possibly, via this facilitator’s draft, everyone would be less unhappy than if we had continued with everyone’s hand on the drafting pen. One state – not a CSTD member – was particularly unhappy and made their position very clear. When the chair of the negotiations asked if all governments could accept the facilitator’s compromise text, all but that one state was willing to adopt the text. The state insisted that their reservation be included in the report of the meeting, which was agreed to.

In many ways, the fact that a non-CSTD Member State was able to have so much influence on the process and have their objection included in the outcomes of the meeting report shows how open the CSTD is to the participation of all Member States.

A number of non-CSTD Member States were at the meeting and did participate. Belarus, for example, was a non-CSTD member that was active in the WSIS negotiations as was Saudi Arabia. Australia was also present, but less active, given it is currently in caretaker mode (federal elections are at the start of July). The inclusion of more UN Member States, and of other accredited entities, in the CSTD’s work can only make its deliberations richer and more representative of the wider needs and requirements of those who are the purpose for the CSTD’s work to draft ECOSOC resolutions in the first place.

As one Member State repeatedly intervened to note during the WSIS negotiations, trying to reach consensus on the draft resolutions in less than a week is clearly an impossible task. As the issues of sustainable development and the role of ICTs become more and more politically important to the world, the process of drafting associated resolutions becomes more complicated and delicate. It remains to be seen if the CSTD changes its approach to drafting the 2017 ECOSOC resolution on WSIS implementation. CSTD only meets twice a year for a total time of less than two weeks. It also has a very streamlined secretariat provided by UNCTAD. Because of these factors, there is very little focus on the CSTD’s work for most of the year, and most governments do not assign specific liaisons to follow the CSTD’s work on WSIS. Instead, it’s the local mission-based staff who are sent. Or whoever has been assigned to work on ICTs and WSIS issues at ITU. This means that each time the CSTD meets to develop its WSIS resolution, it’s pretty much starting from scratch. Many of the participants don’t know each other and there is no thread of ongoing CSTD work throughout the year that binds people together. Unless ways to overcome these barriers are developed, we are likely to see similarly difficult negotiations in the WSIS implementation drafting in May 2017.

Deconstructing the WSIS+10 non-paper

Update: the non-paper is now available on the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) website for the preparatory process for the WSIS+10 review. The date for submissions of comments on the non-paper has also been extended from 14 September to 18 September. When this blog was originally published, the non-paper had not been published officially, but had been sent to the IGF 2015 MAG mailing list on preparations for the main session on WSIS+10.

First, if you want some background into what the non-paper is, who made contributions to it, and where it sits in the overall United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) preparatory process for the High Level Meeting on the WSIS+10 Review, see my other blog post, Background to the WSIS+10 non-paper.

The co-facilitators of the preparatory process have done a remarkable job of distilling almost 400 pages of contributions into just over 4 pages of the non-paper (not counting 2 pages of letters at the front). Unfortunately, unless you speak fluent UN-ese, even those 4 pages are likely to be a bit confusing.

First WSIS+10 preparatory meeting in New York, 1 July 2015

First WSIS+10 preparatory meeting in New York, 1 July 2015

A quick overview of the non-paper’s contents

Would you believe that the word “Internet” appears 15 times in the four and a bit pages compared to only 8 references to “ICTs” and 5 references to the “digital divide”? It seems that the World Summit on the “Information Society” has turned into 10-year review of the “Internet Society” (and no, I’m not talking about ISOC). This is both probably somewhat alarming to some stakeholders and also to be expected, given the Internet is becoming a fundamental tool for so much of the world’s activities these days.

In short, the non-paper says:

  • A lot has been achieved, but there is still much to do to bridge evolving forms of the digital divide.
  • ICTs can play a major role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Multistakeholder cooperation and engagement is supported.
  • There is a need for gender equality.[1]
  • There should be “universal Internet access” by 2030.
  • Governance of the Internet should involve all stakeholders.
  • There is a need for the internationalization of Internet governance, including the full implementation of enhanced cooperation.
  • Extend the mandate of IGF, but with a few things that need possible improvement.
  • Cooperate globally to combat cybercrime and cyber-threats.
  • Put more effort into financing ICT development activities.
  • There needs to be better data collection and analysis to better evaluate progress on WSIS issues.
  • Keep reviewing WSIS outcomes annually and have another review of WSIS in the future.

WSIS+10 non-paper reconstructed in plain English and bullet points

The WSIS+10 non-paper contains three main types of content:

  1. Basic statements of fact and/or general consensus beliefs about WSIS issues
  2. Principles that WSIS should follow
  3. Ways forward for post-2015 WSIS

Below is a summary of the suggested principles and post-2015 landscape. Please note that I have edited the text of the original non-paper for clarity and brevity. The headings, however, are straight from the non-paper.

Ways forward for post-2015 WSIS

Digital divide

  • Increase the number of women with Internet access.
  • Ensure:
    • ICTs are affordable and relevant
    • Content is available in different languages and formats that are accessible to all people
    • People have the capabilities to make use of ICTs.
  • Encourage all stakeholders to take measures to achieve universal Internet access by 2030.
  • Increase efforts in capacity building, technology transfer, and multilingualism.

ICT for development

  • Use ICTs as a critical enabler to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Internet governance

  • Further the internationalization of Internet governance, including:
    • Greater participation of developing countries
    • The full implementation of Enhanced Cooperation.
  • Extend the Internet Governance Forum‘s mandate for [x] years AND:
    • Consider the need for clearer terms of reference for IGF’s governing structure, working methods, and outcomes.
    • Continue building upon current efforts to ensure support for the participation of least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States.

Cyberspace

  • Increase global efforts and cooperation in combating cybercrime and countering cyber-threats.

Follow-up and review

  • Mobilize domestic public and private resources to spur ICT access and content creation, particularly in a wider range of languages.
  • Review the lack of progress in the Digital Solidarity Fund.
  • Encourage official development assistance and financial flows, including foreign direct investment, to developing countries that need the most assistance in achieving ICT goals.
  • More capacity building.
  • Give ICT a prominent profile in the new technology mechanism established by the Addis Ababa Action Agenda.
  • Prioritize cross-cutting technical challenges that affect the implementation of Tunis Agenda Action Lines, including:
    • The deployment of lPv6
    • The deployment of Internet Exchange Points
    • The resilience of international ICT networks and resources
  • Improve data collection and measurement so it’s easier to assess how well WSIS goals are being achieved.
  • Keep reviewing WSIS outcomes annually, and hold another overall review in the future.

Principles that WSIS should follow

Digital divide

  • Commit to mainstream gender in WSIS implementation, notably through the Action Lines.

Human Rights

  • The same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.
  • All human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development, to achieve the WSIS vision.
  • Respect freedom of expression, the independence of press and the right to privacy.
  • No person shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home, or correspondence,c onsistent with countries’ obligations under international human rights law.

ICT for development

  • Mitigate the environmental impacts of ICT use and growth.

Internet governance

  • Governance of the internet should be open, inclusive, and transparent, within the working definition of internet governance as ‘the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet.
  • The management of the Internet encompasses both technical and public policy issues and should involve all stakeholder groups.

Cyberspace

  • Confidence- and security-building initiatives are important for the future of the information Society.

Follow-up and Review

  • The Addis Ababa Action Agenda and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provide an important framework for ICT policy and investment.
  • Public-private partnerships and universal access strategies, amongst other funding and financing approaches, are important ways to spur ICT access and content creation.
  • Capacity-building remains a primary focus.
  • Data collection and analysis is an important part of how WSIS goals are being achieved.

And to end with, a couple of observations

It is of potential concern that the non-paper differentiates between “cyberspace” and the “Internet”. “Cyberspace” is used as a catch-all term for Internet-related security issues. Is this a distinction that we really want to make? Do we want to be excluding security issues related to ICTs other than the Internet?

The inclusion of “cross-cutting technical challenges” in the non-paper demonstrates the increasingly blurred line between public policy (the responsibility of the Member States who will ultimately decide the contents of the final outcome document) and technical management of ICTs. This line was in reality always blurred, but when ICTs were less ubiquitous in the world, governments were less interested in exercising their rights to have a say in the possible public policy implications of those ICTs. But as stakeholders on the technical side of ICTs engage more with governments, there is also an expectation that governments will also engage more with non-government stakeholders as part of a two-way dialogue on the policy implications of technical issues. We are seeing this increasing expectation of greater interaction play out not only in the UNGA’s WSIS+10 process, but also in the ICANN accountability process that is currently underway.

Footnote

[1] Anyone who participated in the Multistakeholder Preparatory Process for the WSIS+10 High Level Event in Geneva in 2014 will remember how contentious proposed text about encouraging women’s participation in the Information Society was. The change in stance between Geneva and New York demonstrates how different Member State views can be depending on the forum.