Member State views on opening the CWG-Internet

[This post is part of a series on the ITU Council 2013 discussions on CWG-Internet. To read from the beginning, go here.]

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

Member States on the Council were divided on whether or not to open the CWG-Internet to non-government stakeholders. There weren’t any surprises about which States supported which side; the divisions played out like pretty much all previous discussions on Internet-related issues at the ITU. One State didn’t want the CWG-Internet meetings opened, but were amenable to making its document available to all. Other States didn’t like the formal proposals to open the CWG-Internet, but were okay with the idea of an Informal Experts Group (more here) as proposed by the ITU Council 2013 Chair.

The various reasons that Member States in the two main camps gave for their positions are described below. Where some of the reasons seem to be more specific examples of a broader reason, I’ve sub-bulleted them. This doesn’t mean, however, that the same Member State stated both the main and sub-bulleted reasons.

Open the CWG-Internet because:

  • WTPF-13 had shown how well multistakeholderism can work.
    • Now is the right time to seize the opportunity to build on the momentum of the highly successful WTPF-13.
    • The outside world’s view of ITU changed with multistakeholder success of WTPF-13. If ITU chooses to keep the CWG-Internet a closed club, suspicion may return.
  • The Tunis Agenda has stated that the multistakeholder model is the appropriate model for Internet governance
  • Opening the CWG-Internet will have benefits for everyone, and particularly for developing countries.
    • Opening CWG-Internet sends an important political sign to the outside world that ITU is committed to openness and transparency.
    • Other stakeholders will bring the necessary expertise to CWG discussions on Internet issues. Diversity encourages broad and creative problem solving rooted in maximizing the effectiveness, efficiency and utility of the global Internet.
  • In the end, the work of the CWG-Internet will always be a Member State affair (it must report to Council), so there is nothing to be lost in opening participation in CWG-Internet meetings.
  • ITU Council shouldn’t be focusing on matters of process (“does Council have power to modify Plenipotentiary resolutions?”) but on matters of substance and principle (“Because CWG-Internet discussions affect all stakeholders, all stakeholders should have the opportunity to participate”).
  • The CWG-Internet is the only place in the foreseeable future that can make real decisions about Internet governance, and therefore must have multistakeholder input.
    • Other venues that discuss Internet governance are too far away or are non-decision making forums:
      • The next WTPF could be years away, and may not address Internet issues.
      • The IGF is annual event, but doesn’t make decisions.

Don’t open the CWG-Internet because:

  • ITU Council has no legal right to change any resolution adopted by the Plenipotentiary
  • ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 is only a year and a half away. There’s no need to rush and change things now.
    • It would be better to continue studying the issue and submit a more detailed report to Plenipotentiary to consider.
  • ITU Council is only a subset of ITU Member States and such an important decision should be discussed by all Member States.
  • CWG-Internet isn’t a forum. It’s a working body of the ITU.
  • Proposals to open CWG are basically changing the rule for decision-making on public policy issues within the ITU.
  • The openness of WCIT led to politicization on issues still at an early stage, making it very difficult for countries to reach agreement, and reducing effectiveness of the process. (The Secretary-General, who had proposed opening the CWG-Internet, also referred to this same issue during the Council meeting.)
  • WTPF-13 wasn’t the great success that some of the Member States say it was. When Member States arrived onsite, they found they weren’t supposed to reopen any texts that had reached consensus at the final IEG meeting. Brazil’s proposed “Opinion 7“, because it hadn’t reached IEG consensus, also couldn’t be adopted at WTPF, but was instead deferred to the CWG-Internet.
  • Multistakeholderism in Internet governance is problematic because it doesn’t represent all stakeholders.
    • Only stakeholders with the resources can attend. In particular, stakeholders from developing countries aren’t represented effectively.
    • Until multistakeholderism is more representative of the true diversity of views, a government-only approach, which allows the diversity of all country’s views to be adequately represented, should be maintained.
    • Multistakeholderism itself should be addressed by public policy since stakeholders do not come in similar sizes and packages. These days, some of the companies involved in Internet activities are bigger than most of the countries in the Council. At WCIT, some of the delegates were put under immense pressure, and even threatened. (The Member State representative who made this comment didn’t know who made such threats, but had heard that it had happened.)
  • There are lots of other Internet governance related forums that other stakeholders can attend, including WTPF and IGF.
  • CWG-Internet has a very specific mandate: to discuss international public policy issues related to the Internet. Public policy is a government responsibility so it is only right that the CWG-Internet remain an exclusively governments-only environment.
  • Under the multistakeholder model in Tunis Agenda, each stakeholder group has a different role to play. International public policy is sovereign right of each country.
  • Stakeholders can and should take part in all the work of the ITU, but within the regulatory framework described in the Constitution and Convention.
  • CWG-Internet already has a method to engage with other stakeholders: the open consultation process.
  • It is a sensitive issue that Member States have discussed for a long time, without finding a solution.
  • ITU shouldn’t take any action, just to “appease the masses”. Instead, it’s important to take the appropriate action.
  • Why can’t individual stakeholder groups have their own space to discuss Internet governance issues amongst themselves? Why must everyone be in the same room when we discuss the Internet? Inclusivity of discussions is laudable, but it doesn’t mean that there can’t be side discussions for individual stakeholder groups as well.

In addition, Member States voiced some general concerns and opinions during the discussions:

  • Opening up the CWG-Internet could create an imbalance in terms of representativeness. If ITU were to open the CWG-Internet, it would have to take steps to ensure that developing country participants were supported.
  • One Council member had no problems opening the CWG-Internet to stakeholders who are responsible for public policy, but not for stakeholders who aren’t responsible for public policy.
  • How can stakeholders engage in the CWG-Internet’s work (in whatever form) if they can’t also have access to the documents?
  • One Council member believed that to gain the capacity to do the CWG’s work well, outside involvement could be useful, but the modalities of such participation needed to be addressed.

In response to the discussions by Member States about whether now was the time to respond to community calls for greater openness, the Secretary-General reflected:

“Let’s not be influenced by people who are listening to us. No. We should just be influenced by what is right. We’ll not be judged by only what we do and the way we do it, but we’ll also be judged by what we did not do. That’s also something we need to keep in mind.”

By not reaching a formal decision, but allowing the Secretary-General to energize the CWG-Internet open consultations, the 2013 ITU Council seemed to have achieved that delicate balance between action and non-action that the Secretary-General alluded to.

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