Let’s show the CWG-Internet there’s public interest in their work

Only a few weeks ago, the ITU Council 2013 had a long debate over whether it was appropriate to open the Council Working Group on international Internet-related public policy issues (CWG-Internet) to non-government stakeholders. The conclusion of that debate was they would have to wait until ITU Plenipotentiary 2014 in Busan, 20 October – 7 November 2014, to discuss any potential changes to the Guadalajara version of Resolution 102, which started the CWG.

In the meantime, however, the first ever open online consultation conducted by the CWG-Internet is about to close on 1 August 2013.

Any stakeholder can submit responses to the three following topics that the CWG is seeking further information on:

  • Issue 1: Consultation on effectively countering and combatting spam.
    The Council Working Group on International Internet-Related Public Policy Issues invites all stakeholders to provide input on international public policy issues related to effectively countering and combatting spam.
  • Issue 2: Consultation on international public policy issues concerning IPv4 addresses.
    The Council Working Group on International Internet-Related Public Policy Issues invites all stakeholders to provide input on international public policy issues related to (a) unused legacy IPv4 addresses, and (b) inter-region transfers of IPv4 addresses.
  • Issue 3: Consultation on developmental aspects of the Internet.
    The Council Working Group on International Internet-Related Public Policy Issues invites all stakeholders to provide input on international public policy issues related to developmental aspects of the Internet.

Given the interest so many non-government stakeholders had in the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) and the Fifth World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum (WTPF-13), you’d probably expect the CWG-Internet consultation to be inundated with responses, yes? Well, actually, in reality, the answer is “no”.

Since the open consultation opened in February this year, it has received exactly four responses. And not a single one of those four responses are from any of the Internet-related organizations that have pushed so hard to be able to participate in ITU’s Internet-related activities. It’s a little perplexing.

Why the lack of response to CWG-Internet’s Online Consultation?

Having asked a number of people why their organizations aren’t responding to the online consultation, I’ve heard two main responses:

  1. The information about the online consultation topics is very vague.
    Probably the worst offender here is Issue 3, which asks for input on international public policy issues related to “developmental aspects of the Internet.” With a topic is so broad, people don’t have a clue how to begin framing a response to it.
  2. There are so many Internet governance related processes underway, that organizations are losing the capacity to respond to all of the processes.
    In the first half of this year, we’ve had UNESCO’s WSIS+10 review, ITU’s WTPF (plus its final Informal Experts Group meeting in February), the WSIS Forum, the formation of the CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC), two IGF preparatory meetings, an ICANN meeting, Regional Internet Registry meetings, and much, much more. The ever-expanding Internet governance calendar is growing at such a rate that it’s not just developing country stakeholders that have trouble following it all. Even the best-resourced stakeholders are having difficulties fitting in all these consultations with their actual day-to-day work.

Why it’s important that stakeholders do respond

Despite the very understandable reasons stakeholders haven’t responded to the CWG-Internet consultation, it’s vital that we do have a decent response rate to the consultation.

If we don’t respond, then it gives the governments who have a “let’s keep the CWG-Internet closed” stance a fantastic argument for keeping the status quo. After all, if the community shows no interest in interacting with the CWG-Internet even when the CWG-Internet has asked for submissions, what could possibly be achieved by opening up the CWG’s meetings?

Instead, we need to help bolster the case for opening the CWG-Internet by showing that non-government stakeholders do have something very important to contribute to the governments’ work on international public policy issues related to the Internet. By providing submissions to the online consultation, we can support the ongoing efforts of governments who have been trying to open the CWG-Internet.

A template to help stakeholders respond to the online consultation

To make it easy for stakeholders to respond to the online consultation in the short time that remains, below is a proposed structure for responses to CWG-Internet:

  1. Thank the CWG-Internet for seeking input from the larger community.
    Your organization understands that the members of the CWG-Internet are discussing a very wide range of international public policy issues related to the Internet. As it’s unreasonable to expect that government representatives in the CWG-Internet are experts in all areas under discussion, your organization welcomes the CWG-Internet’s recognition that it needs the input of subject matter experts in specific Internet-related fields.
  2. Explain what your organization is and why it can help the CWG-Internet with its work.
    Don’t overdo the introduction to your organization, but do explain why you have expertise or interest in one or all of the three issues CWG-Internet is seeking input on. Do give links to, or append, any documents you have produced on the issues CWG-Internet is interested in.
  3. Note that, unfortunately, it’s not possible to give specific advice to the CWG-Internet given the overly broad parameters of the consultation, but welcome the opportunity to respond to more specific questions from the CWG-Internet.
    Including this will help pro-“open the CWG” governments argue for the need to make CWG-Internet’s documents available to non-government members, even if we can’t get the CWG-Internet meetings opened. By offering to answer any specific questions the CWG-Internet has on the issues they have sent to open consultation, we can hopefully get a more meaningful and informed dialogue happening between governments in the CWG-Internet and the wider ecosystem of Internet governance stakeholders.
  4. Provide links to forums that are already discussing the issues CWG-Internet is interested in, and encourage them to engage with those forums.
    In the interests of “enhanced cooperation”, take the time to direct governments to organizations and forums that are already discussing the issues that are the subject of the online consultation. If there’s a page associated with the forum that explains how to participate, include a link to that, too.
  5. Thank the CWG-Internet again, and tell them you look forward to engaging with them in future to assist in their deliberations.
    If you’re feeling really bold, you may want to encourage the CWG-Internet to consider more direct interaction with your organization and other non-government stakeholders in future, via more open CWG-Internet modalities.

Formal proposals regarding 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.]

There were four CWG-Internet related proposals by Member States and one proposal by the Secretary-General:

Contribution 64, ITU Secretary-General

Annex A of the report on WTPF-13 was a draft resolution, Participation of all Stakeholders in the Council Working Group on international Internet-related Public Policy Issues. It recommended that, given the success of multistakeholder participation in WTPF-13, PP-14 make CWG-Internet open to all stakeholders. It recommended that in the interim, the CWG-Internet be make open to all stakeholders on a provisional “test” basis. The rationale for the “test” opening of the CWG-Internet before PP-14 was that it would help Member States at PP-14 make a better-informed decision on how the dynamics of multistakeholderism in the group would work.

Contribution 67, Russia

This proposal states that as many WTPF-13 delegates supported both the need to define the role of governments in the Internet governance model and the need for further discussion of the issues raised in Brazil’s “Opinion 7“, the CWG-Internet should define general principles for State participation and the role of governments in the Internet governance model for consideration at PP-14.

Despite the similarity to the “operationalizing enhanced cooperation” discussions happening at the CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC), the proposal avoids directly referring to “enhanced cooperation”. Instead, it refers to WTPF-13 Opinion 5 by number, rather than by its full title, On supporting operationalizing the Enhanced Cooperation Process.

Contribution 69, USA

USA proposed amending Council resolutions 1336, which created the CWG-Internet in 2011, and 1344, which in 2012 defined how CWG-Internet open consultations would take place. USA proposes opening CWG-Internet to all stakeholders and making all CWG-Internet documents freely available to all. The successful use of open and transparent discussions during the deliberations of the Informal Experts Group during WTPF-13 preparations is used as the reason to open the CWG-Internet.

Contribution 70, Sweden

Sweden’s proposal suggests that all CWG-Internet documents should be freely accessible to all stakeholders, with a provision that, on a case-by-case basis, individual documents still be kept accessible to governments only, if felt necessary. This is Sweden’s second attempt to get CWG-Internet documents made publicly available. The first time was at last year’s ITU Council 2012 meeting, where it submitted Contribution 65, Contribution from Sweden – Council Working Group on international Internet-related public policy issues (CWG-Internet. It uses WTPF-13 as an example of how well multistakeholderism can works within ITU’s Internet-related discussions.

Contribution 84, Poland

Poland proposed holding a discussion to amend Plenipotentiary Resolution 102 (Rev. Guadalajara, 2010) to open CWG-Internet to other stakeholders. Note that the proposal isn’t to open the CWG-Internet. It’s a proposal to discuss opening the CWG-Internet. As with the USA, Sweden and ITU Secretary-General proposals, it uses the success of multistakeholder participation at WTPF-13 to explain why opening the CWG is a good idea.

Looking back at WTPF-13: was it a game-changer?

In many ways, what happened at WTPF-13 reminds me of the first IGF in Athens in 2006. In 2006, the Tunis Agenda was only a year old, and had been crafted as a compromise after a lot of heated debate between States during WSIS Phase 2. Those attending the first IGF were wary about the event and whether it could achieve its stated goals.

Similarly, WTPF was the first big ITU meeting after the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in December 2012, where a lot of heated debate led to many States not signing the final International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs).

At both the first IGF in 2006 and this WTPF in 2013, participants began the meetings not really sure whether disagreements from the previous big event would spill over into the current event and prove equally divisive. As it turned out, in both cases, they didn’t.

IGF has moved on from that first slightly wobbly event in Athens to become an important forum in every stakeholder group’s Internet governance calendar. It continues to experiment with formats with the aim of further enabling more open, dynamic and productive discussions on Internet issues. Its openness and flexibility encourages similar traits in those who attend it, which has positive ramifications for multistakeholder engagement on Internet issues outside the IGF.

Will WTPF-13, which the majority of delegates believe was a success, change the way ITU operates in future? WCIT certainly began the process of change for ITU, with its publicly available webcasts. WTPF-13, however, really pushed the boundaries with its preparatory process open to all interested participants. In the past, issues of government’s role in Internet governance has been a highly charged issue where agreement on even high level concepts has been almost impossible to achieve. WTPF-13, with its mix of stakeholder groups, did discuss this highly contentious issue, and didn’t result in further entrenching people’s positions. Instead, there was recognition of the validity of all views.

There was also recognition of the value of including experts who may not be ITU members, but who could offer practical insights into issues being debated at a policy level. This is a major change from earlier ITU meetings where there has often been a gap between the political debates about Internet technologies and the practical realities of how those technologies actually function. The fact that there was no strict order in which WTPF-13 delegates could speak (no “Member States speak first” approach) was also a major change for a large ITU event.

Just as that first IGF in Athens was the start of a new era in multistakeholder Internet governance, I believe WTPF-13 is a big, positive step towards more constructive interaction in the ITU between ITU Member States-even the ones who traditionally haven’t embraced multistakeholderism-and other stakeholders. May ITU long embrace the multistakeholder WTPF model!

The afternoon of WTPF-13 Day 3: final approval of Opinions and wrapping up

(For an overview of the morning of Day 3, go here.)

The afternoon session of the last day of the World Telecommunications/ICT Forum (WTPF-13) was largely filled with formalities.

Given there weren’t parallel tracks during WTPF-13, most people had attended all of the Working Group sessions that had adopted the six Opinions. But procedure dictated that the plenary session had to approve the Opinions presented by the Working Group Chairs. All Working Group Chairs read out reports on what had happened during their sessions. All six Opinions were approved by the plenary.

More discussion on what to do with Brazil’s “Opinion 7”

The suggestion by Working Group 3 Chair in the morning to forward Brazil’s document to the ITU Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet) had caused some to be concerned. CWG-Internet is a closed, Member States-only working group. No documents from the CWG are available to Sector Members or any other non-Member State representatives.

Other delegates, however, welcomed the document’s discussion within the CWG. Mexico suggested that the document be discussed in the CWG as well as in other forums. Russia, however, preferred that the document not be discussed in too many forums, concerned that “too many cooks could spoil the broth”.

Richard Hill, a former ITU staff member, and the person behind the Association for Proper Internet Governance (APIG), stated that procedurally, it wasn’t up to WTPF-13 participants to decide where Brazil’s draft was discussed further within ITU. Instead, it was the ITU Council that was responsible for that decision.

We’re all good friends now

Traditionally, the closing part of an intergovernmental meeting tends to include lots of self-congratulating amongst the delegates. Delegates make statements on how much progress was made during the event. Event hosts, organizers and delegates thank each other for making the event such a success. This also happened at WTPF-13.

What was most interesting about the closing discussion, however, was the wide recognition by delegates, the WTPF-13 Chair, and ITU Secretary General Toure that something special had happened during the discussion about Brazil’s Opinion 7. Rather than the high levels of distrust that were on display during Internet-related debates at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) last year, Opinion 7 discussions were respectful of everyone’s views. There was recognition of divergent opinions and no attempt to force others to accept that any one view was more correct than any other.

There was also a lot of support expressed for the multistakeholder Internet model, with ITU Secretary General Toure highlighting ITU’s commitment to continue engaging with all stakeholders, including ICANN, ISOC and the IETF. Toure also noted that a number of Member States had included civil society members on their WTPF-13 delegations. There were a number of requests from delegates for ITU to continue holding events using the same open, multistakeholder format as WTPF-13. Even Iran, which hasn’t been known for its commitment to multistakeholderism in the Internet in the past, stated that contributions from all stakeholder groups to WTPF had provided richness to the Forum’s discussions.

Best of all, Toure announced that he would be requesting the ITU Council in June this year to consider opening the CWG-Internet to all interested parties. The ITU Council meeting last year also discussed making the CWG-Internet open to non-Member States, but a number of States had pushed hard to keep it closed. Instead, the best outcome that the 2012 ITU Council could manage was to agree that the CWG-Internet would hold open consultations on specific issues. However, the usefulness of such open consultations is debatable given potential contributors would have no access to the documents of the CWG, and therefore not know in what context their submission was to be discussed.

The change of heart signaled by Toure’s announcement, therefore, is significant. Let’s hope that the success of the open, multistakeholder WTPF-13 process will encourage the ITU Council, this year, to agree to open the CWG-Internet to all.