WCIT-12 plenary 1

Despite the opening ceremony declaration of peace and harmony, the first plenary session of the World Conference on International Telecommunications gave us a hint of what is to come over the next two weeks:

1. Procedure, procedure, procedure

In an environment where nations all vie to have their ideas adopted as the international norm, getting your proposals discussed before anyone else’s can influence the discussion to your benefit. Equally, the earlier you can knock out your opposition’s ideas, the more chance you have of getting your proposal through. Alternatively, if you are patient, you could sit back, wait for all the other competitors to knock each other out of the running, and come in at the end with your proposal intact. Formal protocol and procedures help prevent a meeting descending into a Lord of the Flies scenario by introducing apparently neutral ways to proceed with discussion. How are we seeing this play out at WCIT-12?

  • The agenda for the first plenary wasn’t decided until half an hour into the first plenary
  • There were debates about whether it was appropriate for one section of the proposed ITRs to be discussed before a section that proceeded it
  • There was debate whether it was better to first agree on general high-level principles for the ITRs or to dive into the details straight away
  • Attempts by some Member States to have their individual positions discussed before the wider regionally-agreed positions had been aired were rebuffed by the Chair

ITU WCIT-12 plenary room
Photo credit: ITU

2. We love the Internet, but…

There were repeated references to the fact that most of the world’s population still doesn’t have a connection to the Internet. To illustrate the exorbitant costs of connecting to the Internet, the jet-setting ITU Secretary-General, Hamadoun Touré, complained that he had to pay 76 USD for three days’ hotel Internet connection while in New York recently. The Twitter crowd wasn’t sympathetic, by the way, with @stickywcit suggesting Touré pick a hotel with free wifi in future.

The opening ceremony may have been full of positive words about ICANN, but the subtle inference in the first plenary was that the Internet community was somehow failing in getting the Internet out to the world’s majority who are located in developing countries. ITU has long positioned itself as the champion of developing country telecommunication needs, so you don’t need to be a mind-reader to see where this may go over the next fortnight.

Touré has made it clear that WCIT-12 is not about taking over the Internet, nor about Internet governance. However, what the WCIT-12 is about—connecting the unconnected via broadband, mobile, standards for modems, etc—does stray a little into Internet administrative territory. Newly connected Internet users need IP addresses, for example. And modems need software that can handle IPv6. Last week, Member States at WTSA-12 agreed to continue study into IPv6 in Study Group 2 or 3. At WCIT-12, it may be difficult for ITU Member States to agree on what is relevant territory for ITU to handle under the banner of “connecting the unconnected” without, perhaps, straying into areas already handled by parts of the Internet governance ecosystem, but that are seen as failing the disconnected two-thirds of the world.

3. Early mornings and late nights

The first informal discussion group was formed, and met at 8 am on Day 2 of WCIT-12 to discuss whether references to “Recognized Operating Agency” in the ITRs should be changed to the far broader term, “Operating Agency”. Soon, the 8 am informal discussion group slots will be filled and earlier slots will be needed, as well as slots after the official WCIT-12 days end at 5:30 pm. Weekend sessions will be invoked, too. Participants will become exhausted and grumpy. You may not think you should care how little sleep high-level government representatives are getting, but tired officials are less likely to pick up problems in newly proposed text for the ITRs. Tired and cranky officials are also less inclined to feel generous towards their ideological opponents during the more intense debates at the meeting.

Finally, a couple of unconnected thoughts

Touré made a number of comments on the first day of WCIT-12 about his recent travels around the world. I wondered whether these were perhaps a little ill-judged. A lot of developing Member States can’t attend ITU meetings without special funding from ITU. Even then, some of the smallest and least developing states don’t have the human resources to devote to regular ITU participation. Knowing that the ITU Secretary-General is travelling the world and able to pay 76 USD for three days’ Internet access in New York might, to such states, seem as offensive as the large bonuses bank executives received in the wake of government bailouts of banks in the US and UK. On the other hand, developing countries may appreciate knowing that the Secretary-General is travelling to them, rather than expecting them to travel to ITU’s home in Geneva.

I am amazed at the lack of gender neutral language being used in the plenary. “Chairman” and “Vice-chairman” were the norm, even when referring to female occupants of those positions. ITU has been very active in promoting the role of women in ICTs (for example, Girls in ICT Day), so the use of phallocentric terminology at WCIT-12 was a bit confusing. Just because most of the positions are filled by men doesn’t mean that gender-neutral terms are unnecessary. Language helps define norms, and if ITU continues to use “Chairman” and “Vice-chairmen”, even for women in chairing positions, it fails to challenge the outdated norm that men are the natural choice for leadership roles in ICT.

ITU archive of WCIT-12 Plenary 1 discussions

ITU Council 2011 to discuss Internet issues

On Thursday 13 October 2011, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Council during its 2011 session will discuss four important issues of relevance to Internet governance:

As the ITU is a union, the documents for the Council meeting are only available to its paying members (Member States, Sector Members, etc). But below is a brief overview of the four issues that will be discussed and why they’re important to the wider Internet governance ecosystem.

1. Implementing WSIS outcomes

WSIS was the process that spawned the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). But the WSIS Tunis Agenda also specified a number of “action lines” to be pursued at the local, national, regional and international levels in the wake of the 2005 Tunis meeting. These action lines include issues like “the role of public governance authorities and all stakeholders in the promotion of ICTs for development”, “capacity building”, and “international and regional cooperation”. There are yearly meetings to discuss how these action lines are being pursued, with potentially another summit (as large as the initial Geneva and Tunis summits) to be held in 2014 or 2015 to mark ten years since the Tunis Summit.

There are three WSIS-related documents being discussed at the ITU Council meeting in 2011:

  • Contribution 33: Summary of the 18th meeting of the Council Working Group on WSIS (by Chair of the Working Group)
  • Contribution 61: Elaboration of a working definition of the term “ICT” (by Russia)
  • Contribution 74: Draft new resolution – ITU’s role in the final stage of WSIS implementation and follow-up activities after WSIS+10 (by Russia)

While none of these three documents are directly related to Internet governance, they do have an indirect relationship:

  • The Council Working Group (WG) on WSIS is open to ITU Member States only. ITU Sector Members cannot participate. Within the context of ITU processes, this makes perfect sense: the Council is open to Member States only, therefore it is logical for the Council’s WGs to also be open to Member States only. The potential anachronism arises from the topic of the WG’s work: WSIS. As the larger WSIS process has become open to multistakeholders, having ITU, one of the key bodies involved in managing the WSIS process, limit its WSIS discussions to only Member States can be seen as at odds with the spirit of WSIS. The Internet governance sphere, as one of the topics of contention during WSIS, 2003 to 2005, is therefore indirectly affected by how WSIS implementers choose to adopt, or not adopt, multistakeholder principles.
  • The proposal to develop a definition of “ICT” has ramifications for the Internet. Depending on how narrow or broad the definition is, it will have an effect on where and how Internet governance issues are discussed and decided upon.

2. Dedicated Group on international Internet-related public policy issues

The Dedicated Group (DG) is an offshoot of the ITU Council’s WSIS WG. As such, its deliberations have also been limited to ITU Member State representatives. Since the DG’s creation in 2009, it has discussed a number of topics of interest to the wider body of Internet governance stakeholders, including internationalized domain names, ccTLDs, IP address management, and IPv6 security. As a result of the ITU Plenipotentiary in October 2010, where the ITU recognized the role of stakeholders in the wider Internet community, the DG is to hold open consultations with other stakeholders. The Council’s discussions on how these open consultations will be conducted, therefore, will be of interest to the wider Internet community.

The two DG-related documents under discussion on 13 October 2011 are:

  • Contribution 33 Addendum 1: Report of the fifth meeting of the Dedicated Group on international Internet-related public policy issues (by Chair of DG)
  • Contribution 72: Terms of Reference of the Dedicated Group on international Internet-related public policy issues (by Saudi Arabia)

3. ITU update on Internet activities (Res 101, 102, 133, 180)

The ITU includes a number of Internet-related activities in its Study Groups, workshops and trainings. Three of its most recent resolutions from Plenipotentiary 2010 that provide Member State authorization for these activities are:

  • Resolution 101: Internet Protocol-based networks
  • Resolution 102: 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
  • Resolution 133: Roles of administrations of Member States in the management of Internationalized (multilingual) domain names

During the discussions on the morning of 13 October 2011, the Council will discuss the ITU’s Internet-related activities in the past year, including NGN work, the Internet of Things, child online protection, and cloud computing:

  • Contribution 31: ITU Internet activities: Resolutions 101, 102, and 133 (by ITU Secretary General)

4. IPv4 to IPv6 transition

The ITU has been discussing their role, and the role of their Member States, in the Internet’s transition to IPv6 in a number of its forums. It has the IPv6 Group, and it has also help workshops on IPv6, as well as discussed IPv6 at meetings such as the 2010 World Telecommunications Development Forum.

The latest resolution by Member States that endorses ITU involvement in the transition to IPv6 was passed at the 2010 Plenipotentiary, Resolution 180: Facilitating the transition from IPv4 to IPv6. ITU Council 2011 will discuss the ITU’s IPv6 activities in the year since Resolution 180 was passed:

  • Contribution 32: Facilitating the transition from IPv4 to IPv6 as requested in Resolution 180 (by ITU Secretary General)

How to follow the ITU 2011 Council discussions on Internet matters

For those with ITU TIES accounts, you can view the draft time management plan and listen to the webcast in the six UN languages. For those without TIES accounts, ITU publishes news of its activities in its Newsroom.

UPDATE 13 OCTOBER 2011: As Veni Markovski very rightly pointed out to me, he is tweeting the ITU Council meeting from @veni. He also tweets a lot of other very interesting content, so well worth following.