How do you solve a problem like IANA?

Tracking where the fallout will be in the wake of NTIA’s announcement

NTIA couldn’t have timed their big news announcement about IANA better if they’d tried.

People had just received their NETmundial confirmations (or not). Those who’d decided that NETmundial was probably going to be a waste of time were suddenly kicking themselves for not applying.

Those who decided not to include material about IANA in their NETmundial submissions were kicking themselves for not mentioning it.

Those who had included IANA-related material were kicking themselves that they hadn’t included more concrete details.

Every organization that considered itself an important part of the Internet governance ecosystem rushed to get out their own official statement reflecting on the news.

Nobody had a relaxing weekend.

But this is only the start. Despite the NTIA’s insistence that it won’t release IANA out into the world unless it’s sure it can be free of oversight by any single government or an intergovernmental mechanism, this isn’t going to stop some governments and likeminded stakeholders from arguing that an intergovernmental framework is what really needs to happen.

We already had a busy Internet governance year lined up. All those Internet-governance related events on the calendar are now likely to have some IANA-related content included or contain some IANA-related fallout of some description.

If you have long thought that the Internet governance world largely consists of the same people travelling around the world to discuss the same issues in what could really be the same set of gloomy conference rooms, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Below is my initial analysis of where I think we will probably see IANA-related discussions. I also suspect that the same debates will play out in many of the venues.

Where IANA-related effects may be seen in the 2014 Internet governance calendar

These aren’t in date order:

1. ICANN meetings, 23-28 March, 22-26 June, and 12-16 October

Obviously. Suddenly, the NCUC‘s apparent coup in nabbing Larry Strickling as a keynote speaker at Friday’s ICANN 49 pre-event makes perfect sense.

2. Informal consultations on the overall review of the WSIS, ending 30 March

Some States want there to be a repeat of the whole World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process from 2003-2005, including preparatory meetings. The fact some governments now may perceive it to be a realistic option that IANA can finally have overview by all 193 States, equally, may give them added impetus to support a full review and rewrite of key WSIS outcomes, including the Tunis Agenda. Such a rewrite, they may hope, could include more concrete text on the way forward for IANA.

3. NETmundial, 23-24 April

There are 62 submissions containing proposals related to IANA and ICANN governance mechanisms. If the NTIA announcement had happened earlier, we would have had double that number. NETmundial submissions don’t come from many of the governments most critical of the current ICANN and IANA oversight mechanisms. It’s unlikely that such governments will want to submit submissions now, as they generally would have issues with the pro-multistakeholder focus of the meeting. Those who have already submitted contributions, however, may want to amend their documents to include more concrete material on IANA’s future. It’s not clear how NETmundial organizers plan to handle this. Whether or not updated proposals are accepted, however, in reality, when we’re all onsite in Sao Paolo, the late night drafting groups that are likely to be convened to develop the final outcome documents will probably be informal ways to inject new IANA-related material into the mix.

4. ITU World Telecommunications Development Conference (WTDC-14), 30 March – 10 April

This meeting is before NETmundial, so it will be interesting what the wider selection of developing countries that aren’t engaging in NETmundial will have to say. Here, we could see a “think of the developing countries” slant on the path forward for IANA. I doubt it would be a significant component of the meeting, but there could be some language inserted into a resolution or two. Possible existing resolutions that might be appropriate venues for this are:

5. WSIS+10 High Level Event, 10-13 June

Discussions on ICANN-related issues were deferred at the last preparatory meeting in February. They are meant to be discussed at the upcoming preparatory meeting in April. No doubt, this will include a very large portion of IANA-related debates. There is also a final preparatory meeting in May, where the discussions could continue. The texts that the High Level Event will produce are:

  • WSIS+10 Statement on the Implementation of WSIS Outcomes
  • WSIS+10 Vision for WSIS Beyond 2015

The most recent versions of these documents are available here. It is conceivable that there will be some parties wishing to add explicit mention of IANA in the WSIS+10 Vision document.

6. The additional CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC) meeting, 30 April – 2 May

The IANA is one of the holy grails for governments wanting a greater and equal-between-governments role in the decision-making processes of Internet governance. WGEC’s final meeting was supposed to be in February, but it was unable to find consensus on the intractable issue of enhanced cooperation. The discussions at the extra April/May meeting added to try and finalize the WG’s work is likely to be further enlivened by some WG members’ desire to inject specific IANA-related recommendations. This could mean that the WG finds itself unable to reach consensus, again, and it needs to go back to CSTD and ask them to decide whether an extension of the WG’s mandate is needed.

7. 17th Session of the CSTD, 12-16 May and ECOSOC, 23 June – 18 July

The CSTD session could be in for a bumpy ride. This is because it is at the centre of a perfect storm:

  • CSTD is the focal point in the system-wide follow-up review and assessment of progress made in implementing the outcomes of WSIS.
  • The Tunis Agenda enhanced cooperation text about governments participating on an equal footing can be read as diplomatic speak for “all governments to oversee IANA – not just the USA”.
  • The 2014 CSTD session is a key point in the lead-up to the UN-wide overall review of the WSIS process in 2015, writing the draft ECOSOC resolution on WSIS.

The drafting group working on the draft WSIS resolution may, once again, end up finishing their work early on the Saturday morning, well after the CSTD Session has officially ended. ECOSOC is unlikely to care that much about IANA, but if the CSTD debate is inconclusive, it could spill into its space as well.

8. ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 (PP-14), 20 October – 7 November

So many Internet-related proposals, so many opportunities to include text about IANA:

9. IGF, 2-5 September, and regional and national IGFs

Many, many opportunities to discuss IANA. More reasons for people to want IGFs to produce more concrete outcomes. Expect many IANA-related workshops to be submitted in response to the recent call for workshop proposals.

What does this all mean?

I suspect that the large number of venues discussing what to do with IANA and the even larger number of stakeholders who will want a say in how IANA goes forward will mean it’s nowhere near realistic to think that a solution can be reached in time for the September 2015 of the current IANA contract with the US government. I think it is probably more realistic to see the current IANA contract being renewed, with the timeline for IANA’s future taking at least two years or more.

If you think I’m being overly pessimistic, consider the new gLTD policy development process, which is another significant process in the ICANN space. The policy development process was begun in 2005, and it’s only this year that the resulting new gTLDs are actually being deployed.

A long timeline isn’t a bad thing, however. While it is plainly clear that the IANA needs to transition out of US government oversight, it is better to take the transition process slowly, and get it right in the long-term, than to rush into it and end up with a different but still problematic management of IANA.

The important thing is to make sure all stakeholders are involved in ernest and that we don’t end up developing a solution by merely letting the usual globe-trotting participants out-talk less resourced stakeholders with equally legimate views on the way forward.

Downloadable archive of NETmundial contributions

netmundial logoPost last updated: 13 March 2014

There were 189 contributions to NETmundial.

There have been three sets of duplicate contributions:

  • ICANN Cross Community Working Group on Internet Governance (duplicate  now removed from NETmundial site, leaving only this one)
  • UNESCO comprehensive study on Internet-related issues: draft concept paper proposed by the Secretariat for consultations (duplicate  now removed from NETmundial site, leaving only this one)
  • University of North Carolina – Greensboro (Contributions 144 and 147) Thanks to Adam Peake, who pointed me to this set of duplicates.

Removing the duplicates, the remaining 186 contributions combine to make a total of just over 302,000 words (that doesn’t include the metadata, such as author name, organization and keywords but does include additional attachments that aren’t duplicates of the HTML text). The smallest contribution (Kenya ICT Action Network) contains only 150 words while the largest (The Aspen Institute) is around 39,000 words, including its rather wordy attachment.

Note that many of the documents attached to the HTML contribution pages are simply nicely formatted versions of the HTML pages, but some are completely different texts.

I’ve downloaded all the PDFs of the main contributions and placed them into a single .ZIP file for the convenience of others. I’ve added the contribution numbers as they show on the NETmundial site so the PDFs can easily be cross-referenced with the way they’re listed on NETmundial:

UPDATE: I’ve removed the duplicate entries to reflect the recent removals of two sets of duplicates from the NETmundial site.

Please note that the .ZIP file only contains the main submissions and not additional attachments some people included.

Below is a .ZIP file containing the attachments not included in the above file. I have not included the attachments that were the nicely formatted versions of the PDF texts included in the original .ZIP file above. If you want those, you’ll have to click through to them from the PDFs in the above .ZIP file. The attachments in the .ZIP file below contain completely new material not in the above .ZIP file or versions of the same PDFs, but with diagrams and tables included.

The filename convention I’ve used for the attachments is :

<contribution no. as given on NETmundial index pages> – attachment <no. if more than 1 attachment> – <description of attachment>

For my own analysis, I’m putting together a spreadsheet that will identify which stakeholder group and geographic region the submissions come from. I’ll post that to this site, too, if I get it finished before the NETmundial folk do something similar.

UPDATE: NETmundial has posted a pie chart and graph from their Twitter account showing contribution statistics, but there is nothing on the main website yet. I’m sure this will come shortly.

Multistakeholder processes are messy

Thoughts from the WSIS+10 preparatory process

I remotely followed, on and off, the third WSIS+10 High-Level Event Multistakeholder Preparatory Platform (MPP) meeting that was held in Geneva this week. In contrast to the outcome documents of First and Second WSIS Phases in 2003 and 2005, which were devised in a purely intergovernmental environment,[1] the texts of the WSIS+10 High Level Event are being developed by all stakeholder groups. And it is extremely painful.

Many of those onsite have been very frustrated at the incredibly slow pace of progress being made. Progress has been so slow, it has seemed that entire species might evolve and die out before consensus can be reached on the texts.

Some might blame the political manoeuvring of government representatives at the meeting. And, indeed, there has been some truly twisty logic in some of the interventions by some of the more colourful government delegates in the last day or so. But other stakeholder groups have also been adding to the complexity and confusion too.[2]

The progress made on the text for the High Level Event has been so slow that yet another physical preparatory meeting has been added to the calendar.  With the WSIS+10 High Level Event now tentatively pencilled in for June 2014, there really isn’t any time left to squeeze in a sixth preparatory meeting if agreement continues to be hard to achieve. At the end of yesterday, entire action lines had been placed in square brackets (denoting the text hasn’t been agreed). The possible outcomes from the process are two texts that are, in the true spirit of intergovernmental consensus-based drafting traditions, bland, vague and pretty much not useful in the real world. Alternatively, given the trend during the third MPP to remove the word “multistakeholder” in the draft texts, the resulting texts could end up emphasizing government roles in the Information Society at the expense of the other stakeholder groups’ roles in the Information Society.

So has ITU’s commitment to a multistakeholder development of a WSIS+10 vision been misplaced? Are the MPPs proving that multistakeholderism is not effective? Should ITU go back to purely intergovernmental negotiations?

The answer to all three questions is “No”.

Messiness isn’t automatically a bad thing

Multistakeholderism is messy for the exact same reason that it’s effective. The messiness is a side effect of incorporating the cacophony of positions and knowledge that ultimately can lead to a robust, multifaceted understanding of an issue.

Wicked problems, including those in the Internet governance sphere, don’t have simple solutions. They aren’t ultimately solvable. All that can be done, in reality, is to find the best of the non-solutions out there. And the best way to do that is to look at the problem from all possible angles and to examine all possible ramifications of trying to do something, or not so something, about it.

Multistakeholderism is a great way of achieving this. Where intergovernmental deliberations can get stuck in ideological trenches dug deeper and deeper over long-term inter-state rivalries, multistakeholder deliberations bring a range of parties to the table who not only bring new knowledge and understandings to the discussion, but, as parties who aren’t always wedded to their own government’s positions on issues, can help find alternative, middle ways between rival government positions.

Multistakeholderism has always been messy. It was perhaps less messy in earlier Internet governance days when fewer people were participating. But over time, as more people are becoming involved, the range of positions and breadth of information brought to the discussions is expanding, making the messiness more apparent. Also contributing to this messiness is the fact that not all of the mechanisms we have used since the 1990s to manage multistakeholder Internet governance process are scaling that well. We are seeing efforts to address this through the Panel on Global Internet Cooperation and Governance Mechanisms as well as the NETmundial meeting in Brazil in a couple of months.

Messiness is here to stay

The reality is, though, that the messiness is likely to be a permanent feature of multistakeholderism. But we shouldn’t fear it. And the last thing we should do is walk away from existing multistakeholder processes in the naïve belief that creating new processes and forums will avoid the problems of the past. As we’ve seen from the mushrooming of Internet governance processes in the last couple of years, new processes can experience significant teething problems (for example, 1net) and can fall victim to the same problems as older forums as more people join in (for example, civil society’s Best Bits list has exhibited signs of the same problems the older Internet Governance Caucus list has experienced). In addition, new venues and processes add to an already crowded Internet governance calendar and can make it more difficult for less well-resourced stakeholders to participate in multiple venues.

Working more effectively in a messy multistakeholder world

We can learn to work with the messiness, though. To do that, we need to learn to be more flexible, more open to accept the views of others and, above all, to have a healthy sense of humour when the messiness threatens to overwhelm us. We also need to remember that people participate with the aim of making things better. What one person thinks is “better” may, to another person, be “worse”, but if we only view another person’s ideas as a threat that must be disarmed, we are personally contributing to the failure of the multistakeholder process.

Doing the above can be really hard to do at the end of a long few days of being stuck in a room together, but without at least beginning the meeting with these goals in mind, the end of the meeting is guaranteed to end on a sour note (WCIT, anyone?).

Also vital to keeping a messy multistakeholder process as pain-free as possible is ensuring that people do their homework before going to meetings where decisions are being made. The need for this has been demonstrated at the latest MPP meeting. Participants who hadn’t done their preparation lost the goodwill of other participants who had prepared and were ready to move to the next phase of text development.

It’s very easy to criticize others for making a multistakeholder process painful. It’s less easy to take ownership of our own contributions to the messiness of multistakeholderism. But I think we’re getting there.

In the wake of the bad feelings produced by the WCIT process, stakeholders have been more willing to find ways to work better with “the opposition”, and have been more willing to listen to the arguments of others. I don’t think the frustrations of wildly different opinions will ever be able to disappear completely, but we can at least learn to recognize that wildly varying opinions are just as legitimate as our own. For example, while it’s easy to be frustrated at the handful of governments worked to remove references to “multistakeholder”, and even “freedom of expression”, from the WSIS+10 High Level Event texts this week, we need to understand that these positions arise from specific political, social and economic contexts that differ from those of the participants who actively supported keeping “multistakeholder” and “freedom of expression” in the texts. We may not agree with their points of view, but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss such views out of hand. Instead, we should recognize the context, and understand that some views on Internet governance issues will continue to differ as long as people’s political, social and economic situations also remain divergent.

We all have something we can learn from the processes of stakeholder groups other than our own. Business, civil society and the technical community have been very keen to help governments understand what’s good about multistakeholder Internet governance processes outside the purely intergovernmental system. But it’s also time that non-government stakeholders stopped viewing governmental processes as automatically “evil”.

One important lesson we can learn from the intergovernmental world is politeness. All that “I thank my esteemed colleague from X” preamble that happens before country Y demolishes X’s proposal has a point. It softens the pain of the objection. Contrast this to the worlds of the technical community and civil society where name-calling and insults have made semi-regular appearances.[3] While, particularly in the technical community, the upfront nature of such clashes are often seen to be signs of how dynamic, frank and “honest” the discussions are, they can leave a residual bad feeling that affects future interactions.

Multistakeholderism and the WSIS+10 High Level Event

The recent MPP is an example of a wider clash between participants who are coming to the multistakeholder discussions in a genuine and open manner and others who would prefer to have the WSIS+10 vision developed in more traditional intergovernmental ways. There is a danger that the latter will try and use the messiness of the previous MPP meetings to justify why multistakeholderism is a failure and that there needs to be a return to more orderly governments-only negotiations. It’s easy to be angry with those who may be attempting to achieve this goal. But being combative in response is not going to help. Instead, it’s important to embody the best of multistakeholder cooperation, and show how the messiness can and does lead to more robust and responsive outcomes that meet a wider range of stakeholders’ needs.

It’s important that non-government stakeholders continue to engage in the MPP meetings and show that there is support for multistakeholder processes, even when those processes are difficult to navigate.

The alternative to continuing to participate in the WSIS+10 MPP meetings is letting the WSIS+10 process revert to the traditional intergovernmental model. As we’ve seen with the Tunis Agenda, which was developed via that intergovernmental model, the text has become the canonical reference for discussions relating to the development of a global Information Society for almost a decade. The texts that emerge out of the WSIS+10 will probably have the same sort of presence for the coming decade. Non-government stakeholders have over the years, pointed out a number of times that the Tunis Agenda has limited legitimacy due to its governments-only composition. It’s now up to those same non-government stakeholders to stick with the messy MPP process to ensure that the WSIS+10 documents reflect a more comprehensive view of what Information Society should look like in the 2020s.


[1] There were non-government participants on some of the government delegations but the negotiation was fundamentally intergovernmental in nature.

[2] For example, a civil society participant declared that data privacy was not needed in the context of eHealth as any data being exchanged was for the benefit of people.

[3] Tomato throwing was seriously discussed by some members of the technical community a few years back when Verisign launched Site Finder.

Internet governance in 2014: Let’s keep calm and carry on – Part 1

keep-calm-and-carry-onWe spent the last quarter of 2013 developing all sorts if new activities to “fix” Internet governance, managing to thoroughly confuse ourselves in the process. A large percentage of these activities only have relatively short lives and will compete with each other for the attention (and participation) of the wider Internet governance community. In a series of posts over the next few days, I’ll look at those initiatives to see whether all the attention/panic/hand-wringing they’ve generated is warranted and see if there are better ways to approach each of the initiatives.

I’ll start with the big one, the Brazil meeting, which now has the formal name of…

Global Multistakeholder Meeting on Internet Governance (GMMIG)

What we know so far

There are only four months between now and the meeting in Brazil. It’s been just over two months since the meeting was first announced and a month since CGI.br announced that there would be four committees to organize the meeting. We’ve been told that the deadline for proposals to be discussed at the meeting is 1 March, three months from now. Since the 26 November announcement from CGI.br, however, there’s been silence.

No doubt, there is lots of work going on in the background, but there has yet to be a call for nominations for the two multistakeholder committees. Experience in other Internet governance activities has taught us that it will be at least a fortnight between a first call for nominations and a final deadline for nominations (with prerequisite grumbling from stakeholder groups that they don’t have enough time to do proper consultation to identify and select the best candidates). Given we’re heading into the Christmas/New Year silly season, the earliest we’re likely to hear a call for nominations is early January. That gives the committees one and a bit months to get their act together, decide an agenda for the meeting and decide how to handle Internet governance proposals submitted to the meeting.

GMMIG will be a two-day meeting, meaning there will be very little time for real discussion and negotiation between divergent views onsite.

The meeting does not yet have a website. And there have not yet been any official calls to submit proposals for the meeting.

We’ve heard that the local hosts don’t want a cast of thousands at the meeting, but instead will limit the number of representatives from each country and each stakeholder group. (Limiting the number of representatives from stakeholder groups is not a new idea. The oft-praised Brazilian Internet Steering Committee itself has set numbers for each stakeholder group, as has the CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation.)

What does this mean for GMMIG’s impact on Internet governance?

Let’s look at the meeting that many people have compared it to: the IGF. It takes a year for the IGF to organize each of its meetings. There are no binding decisions, recommendations or statements that come out of IGF, but MAG members and the community still manage to spend a lot of time discussing, disagreeing and developing a compromise IGF program that mostly reflects people’s various interests. (“Everyone is equally unhappy”, as Markus Kummer would say.)

Is the Brazil meeting, with its incredibly truncated preparation period, going to be able to achieve an agenda that not only reflects divergent views on what is important to discuss, but can also achieve the local host’s aim of “pursu[ing] consensus about universally accepted governance principles and to improve their institutional framework” in relation to Internet governance?

How are potential participants going to have the time to read and fully digest what could be a substantial number of proposals in March and early April, which is a period full of existing meetings and processes in the Internet governance sphere (ITU’s CWG-Internet, finalization of CSTD WGEC report, ICANN49, the additional ITU MPP meeting for the WSIS+10 High Level Event)?

If the meeting does result in a consensus on “universally accepted governance principles and [how] to improve their institutional framework”, how legitimate is that consensus, given the limits placed on the number of people who can attend? Do we end up with another optional opt-in set of principles, like the OECD Principles for Internet Policy-Making?

I suspect that with only two days, the best that the meeting can hope for is a very high level, generic set of principles. They may be useful to the extent that the pro-multistakeholder Internet crowd have a statement from a very big government-hosted event to back up their beliefs in bottom-up, participatory Internet governance. But if we look at the OECD principles, have we seen anyone amend their policy-making processes, or stamp their existing policy-making processes as “OECD compliant”?

The meeting is outside the UN framework, so will not have the same level of gravitas that, say, a statement from the 2015 WSIS+10 review can have. The Brazil meeting also does not have a clearly identified and committed community that will go away after the meeting and implement the governance principles, in the same way that IETFers will implement specifications documented in an RFC.

If GMMIG’s outputs are likely to be limited, should we invest our time in it?

Yes, but I’d suggest that we start to view it as a long-term process and not a hectic process lasting only a few months in early 2014.

What I believe is important about GMMIG is that it will probably begin a long-term series of government-hosted meetings that support the multistakeholder principle and look for ways to improve it. OECD and the European Commission have held some interesting meetings related to Internet governance issues, but the fact that most of the countries involved in those meetings have been from developed, not developing, countries, has limited how well the outcomes and recommendations from those meetings are perceived in the developing world.

As I’ve stated in a CENTR paper that is due to come out later today, I believe that the announcement that France is now a co-host of the meeting could be an indication that France will host a follow-up meeting on its territory a year or two in the future. We’ve seen this happen with the 2011 London Conference on Cyberspace, which then led to the 2012 Budapest Conference on Cyberspace and this year, to the 2013 Seoul Conference on Cyberspace.

What is also very important about GMMIG is the way a country outside the usual—to use a UN term—WEOG (Western European and Others Group) crowd is leading the process. It’s good to see a country like Brazil being proactive and leading the initiative to help reframe Internet governance. Contrast this to a number of countries in the UN space who prefer to complain about unfairness and the disparity of Internet development in different countries, but see the answer as getting funding from developed countries and interventions via UN bodies rather than being proactive about making changes themselves.

What is also important about GMMIG, and sets it apart from the “movement” that is 1net, is that it has governments as active members of the dialogue.

GMMIG was original scheduled to happen after the ITU WSIS+10 High Level Event. However, with the High Level Event now being moved to later in the year, and an additional MPP meeting for the High Level Event being added in April, GMMIG can be an influence on the documents for the WSIS High Level Event.

Finally, GMMIG is part of a long-term Internet governance dialogue. That dialogue started in earnest around the time of WSIS in the early 2000s and has ramped up again in the last couple of years as preparations for deciding the agenda for WSIS next 10 years began. The Internet governance community needs to stop focusing on specific events (WCIT, WSIS+10, ITU Plenipotentiary) as “threats” and instead focus on improving the overall system of Internet governance.

The problem with focusing on specific events is that the much of the community tends to collapse in an exhausted heap after each event, pat itself on the back, saying to itself “Phew, dodged a bullet there! Aren’t we lucky we saved the Internet from bad decisions at [latest evil event]?” But by seeing the threats to Internet governance as external time-delimited forces, we fail to see the threats we pose to ourselves. Sure, we need to take notice of events like ITU’s WCIT and this upcoming GMMIG in Brazil, but we also need to be mature enough to keep a constant eye on our own processes, our own organizations, and be open to criticism at all times—not just in the lead-up to specific global meetings.