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!