First, some background…
Brazil had submitted its first draft of the Opinion just before the third meeting of the Informal Experts Group (IEG) meeting in February this year. At that point, the draft’s title was On the Role of Government in the Multistakeholder Framework for Internet Governance.
The text was substantially revised by an informal drafting group during the third IEG meeting, but that second version ultimately failed to gain consensus amongst the wider members of the IEG. Brazil, therefore, submitted the non-consensus draft Opinion to the WTPF-13 for discussion. The version submitted to WTPF-13 contained some amendments to the IEG-revised text, removing some of the text that was less likely to reach agreement in Geneva. That was version three. By the time it was under discussion on the ground in Geneva, it had gained the informal name of “Opinion 7” amongst Member States supporting its adoption alongside the six draft Opinions that had reached consensus at the IEG.
Discussions begin on WTPF-13 Day 2
Discussions began on version three at the end of the second day of WTPF-13. Chile and Argentina expressed support for the draft Opinion, stating that governments needed to be able to exercise their rights over their own territories. USA explained to the room that Chile and Argentina’s views were partially influenced by the non-geographic .patagonia and .amazon new gTLD applications submitted to ICANN, and that discussion about those applications was ongoing. USA, like every government taking the floor, did express support for the need for governments to participate more in Internet governance processes.
The discussion on that second day of WTPF-13 focused on two issues. First, there was the issue of whether it was appropriate to be discussing a role for governments at WTPF-13 when the CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation was about to begin its work. The other concern was whether it was appropriate for ITU to be discussing governments’ role in Internet governance when Internet governance covered a much wider area than ITU’s mandate. Finland and Germany put forward the view that rather than discussing the issue from the outside, issues of greater government participation should be tackled inside the organizations where such need was identified (such as ICANN).
Bahrain felt that WTPF-13 was the perfect forum to discuss the Tunis Agenda’s text referring to governments’ role in international Internet-related public policy. Costa Rica, which stated that it was 100% behind the multistakeholder model, said that Brazil’s draft Opinion was general enough to merit discussion at the forum.
At the end of the day, the Working Group Chair asked Brazil and Russia to informally consult with other delegations overnight and incorporate as many of their concerns into an updated version of the draft for discussion on the final, and third day, of WTPF-13.
Discussions on Day 3
When WTPF-13 resumed at 9:30 am, the revised, and fourth, version of Brazil’s Opinion 7 had only just been posted. Brazil summarized its changes, explaining that following feedback from its discussions with other delegates during the week, the latest version had been significantly simplified and that the title had been changed. It was now “Operationalizing the Role of Government in the Multistakeholder Framework for Internet Governance”. Russia’s proposed amendments to Opinion 5, which had been moved into Opinion 7 discussions, hadn’t been included in Brazil’s revised text. However, Russia was confident that Brazil’s revision addressed its fundamental concerns. Brazil expressed that the current moment, with a much-improved relationship between ITU and ICANN, had prompted it to believe that now was the right time to move further forward in further operationalizing government’s role in Internet governance. Opinion 7 was written by Brazil with a view to achieving that goal.
Delegates, who had barely had time to read the new text, were then sent away for 45 minutes to digest the new draft.
When delegates returned at 10:35 am, there was a lengthy discussion on the Opinion and how to move forward with it. The discussion is summarized below, grouped by theme. If you want to read a more detailed blow-by-low account of who said what, I’ve compiled a Storify article from tweets made during Day 3.
1. Comments on overall issues contained in Opinion 7
There was wide agreement amongst delegates that the issues the draft Opinion hoped to address were important issues that needed to be tackled. Some of the more specific comments made about the overall contents of the draft are listed below:
- The European Union felt the draft contained two different issues:
- The role of governments in the multistakeholder model of Internet governance
- The specific role of ITU in supporting governments and other stakeholders in that multistakeholder model
- Paypal noted that some of problems the draft 7 aimed to address were also problems experienced by civil society, business, and academia.
- The Netherlands, Portugal, and Paypal were concerned that the draft only referred to ITU’s role in operationalizing government involvement in Internet governance, even though the issue was much bigger than the ITU space.
- Portugal stressed that any processes to operationalize the role of governments in the multistakeholder model had to include other forums that were also working on the same issue (for example, ICANN and CSTD).
In response to the feedback, Brazil explained that their draft did refer to the work of other forums, but that since WTPF was an event within the ITU framework, the emphasis was on what ITU could do to advance the issue.
2. Procedural issues
There were main two main procedural concerns expressed by a number of delegates:
- Given the late time of posting of the latest version of the text, a large number of delegates believed that there wasn’t enough time to develop a consensus text for Opinion 7.
- Germany and Sweden were concerned that they needed time to discuss the latest version of the text with their various stakeholder groups before they could develop a common position.
- The USA and ICANN stated that given the complexity of the issues in the draft, it would be best to explore them more fully in a future forum.
- Some delegates were concerned that it would be inappropriate to approve Opinion 7 using a different process to that used for the six approved Opinions.
- The USA and CCIA were concerned that the six previous Opinions had undergone a consensus process at both the IEG and WTPF-13 levels, and that an attempt to approve Opinion 7 at WTPF-13 alone was effectively leapfrogging a step in the process.
- PayPal was concerned that there had been two draft Opinions that had not reached consensus at the IEG, but that only one of those two drafts, the one by Brazil, was now being discussed at WTPF-13.
In response to the above concerns, other delegates who supported continuing with the process of trying to reach consensus on Opinion 7 during WTPF-13 presented the following arguments:
- Argentina pointed out that Brazil’s draft Opinion had existed in various versions since February, so delegates had plenty of time to develop views on the issues it contained.
- Mexico and Russia stated that the problems Opinion 7 was attempting to address had existed for a long time and that it was well and truly time to discuss the issues.
- Bahrain stated that since there seemed to be wide agreement that the issues in the draft were important to discuss, and that not all WTPF-13 delegates would be part of the CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC), it was worth discussing the issues at WTPF-13 as well.
- Mexico felt that delegates who were saying there wasn’t enough time to discuss the draft were showing disregard for the States who had contributed their views on the Opinion in the hope of having it reach consensus.
Another interesting procedural issue that was raised by the Ukraine was that of translation. Given the text of Opinion 7 had only been submitted early on Day 3, there had not been time for it to be translated into all six UN languages. It meant, therefore, that not all delegates were equally able to analyze the English version. Non-English speaking delegates were at a disadvantage.
3. Text changes suggested
While the vast majority of interventions about Opinion 7 were to support the general concept of the proposal while questioning whether there was the time available at WTPF-13 to develop consensus, some brave delegates suggested specific text edits for the draft:
- Spain requested that the capacity building reference in the “invites” section be sure to refer to using existing ITU tools, such as the Study Groups.
- Iran wanted the actions described in the “invites” part of the Opinion to reflect the “operationalization” referred to in the new title.
- Poland suggested that the Opinion not refer to specific Tunis Agenda paragraphs, but to the Tunis Agenda as a whole. It also suggested that the Opinion refer to the activities taking place in other forums to operationalize government participation in Internet governance, including the CSTD and IGF.
- The European Union suggested that a reference be made to all other relevant forums in paragraph 2 of the “invites Member States” section.
- CNRI suggested that references to “Internet governance” be replaced with “coordination of international Internet public policy related matters”.
4. How to move forward with the Opinion 7 after WTPF-13
Brazil, although very disappointed that so man delegates didn’t want to attempt to reach consensus on the draft at WTPF-13, very graciously agreed not to pursue consensus on the text at the Forum. Instead, it hoped that the Working Group 3 Chair would record the variety of views expressed during the morning’s discussion and that talks on the draft could continue past WTPF-13.
The Chair agreed that it was important to discuss the issues contained in Opinion 7 and asked delegates for ideas on how the document could be discussed in future. Below is a summary of delegates’ suggestions:
- Mexico and the European Union suggested further discussion take place in an open, inclusive, multistakeholder manner.
- Australia proposed that discussion not take place exclusively within ITU, but also at other forums.
- The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and CSTD were both suggested as possible venues by a number of delegates
- Brazil was concerned that the IGF, as a non-decision-making forum, couldn’t produce actionable outcomes. Discussion at IGF was fine, but it wanted the draft also to be discussed in a venue that could lead to action on the material in the draft.
- Saudi Arabia stated that the issues raised by Brazil’s document should be taken to ITU Plenipotentiary 2014. Russia supported this, and suggested a special working group be created between WTPF-13 and the Plenipotentiary to look at the issues.
- Brazil suggested that their proposal could be discussed at the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) 2014 as well.
The Working Group 3 Chair closed the morning session by proposing that the text of the draft Opinion be forwarded to the ITU Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet) and that WG could perhaps forward the document to the ITU Council for further consideration.
The summary of Day 3 at WTPF-13 continues in the next post: