Has Internet governance permanently tainted the word “governance”?

Note: I attended the CWG meeting on strategic planning as a member of the Australian delegation; however, any of the views I express in this blog post are entirely my own. This post does not reflect the official Australian position, nor is its content endorsed in any way by the Australian government.

According to numerous interventions by a particular Member State during the 13 November 2013 meeting of the Council Working Group for the Elaboration of the draft Strategic Plan and draft Financial Plan of the Union for 2016-2019, the term “governance process” cannot be used in the strategic planning documentation as the term “Internet governance” has made the word “governance” too sensitive to use in other contexts.

It seemingly doesn’t matter that the term “governance process” is a well-established and widely used term within the family of United Nations bodies. Even other UN bodies, such as UNESCO, that have roles in the Internet governance sphere have not shied away from the word “governance” in non-Internet related contexts. Nor does it matter that the UN family of organizations are the pre-eminent set of bodies conducting global governance. It also doesn’t it matter that the term “governance process” is also well understood by anyone with any organizational management experience. And obviously, the decades-long use of the term “governance” by political science practitioners is also unimportant.

Another Member State joined the fray, stating that in their country, the term “governance process” was not used. Instead, the term “assurance process” was used in their country and perhaps that would be an alternative term to use in the strategic planning documentation at ITU. As a compromise, a third Member State suggested “governing process”. Another Member State questioned if it was even necessary to define “governance process” as there are many types of “process”, which make it unnecessary to define one particular type of process over all the other types of process.

Listening to the discussion yesterday was one of those “Gravity: Off”[1] moments that can happen when Member State delegates seize on a seemingly completely harmless word or term and turn it into a battle of convoluted arguments that cannot be rebutted on the basis of logic or reason.

In yesterday’s case, the sensitivity of Internet governance at the intergovernmental level may indeed be contributing a little to this sudden allergy by a few vocal members of the CWG to the word “governance”. However, there may be other, deeper, issues at play:

1. There is actually another reason for disliking “governance process”, but Member States are reluctant to publicly articulate that real reason.

One possible reason is the concern that the strategic plan, as currently being discussed, contains language for the mission and goals of ITU that go beyond those agreed to by Member States in the ITU Constitution and Convention. In the wider world, this would be known as “mission creep”, but given the CWG’s current propensity to want to come up with new definitions and terms for existing management concepts (“inputs”, “outputs”, “mission”, etc.), I’m sure they’d call it something else.

Another possible reason is concern that by having a more formal process for managing, monitoring and implementing ITU’s strategic plan for 2016-19, it gives the Secretariat more of a role and, via the Council, Member States less of a hands-on role in shaping how the ITU conducts its activities.

In either case, some Member States may not want to jeopardize their standing with influential ITU Secretariat staff by pointing out they don’t like the way the Secretariat has been undertaking the strategic planning process.

2. It’s a delaying tactic so the CWG doesn’t spend time talking about another issue that some Member States would rather not be discussed.

If you’ve seen the 2009 animated movie, Up, you’ll recognize this tactic when the dogs in the movie can be distracted from their task by pointing in the opposite direction and shouting “Squirrel!” Focusing on seemingly insignificant details of a contribution or proposed text is the diplomatic equivalent of that “Squirrel!” diversionary tactic.

3. Member States adhering to a “governments only” model have a general dislike of the use of “governance”, even when it’s in the context of organizational management.

The move from the traditional concept of “governments only” decision-making on both domestic and international issues to the newer concept of networked “governance” structures where governments work with non-government entities in individuals is still not universally accepted. There may be a fear that by using “governance” in the context of how the ITU Secretariat manages the implementation and monitoring of the strategic plan, it is the first step in a move for ITU, as a whole, to move into a less inter-governmental decision-making structure to one that allows non-governmental entities to have a role in deciding ITU’s future. (Note that even the most enthusiastic “governments only” Member States don’t mind non-government entities providing input through carefully managed consultations. It’s the role of non-government entities in actual decision-making that is more contentious.)

No decision on the fate of “governance” in CWG, yet

The “governance process” issue has been parked for the moment so the CWG can move on to other issues. I leave at midday today, so will not see the outcome of discussion. Nevertheless, it does not bode well if commonly used words, such as “governance” become taboo simply because they are used in the context of Internet governance-related issues. As one Member State pointed out in the coffee break yesterday, “numbering” had become a highly contentious term in the WCIT due to its use in Internet naming and numbering. Surely, for the sake of common sense, civility and sanity, it is possible to find ways to use words in slightly different contexts that do not threaten the territory of other parties: both telecommunications and Internet.

[1] With thanks to the technical expert (whose name I won’t reveal here) who I first heard use the term in relation to some of the colourful Internet-related discussions that can occur in intergovernmental forums.

ITU CWG-Internet Day 2: A very brief overview

The third meeting of the ITU Council Working Group on international Internet-related public policy (CWG-Internet, also known as CWG IIRPP) is currently underway in Geneva. Below is a brief report of Day 2. A brief report of Day 1 is also available. I will provide detailed analysis of the overall meeting in a few days.

Note: I attended the third CWG-Internet meeting as a member of the Australian delegation; however, any of the views I express in this blog post are entirely my own. This post does not reflect the official Australian position, nor is its content endorsed in any way by the Australian government.

Consultation on role of governments in Internet governance

Day 1 had ended with agreement to request all Member States—not just CWG participants—to provide their views on the appropriate roles and actions of governments within the sphere of international public policy issues related to the Internet. Day 2 began, therefore, with an informal drafting group, chaired by Russia, to develop consensus text for the two questions CWG-Internet would send to all Member States.

During the drafting process, there was some confusion about why two questions were needed, as they seemed to be two versions of the same question. There was wide agreement that the one question that had reached consensus included all the requirements previously thought to need two questions to express. There was initially some reluctance by the drafting group chair to accept a single question as the output of the drafting group, since procedurally the drafting group’s mandate had been to develop two questions. The chair suggested developing a second question that the plenary of the CWG-Internet could then decide to delete if so wished. Fortunately, common sense prevailed over procedure, and there was agreement to proceed with the single consensus question and a preamble to contextualize the question:

“Recognizing the scope of work of ITU on international Internet-related public policy matters, represented by the list of topics in Council Resolution 1305 Annex 1 which was established in accordance with decisions of ITU membership at the Plenipotentiary Conference, the Council Working Group on International Internet Related Public Policy invites Member States to provide their position on following question:

Q1. What actions have been undertaken or to be undertaken by governments in relations to each of the international Internet-related public policy issues identified in Annex 1 to Resolution 1305 (adopted by Council 2009 at the seventh Plenary Meeting)?”

Deadline for governments on the CWG-Internet consultation

Governments will have until 31 January 2014 to complete the questionnaire, with earlier submissions highly recommended. The 31 January deadline will give the ITU Secretariat time to compile all of the responses into a single document for CWG-Internet participants to review before the next CWG meeting, 4-5 March 2014.

The role of other stakeholders in contributing opinions on the role of governments in Internet governance

There was divided opinion amongst CWG-Internet participants whether it was appropriate or not to make the consultation open to non-government stakeholders as well as government stakeholders.

Those supporting an open consultation on the role of governments stated that it was that it is part of the CWG’s mandate to conduct open consultations and that having the input of non-government stakeholders would enrich the discussion.

Those who did not support having a consultation considered that the primary focus should be on first receiving government input, and then, if required, having other stakeholders comment on government input at some point in the future.

Those supporting an open consultation in parallel with the governments-only consultation pointed out there was only one more meeting of the CWG before the ITU Plenipotentiary conference in October 2014, and that it was important for non-stakeholder contributions on the topic of the role of governments to be considered before Plenipotentiary.

Those who did not support a parallel open consultation stated that the question on the role and actions of governments had been developed specifically with governments in mind as the recipient of the question, and that the question would not work for other stakeholders. In addition, there was no time left in the current CWG meeting to develop appropriate questions for other stakeholders, so by necessity, the possibility of a non-government stakeholder open consultation would need to be deferred to the fourth meeting in March 2014.

Informal consultations over the lunch break on Day 2, followed by more formal discussions during the drafting of the Chair’s report of the meeting, resulted in agreement that an open consultation would be conducted on the issue of the role of governments immediately following the fourth CWG meeting in March 2014. Initially, it had been suggested that the open consultation only be open for one month, so public contributions could be collated and included in the CWG-Internet Chair’s report to ITU Council. However, it was pointed out that March and April 2014 are very busy times for everyone in the Internet governance community and that one month would not be a practical timeframe. The Chair then suggested encouraging stakeholders to submit within one month, so contributions could be reported in an interim state to the ITU Council meeting, but that the formal deadline could be extended by a few months, with the final collation of public contributions submitted as part of the CWG Chair’s report to the ITU Plenipotentiary.

CWG discussions on the 32 contributions received during the 2013 open consultations

Three minutes of the meeting were used to discuss the 32 contributions. The discussion consisted of the Chair encouraging Member States to consider the contributions when developing their own contributions to the Member States-only questionnaire on the role of governments in international Internet-public policy issues. When the Chair opened the floor for interventions on the 32 contributions, one Member State highlighted the contribution by Mawaki Chango (on behalf of the Association for Progressive Communications). Saudi Arabia’s Contribution WG-Internet 3/8 (available to Member States only) encouraged all Member States to consider the three issues on which open consultations were conducted, to “[take] into account the responses to the open consultation as appropriate”, and to prepare further contributions on the issues for the next CWG-Internet meeting.

Repository of national experiences

The CWG-Internet participants agreed to develop a repository of best practices and experiences in government’s role in Internet public policy issues that would be available to Member States via the CWG-Internet website. The repository will be kick started with contributions by three Member States have already submitted such informational documents to the CWG at the current and previous CWG meetings.

ITU CWG-Internet Day 1: A very brief overview

The third meeting of the ITU Council Working Group on international Internet-related public policy (CWG-Internet, also known as CWG IIRPP) is currently underway in Geneva. Below is a brief report of Day 1. I will provide more detail about the meeting, with proper analysis, after the meeting concludes.

Note: I am attending the third CWG-Internet meeting as a member of the Australian delegation; however, any of the views I express in this blog post are entirely my own. This post does not reflect the official Australian position, nor is its content endorsed in any way by the Australian government.

The role of governments in Internet-related public policy issues

The role of governments in Internet-related public policy issues has been a major topic of discussion at the intergovernmental level ever since the Tunis Agenda was written in 2005 as part of WSIS Phase 2.[1] It was an important part of the discussions taking place at the CSTD WGEC (Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation) meeting last week and was the main focus of Day 1 of the CWG-Internet meeting this week. It will surprise no one who follows Internet governance that governments remain divided into two main positions:

  • Governments who believe there is a fundamental need for governments to begin exercising their sovereign rights to make international Internet-related public policy decisions on an equal footing with other governments
  • Governments who believe that governments should play a lighter role in Internet governance decisions, preferring to encourage various forms of multistakeholder decision-making that leverage the expertise of a wide array of stakeholders.

Day 1 ended with Member States in the CWG-Internet agreeing to draft two questions that will be made available to all ITU Member States on the appropriate role of governments in the international Internet-related public policy issues listed in Annex A of ITU Council Resolution 1305 (document available to ITU TIES account holders). It is not clear whether additional public policy issues raised in some of the contributions to the CWG meeting will be added to the list on for consideration by Member States when answering the two questions. Nor is it clear whether the consultation will also be available for non-Member States to answer as part of the open consultation process associated with the CWG. No doubt, these issues will be clarified today, in Day 2 of the meeting.

Responses to the open consultation process conducted between February and October 2013

There was no discussion on Day 1 of the contents of the 32 responses made by both Member States and non-Member States to the CWG-Internet’s online consultation process. The topics that the CWG agreed in January to open for online consultation were:

  1. Consultation on effectively countering and combatting spam
  2. Consultation on international public policy issues concerning IPv4 addresses
  3. Consultation on developmental aspects of the Internet

It is notable that none of the formal contributions to the current CWG-Internet meeting are on any of the above three topics. However, a number of the Member States have made contributions on the topics as part of the public consultation process.

A number of Member States made interventions encouraging the CWG-Internet to discuss the 32 public contributions as part of its current meeting. It was not totally clear at the end of Day 1 whether there was a plan to conduct this discussion on Day 2, the final day of the CWG-Internet, but there is a strong desire by a number of the Member States present at the meeting to have these contributions discussed.

[1] Paragraph 35 of the Tunis Agenda states:

35. We reaffirm that the management of the Internet encompasses both technical and public policy issues and should involve all stakeholders and relevant intergovernmental and international organizations. In this respect it is recognized that:

  • Policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States. They have rights and responsibilities for international Internet-related public policy issues.
  • The private sector has had, and should continue to have, an important role in the development of the Internet, both in the technical and economic fields.
  • Civil society has also played an important role on Internet matters, especially at community level, and should continue to play such a role.
  • Intergovernmental organizations have had, and should continue to have, a facilitating role in the coordination of Internet-related public policy issues.
  • International organizations have also had and should continue to have an important role in the development of Internet-related technical standards and relevant policies.

The text in paragraph 35a has been the topic of much discussion by some government ever since the Tunis Agenda was written in 2005 as part of WSIS Phase 2.

Paragraph 69 of the Tunis Agenda has also been at the heart of discussions on the role of governments in Internet governance:

69. We further recognize the need for enhanced cooperation in the future, to enable governments, on an equal footing, to carry out their roles and responsibilities, in international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet, but not in the day-to-day technical and operational matters, that do not impact on international public policy issues.