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.

NETmundial submissions on IANA and ICANN

Given the announcement late on 14 March 2014 (US time) by NTIA that it intends to transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community, I’ve created a PDF that collates all IANA and ICANN-related material from the submissions to NETmundial in Sao Paolo next month.

The good news is that it is substantially shorter than the total of 302,000 words contained in the full set of 186 submissions. The bad news is that the excerpts from the 62 IANA and ICANN-related submissions still add up to a rather epic 33,500 words.

I’ve included all IANA and ICANN related submissions, even those that seem to be outliers on the spectrum of “well-thought out” to “somewhere west of planet Pluto”. I have not included excerpts from submissions that merely mention ICANN in passing.

netmundial-submissions-on-ianaCompilation of excerpts from submissions to NETmundial that include material on how IANA and ICANN should be transformed [1.9 MB]

If you spot any obvious errors in the complilation, please let me know via this contact form.

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.