Resolution bloat at ITU Plenipotentiary Conferences

Delegates who were in Dubai for the recent ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2018 may remember the Chair of the Ad Hoc Group on Resolution 130 (about cybersecurity) regularly reporting on how many pages his group had succeeded in deleting from the original 56-page consolidated draft containing all proposed changes to the resolution. Member States engaged in long hours, including nights, weekends, and almost through to the dawn of the final day of the conference, to slowly work their way through the 18,063 words in the initial consolidated draft of proposals. 13 versions of the Ad Hoc Group’s draft resolution were to follow the first version. And I’m not even counting the versions of the draft that subsequently went to Working Group of Plenary, and then to Plenary, to work on.

Last minute work on Resolution 130 (cybersecurity)

The final text of the 2018 (English) version of Resolution 130 was 14 pages, with a total of 5,288 words. Even the title of the resolution contains a lot of words: “Strengthening the role of ITU in building confidence and security in the use of information and communication technologies”. It’s so darn long that most people just refer to it as “the cybersecurity resolution”. If you’re an ITU lifer, talking to other ITU lifers, then you just call it “Res 130”.

The sheer number of words in the proposed amendments to Resolution 130 were virtually unmanageable. If ITU plenipotentiaries didn’t operate on the basis of trying to work from regional, rather than individual country-based proposals, the situation would have been even worse. As it was, each of the five regional groups had submitted proposals to update the resolution, with one country-based proposal from Brazil on top of that.

With only six proposals, though, how did the conference end up with 56 pages of consolidate proposal texts? Partially, it’s because cybersecurity is a very hot topic, and there are very different views within ITU’s Member States about how ITU, and the world generally, should be going about strengthening cybersecurity. Partially it’s because the previous version of the resolution, from 2014, already had a lot of words (3,765 to be exact), and so there were lots of existing sentences that different regions could find issue with, and feel the need to propose amendments to.

It seems that the only way to resolve differing viewpoints on a hot topic like cybersecurity is to add a lot more text that sort of reflects each of the different viewpoints, but not in way that satisfies any of the view holders, resulting in the next plenipotentiary conference receiving yet more proposals to amend the seemingly inadequate text that grudgingly received consensus at the previous plenipotentiary.

ITU, and other intergovernmental agencies, often view the result of a negotiation where “everyone is equally unhappy” as a successful outcome. But I suspect the reality is that what it often does is simply generate more proposals, more debate, and larger versions of the target resolution at the subsequent meeting.

To test my suspicion, I have analyzed the growth of ITU Plenipotentiary resolutions related to the Internet and the information/knowledge society – highly divisive topics these days – and compared them to a handful of other Plenipotentiary resolutions. I’ve included a table including the word counts for all resolutions referred to in this article at the end of the article.

The quartet of Internet-related resolutions

The four key Internet-related resolutions of Plenipotentiary are:

  • Resolution 101: Internet Protocol-based networks
  • Resolution 102: ITU’s role with regard to international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and the management of Internet resources, including domain names and addresses
  • Resolution 133: Role of administrations of Member States in the management of internationalized (multilingual) domain names
  • Resolution 180: Promoting deployment and adoption of IPv6 to facilitate the transition from IPv4 to IPv6

These four are generally seen as a “package” and are discussed within the same Ad Hoc Group at ITU Plenipotentiaries. Each of the four resolutions contains the famous footnote from the 2010 Plenipotentiary that define “relevant organizations involved in the development of IP-based networks and the future Internet in the context of emerging telecommunications/ICTs” as:

“Including, but not limited to, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the regional Internet registries (RIRs), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Society (ISOC) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), on the basis of reciprocity”.

Negotiations on these Internet-related resolutions are always fraught and reflect wider geo-political differences on what the ideal international and national governance systems should be. The reality is, though, that only a dozen or so Member States are truly active throughout the negotiations. Others jump in from time to time, either to support the interventions of the representative(s) of their regional group or to comment on an issue they as a Member State have a strong position on. Most Member States remain silent in the room, either because they don’t have a strong (or any) position on the proposals or they have a position that conflicts somewhat with their regional group’s official position, so remain silent for the greater good of their regional group.

Below is a graph of how the word counts of these four Internet-related resolutions have grown since their creation (101 and 102 in 1998; 133 in 2002; 180 in 2010).

Word count growth of ITU Plenipotentiary resolutions on Internet-related issues

On average, the four resolutions have grown by 360 words each time they’ve been updated at a Plenipotentiary. (Resolution 101 wasn’t updated in 2002.)

Taken together, Plenipotentiary resolutions on Internet-related issues have grown from a total of 1,225 words, in two resolutions in 1998, to 8,315 words, in four resolutions in 2018. Plenipotentiary delegates are having to wade through almost seven times as many words written in Internet resolutions now as they had to back in 1998.

Resolutions on the information/knowledge society

The four resolutions below aren’t grouped as a single “information/knowledge society” package of resolutions at Plenipotentiaries. But I’ve grouped them as such because, with the exception of the cybersecurity resolution, they were all created in the wake of the two-phase World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). The cybersecurity resolution gained speed after WSIS, so I’ve included it here. The four resolutions in this section are:

  • Resolution 130: Strengthening the role of ITU in building confidence and security in the use of information and communication technologies
  • Resolution 140: ITU’s role in implementing the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as in their follow-up and review processes
  • Resolution 179: ITU’s role in child online protection
  • Resolution 197: Facilitating the Internet of Things and smart sustainable cities and communities

Below is a graph of how the word counts of these four resolutions have grown since their creation (130 in 2002; 140 in 2006; 179 in 2010; and 197 in 2010).

Word growth of ITU Plenipotentiary resolutions related to the Information Society

Given the relatively short time the above resolutions have been around, it’s hard to draw strong conclusions about the long-term growth of these resolutions, but the same trend to accumulate text as shown by the Internet resolutions appears to be happening here, too. The average rate of word growth for each plenipotentiary that these four resolutions has been updated at is 819 words. The cybersecurity resolution, 16 years after it was first created, is now 16 times as large as it originally was. It only took four plenipotentiaries after its original creation to expand to 16 times its initial word length.

Note that the WSIS resolution word count actually went down this year. That’s in line with the reduction of word counts in the WSIS/ICT for Development (ICT4D) resolutions approved by Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the UN General Assembly (UNGA). In all three cases, the first WSIS/ICT4D resolution adopted after the UNGA WSIS+10 review held in 2015 was significantly shorter than the version of the resolution adopted before that review. (More on the ECOSOC and UNGA resolutions later in this article.)

Other ITU Plenipotentiary 2018 resolutions for comparison

My choice of the five resolutions below wasn’t particularly scientific. I was looking for resolutions that had been updated in 2018 and had been around for a long time, so were likely to be on non-Internet/Information Society-related issues, and therefore influenced by the same geo-political divisions that plague the Internet and WSIS issues. Instead, I was hoping to see if other geopolitical factors might influence the growth, or otherwise, of these resolutions. The five resolutions I selected were:

  • Resolution 2: World telecommunication/information and communication technology policy forum
  • Resolution 30: Special measures for the least developed countries, small island developing states, landlocked developing countries and countries with economies in transition
  • Resolution 64: Non-discriminatory access to modern telecommunication/information and communication technology facilities, services and applications, including applied research and transfer of technology, and e-meetings, on mutually agreed terms
  • Resolution 66: Documents and publications of the Union
  • Resolution 70: Mainstreaming a gender perspective in ITU and promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women through telecommunications/information and communication technologies

As you’ve probably noticed by now, ITU Member States certainly have a knack for developing really snappy titles for resolutions. In a lot of cases, titles started off short and clear, but as more and more ideas have been inserted into specific resolutions, the titles have been expanded to reflect this. In short, general resolution bloat is reflected in title bloat.

Below is a graph of how the word counts of these five long-standing resolutions have grown since their creation (all but Resolution 70 were around in 1994).

Word growth of a selection of ITU Plenipotentiary resolutions not specifically about the Internet or Information Society

Resolution 64 is basically about the impact of sanctions on ICT development and use by sanctioned countries, so it’s a pretty sensitive topic, but even that hasn’t led to the resolution expanding at anywhere near the rate of the Internet or Information Society related resolutions.

In contrast, the gender resolution (70) has expanded significantly in the last two plenipotentiaries. It went from 1,787 words in 2010, to 3,079 words in 2014, to 3,681 words this year. For reasons that I fully don’t understand, gender equality has become a highly contentious topic, with some Member States objecting to ITU spending time on this issue, arguing it’s more important for ITU to prioritise equal regional participation. To me, it feels very odd for Member States to be arguing about this, given ITU’s involvement in EQUALS, amongst other gender initiatives, and the wider UN Sustainable Development Goal 5, on gender equality, that all UN Member States have signed on to, but as always, what a Member State may promote in one UN process may be very different to their stance on the same issue in a different UN process. Go figure.

Removing the outlying Resolution 70 from this bundle of older resolutions, the average word increase for the remaining four resolutions at each plenipotentiary that they’ve been updated is 106 words. The resolutions are still growing, but very, very slowly.

The general trend for Internet and Information Society resolutions to bloat

As the graph below shows, there’s an increasing number of resolutions on Internet and Information Society-related issues being created, those resolutions are generally being updated at each subsequent plenipotentiary (many of the early ITU resolutions haven’t been updated in years), and the trend is for them to get bigger each time they’re updated.

Word growth of Internet and Information Society-related ITU Plenipotentiary resolutions

For quick reference, here are size comparisons for the above resolutions, showing word count at the time of their original creation, and their size after being updated at Plenipotentiary 2018:

Comparison of word growth in ITU Plenipotentiary resolutions related to the Internet and Information Society

Notice that the closer to the left side of the bar chart that a resolution is, the larger the relative increase in words. This is because the older the resolution, the more plenipotentiaries it’s been through, and the more chances there have been for Member States to add more content to the resolutions.

Also, as shown in the bar chart below, there’s a general trend for Internet, Information Society, and the newer digital applications and services resolutions that arose during the 2018 Plenipotentiary to start life with a larger number of words.

General trend in growth of initial word count for ITU Plenipotentiary resolutions related to the Internet, Information Society and digital applications and services

In the above bar chart, please note that what I’m calling the digital applications and services resolutions (Over-The-Top services (OTTs), Digital Economy and Society, and Bridging the Digital Financial Gap) don’t have resolution numbers yet. Because they are so new, they currently are only identified by their Working Group of Plenary resolution numbers, not by the larger schedule of Plenipotentiary resolution numbers. Rather than use the temporary Working Group of Plenary numbers, I’ve chosen just to refer to their subjects.

The above chart only refers to 11 resolutions, so is not a particularly large pool of data with which I can conclude that there are strong trends, but there is an overall emerging trend for resolutions in the Internet/Information Society/digital applications and services space to start life in more words as the years have passed, particularly if you remove the two extremely high starting-word-count resolutions, 140 (from 2006) and 179 (from 2010).

How do Plenipotentiary resolutions on Internet and Information Society issues compare to similar resolutions in other UN forums?

Below are the two best-known resolutions related to the Internet and the Information Society:

  • Information and communications technologies for sustainable development (UNGA resolution)
  • Assessment of the progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (ECOSOC resolution drafted by the Commission on Science and Technology for Development)

These two resolutions are developed annually, so are an interesting contrast to the quadrennial drafting of ITU’s plenipotentiary resolutions. The changing word count of these two resolutions are shown in the graph below:

Word growth of UNGA and ECOSOC resolutions on WSIS and ICT4D

There are two dips visible for both resolutions in the graph above. One is associated with resolutions in the wake of the final phase of WSIS in 2005:


  • The first resolution at ECOSOC after WSIS was ECOSOC’s first ever resolution on WSIS (2006), so was rather long on explanation. The following year (2007), it was tightened up considerably, resulting in the big drop in its word count. As various governments started to realize that the outcomes from the 2005 WSIS weren’t going to solve all the ICT issues they’d hoped WSIS would solve, negotiations ramped up again, and the word count of the 2008 version of the ECOSOC resolution on WSIS increased.
  • It seems that UNGA had hoped that WSIS would solve all their ICT issues, too, as there was no ICT4D resolution from UNGA in 2005 or in 2006. Instead, UNGA issues resolutions related to the holding of WSIS. By the time they resumed the ICT4D resolution in 2007, their effort was entirely about pushing off ICTs to ECOSOC in a very short, 260-word resolution. When that didn’t seem to work, negotiations started back up, and word count started going up again (1283 in 2008).

The other dip is related to UNGA WSIS+10 High Level Meeting held in 2015:

  • The ECOSOC WSIS resolution preceded the UNGA event, so the word count increased in 2015, but then dipped in 2016, as CSTD Member States (who draft the resolution) debated how best to update the ECOSOC resolution. Very little was agreed on, so very little new material went in, but common sense meant that Member States could agree to take out the existing text talking about preparations for the WSIS+10 event, which was clearly out of date in 2016.
  • The UNGA ICT4D resolution in 2015 was basically a placeholder resolution, as Member States had been focused on producing the WSIS+10 resolution from the UNGA High Level Meeting that preceded the ICT4D resolution by only a matter of days. In 2016, though, Member States went back to arguing about what the WSIS+10 resolution meant, and the word count of the ICT4D resolution went back up again.

Below is a comparison of the total word counts of the original versus latest versions of the ECOSOC and UNGA resolutions:

Total growth in word count for the UNGA and ECOSOC resolutions, based on first and most recent versions of the resolutions

The UNGA resolution has been updated 14 times – it skipped 2005 and 2006, and negotiations on the 2018 version are not likely to conclude until just before the end of December. The ECOSOC resolution, which is actually four years younger than its UNGA counterpart, has been updated 13 times.

The average rate of word growth for each UNGA section that the ICT4D resolution has been updated at is 303 words. For the ECOSOC WSIS resolution, it’s 288 words.

This means that both the UNGA and ECOSOC resolutions are growing at a slower average pace per update than the Internet-related resolutions (at an average of 360 words per plenipotentiary) and Information Society resolutions (at an average of 819 words per plenipotentiary).

Plenipotentiary resolutions on Internet and Information Society issues still have a word count lower than their UNGA and ECOSOC counterparts, but are growing at a fast rate each time they’re updated

With the exception of ITU Plenipotentiary Resolution 130, cybersecurity, the other older Internet and Information Society resolutions (that is, ones that were created in 2006 or earlier) are still smaller than their UNGA and ECOSOC counterparts:

Total growth in word count for Internet and Information Society-related resolutions from ITU, UNGA and ECOSOC

But given there are fewer opportunities to update plenipotentiary resolutions (only once every four years, the general rate of growth for the ITU resolutions on Internet and Information Society issues is a little alarming. Below is a graph showing how much larger, compared to their original size, resolutions have been getting, per update, for the Internet and Information Society related resolutions at ITU, UNGA and ECOSOC:

Average word count growth per update of Internet and Information Society-related resolutions at ITU, UNGA and ECOSOC

The Plenipotentiary’s cybersecurity is the clear “winner” here, but it’s apparent that all five of the oldest Internet/Information Society resolutions are growing at a faster rate per update than either the UNGA or ECOSOC resolutions.

What causes resolution bloat?

There are a number of factors:

  • General conservativism in the negotiation process means that when old text is proposed to be deleted, it often isn’t. For example, in Dubai a proposed deletion of a reference to telex in Resolution 133 (IDNs) was opposed as, despite the fact that telex is basically unused technology these days, it is important to continue to recognize ITU’s role in standardizing the use of non-Latin characters in telex. Similarly, Resolution 140 (WSIS) still contains a thank you to the hosts of the two phases of WSIS, which were held back in 2003 and 2005, despite a proposal to delete the thank you message. When you don’t delete the outdated text, but keep adding more up-to-date text, the resolution bloats.
  • Highly contentious issues lead to needing to include references to highly divergent perspectives, but in much watered-down form. The watering down enables holders of opposing viewpoints to accept the inclusion of views they would otherwise not be able to accept, but it also ensures that it doesn’t meet the goals of the original proponents. The result is a lot of text which doesn’t really meet anyone’s goals, leading to many of the Member States re-proposing what they originally wanted at the subsequent plenipotentiary. And because of the contentiousness of the topic, the cycle repeats, and repeats, and repeats.
  • To justify adding more actions in the operative part of a resolution (the “resolves”, “instructs”, “encourages” and “urges” parts) there’s a trend to add more explanatory text to the preamble (the “notes”, “recognizing”, “aware”, “recalling”, etc., parts). For contentious topics, this means that the preamble can bloat significantly, as Member States argue for inclusion of references to other resolutions and activities. For example, the 2018 version of Resolution 130 (cybersecurity) refers to a whopping 17 other resolutions and outcome documents under “recalling”, 18 contributory factors under “considering”, and countless other activities and references to resolutions in the rest of the preamble, all to justify the presence of 12 “resolves”, 37 “instructs” (directed at the Secretary-General and various Directors of the Bureaux), and 13 “invites” (directed at Member States, Sector Members and Associates) and one “requests” (to the Council).
  • There’s a trend to add more and more sub-issues to the topic of a resolution over time. This leads to more text for each of those new dimensions. For example, Resolution 102 was only about the management of the DNS and IP addresses until 2006. In 2006, to take into account the outcomes of the WSIS process, the concept of “international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet” and “enhanced cooperation” were added to the resolution. In turn, this led to the Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues cropping up in the 2010 version of the resolution (between the 2006 and 2010 plenipotentiaries, the ITU Council had created a Dedicated Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues). At some point, a resolution may get so weighed down with expanding sub-issues that it may give birth to a brand-new baby resolution. But that hasn’t happened yet with either Resolution 102, or Resolution 130 (cybersecurity).
  • Member States will often try and insert text into a resolution that they hope will be able to help them in another forum. For example, there’s quite a lot of interplay between ITU resolutions on WSIS and the Internet and the ECOSOC resolution on WSIS follow-up. If a Member State can add some advantageous text into a resolution of a forum that is more favourable to their views, they can then use that to justify a proposal of theirs in a forum where their views may come up against more opposition; at that point, the Member State can point to the other forum’s resolution and say “but forum X considers this a vital issue, so this forum must too”.

When all these factors converge, you end up with extreme bloating cases like Resolution 70 (gender) and Resolution 130. But sometimes, the contentiousness of the issue can be so overwhelming, it results in absolutely no changes to a resolution at all (for example, Resolution 45, on cybersecurity, at the World Telecommunication Development Conference in Buenos Aires last year); this may mean no bloat, but it also means more lingering bad feeling between Member States.

Does it matter if ITU Plenipotentiary resolutions on Internet and Information Society resolutions are bloating over time?

It does matter if the trend continues, because larger resolutions provide more opportunities for Member States to find issue with the various parts of the text and therefore propose more amendments, which not only leads to the need for more negotiations, but also to yet more text being added to the resolution.

Also, a larger a resolution tends to have more moving parts – that is, they include more references to other resolutions and activities in their preambles (“noting”, “recalling”, emphasizing”, etc.), and more actions in their operative parts (“resolves”, “instructs”, invites”). As the referenced existing resolutions and activities are updated—and often expanded—elsewhere, it encourages Member States to also change/expand the scope of the resolution that refers to them, both in terms of elaborating on those updates in the preamble, as well as proposing additional actions in the operational section that align with those related resolutions and activities.

Another problem that results from the increasing number of interlinked resolutions happens when the interlinked resolutions are all being updated at the same Plenipotentiary, leading to multiple parallel resolution drafting sessions waiting on each other’s outcomes to make updates to their own resolutions. Or more alarming, multiple parallel resolution drafting sessions taking related pieces of text in different directions.

Member State only have a finite three weeks to resolve all their differences at ITU Plenipotentiary Conferences. The length of the plenipotentiary is unlikely to be extended any time soon (in fact, their current length has shrunk from four weeks and longer in the past), meaning that the only way to fit in the need for more time for each of the bloated resolutions to be discussed is to schedule more parallel sessions as well as more, and longer, night-time and weekend sessions.

The problem with doing this, however, is that most Member State delegations are fairly small and don’t have enough delegates with the appropriate expertise to spread themselves across multiple parallel sessions discussing resolutions on related issues.

In addition, scheduling sessions well into the night (and next morning) as well as throughout the weekends results in highly fatigued delegates who are vulnerable to irritability that can reduce progress in negotiations as well as lead to general brain fog that can lead to less-than-optimal decision-making.

ITU isn’t the only intergovernmental agency, or even the only policy-making process, to encounter many of the factors that lead to resolution bloat, or to have to then deal with the increasing levels of stress that its delegates are put under to try and resolve significant differences of opinion on increasingly bloated documents. What’s unique for ITU is the fact that digital issues are becoming increasingly important to all of the world’s activities—be they economic, social, cultural, political, environmental or developmental—meaning that the probability of ITU continuing to have a perfect storm of factors leading to bloating resolutions will remain high, and contribute to increasingly difficult negotiations that result in resolutions that are increasingly too labyrinthine and opaque to understand.

A summary of a very quiet 4th CWG-Internet meeting

Note: I attended the fourth 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.

This is the second part of a two-part report of the fourth CWG-Internet meeting, held 3-4 March 2014. The first part can be found here.

Touré’s opening speech

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

ITU Secretary General Touré was present at the start of the meeting. His presence sent a signal that this was going to be an important meeting, which of course, we found out to not be the case, but it nevertheless sent a message that this CWG was important to the ITU.

Touré stated that the CWG-Internet was a very important component of the multistakeholder dialogue on Internet issues. He also noted that although Brazil’s draft opinion at WTPF-13 hadn’t reached consensus, it had begun a very important dialogue on the role of governments in Internet governance. He also referred to the responses by 37 Member States to the CWG-Internet’s questionnaire on the role of governments, saying not only would they inform discussions at the CWG-Internet, but would form an important repository of information for future dialogue on the issues they contained. He also noted the series of “Open Talks” he had conducted on Internet-related public policy issues.

Importantly, Touré stated that ITU is part of an ecosystem of organizations dealing with Internet-related matters, and that the ITU works to add value where it can.

37 really interesting submissions to the questionnaire on what governments are doing in terms of Internet-related public policy issues

There were 37 responses to the following question:

  • 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)?

I don’t think there have ever been as many as 37 Member States present at a CWG-Internet meeting, so to have 37 of the 193 ITU Member States submit a response is a major achievement. There were submissions from both developed as well as developing countries, with good geographical diversity, too. A brief overview of the contents of the responses and the discussion in the room during the CWG-Internet meeting:

  • It was encouraging to see some of the Member States compiled their responses by first conducting consultations with various Internet-related stakeholders within their national borders.
  • A number of Member States reported having various forms of stakeholder consultation processes or advisory groups in place where government departments could solicit opinions and feedback on Internet-related public policy issues under consideration. This helped governments create more effective national policy related to the Internet.
  • A number of governments with such consultation processes noted that although the government ultimately made the decisions about national Internet-related public policy, being able to discuss issues with interested stakeholders gave all parties a better understanding of everyone’s positions and the reasons behind decisions, even if non-government stakeholders held views contrary to those that informed the final decisions.
  • More than one Member State referred to the need for governments to develop public policy in coordination with other stakeholders to ensure that innovation on the Net remained unhindered.
  • Member States agreed that the responses should be placed in a permanent online repository where each Member State could update its submission as circumstances changed.

The CWG-Internet decided that the responses to that questionnaire were, like all CWG-Internet documents, limited to Member States only.[1] A large number of States did very much want the responses to be public, saying that the contents would be very useful for everyone. For a little while, there seemed to be agreement to a proposal that all respondents would be contacted and told that their submissions would be made public on a certain date unless they specifically requested their submission be kept password-protected. This agreement fell apart, however, when one Member State suggested that States who might want to keep their submissions password-protected may feel pressured by other States to make them public. States who did not respond to pressure to publish might then be viewed by the wider public as having something to hide.

The good news, though, is that this CWG-Internet meeting decided that the 37 respondents are free to resubmit their contributions as part of the public consultation process that began on 10 March 2014. All contributions to that public consultation are made public.

Oh, and of course, there’s always WCITLeaks, which has already made all of the responses publically available. I was looking at WCITleaks’ links to the responses while the debate was happening in the room and wondered if I should point out to the pro-password crowd that their battle had been lost before the meeting had even begun. But the debate in the room wasn’t about the reality of whether the documents were available or not. It was about a clash of principles: open versus closed intergovernmental proceedings.

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

The decision to hold a public consultation

A few Member States had submitted contributions supporting the decision at the third CWG-Internet meeting to hold a public consultation on the role of governments in Internet-related public policy. There had been reluctance back in the third meeting to agree to a public consultation, and States not so keen on a public consultation had successfully introduced an escape clause in the Chair’s report of the third meeting:

  • “The CWG will hold an open multistakeholder consultation on the role of governments immediately after its next meeting in March 2014, based on contributions by Member States.

While it may not at first be obvious to the casual reader, the “based on the contributions by Member States” text was inserted as a way of allowing the consultation to be quashed if Member States didn’t bother to contribute first (if governments don’t respond on the role of governments, then there would then be no need to hear what non-governments think about the role of governments).

As it happened, with 37 responses by governments, the above argument clearly couldn’t be used to suppress the idea of a public consultation. Instead, creativity was needed. And the arguments of States not wanting to have a public consultation were indeed very creative. One State argued that because many Member States have already stated that they consulted with non-government stakeholders in composing their responses to the questionnaire, the CWG-Internet would learn nothing new by asking non-government stakeholders to submit their responses separately.

A number of Member States were looking forward to holding a public consultation on the same question as that put to governments. But this was another area of contention. Some States argued that it was impossible to use exactly the same question posed to governments as that question was carefully crafted for only governments and nobody else. The strength of this argument was somewhat diminished by the fact that many governments had consulted their non-government stakeholders, and no non-government stakeholders had been harmed as a result of trying to answer this “governments only” question, but anyhow…

Another State argued that there was no way that the same question could be used for non-government stakeholders as there was a risk that non-government stakeholders may contradict the answers governments had submitted as part of the closed governments-only questionnaire. And we can’t have differences in the views expressed by governments and their citizens, can we?

The Member States wanting to ask non-government stakeholders exactly the same question as governments held out for a bit, but eventually capitulated. In the end, to prevent there being discrepancies between what governments have said they’re currently doing in the area of Internet-related public policy and what their citizens say they’re doing, the part of the question about current government activities in the Internet public policy sphere was removed. The final question agreed to was:

  • “What actions are 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)?

So, what are the implications of the change of question?

  • It has become a leading question. It suggests that there are things that governments should be doing that they aren’t. It doesn’t give non-government stakeholders a chance to document what governments are already doing. In essence, the question has been successfully reframed by those who believe that governments should have a greater role in Internet governance to produce exactly the sort of result that they want: a set of responses by non-government stakeholders listing areas where governments should be more active. Counterbalancing information, about what governments are already doing, and which may suggest that governments are already doing what’s needed, is excluded.
  • By not including a question about current government activities, there is no way to gather information on government involvement in Internet-related public policy outside the 37 Member States who submitted their responses to the earlier governments-only questionnaire. There are 193 ITU Member States. The CWG-Internet in practice has chosen to actively limit its knowledge about current government practices in Internet public policy to less than 20% of its membership.
  • Given the 37 Member States who responded to the governments-only questionnaire are able to resubmit their responses to this public consultation, we will end up with a collection of divergent responses:
  • One set (from governments) will talk about what they’re doing now as well as what they think should be done in future.
  • A second set (from non-government stakeholders) will only respond to the question about what governments should be doing in future.

How to craft your response to the second CWG-Internet public consultation

The public consultation is open until 26 April 2014.

I suggest that non-government stakeholders making submissions to the public consultation do the following:

  • Note that to contextualize your response to the question about what actions governments should be undertaking in Internet-related issues, it is first important to establish what governments are already doing.
  • Include as many examples as you can about what your national government (or a range of governments, given the public consultation doesn’t limit the question to your own national government) is already doing in relation to Internet-related public policy issues.
  • Include examples of Internet public policy issues where governments are working with other stakeholders. The wider the variety of forms of stakeholder interaction with government are documented, the easier it will be for all stakeholders to learn from the experiences of alternative forms of inter-stakeholder interaction that have not yet been widely documented or publicized. The fact that Member States in the fourth CWG-Internet meeting were asking each other for more details on the forms of multistakeholder interaction they were using is proof that there is genuine interest-even amongst Member States not normally associated with embracing non-government stakeholder interaction-in learning how others develop their Internet-related policy.
  • Encourage stakeholders in the 156 countries who didn’t submit responses to the governments-only questionnaire to submit responses that document current government activities in the Internet governance sphere.
  • Ask your Member State to support your submission at the next CWG-Internet meeting so it doesn’t disappear beneath the waves like the first set of public consultation contributions did at the third CWG-Internet meeting. Your Member State delegate could achieve this by directly referring to your submission in their contribution to the CWG. Alternatively, your Member State could read out the most interesting parts of your submission to the CWG members and provide additional information on the issues discussed in your submission in response to questions by other Member States.

[1] Anyone who followed the 2013 ITU Council debate on the possibility of opening CWG-Internet documents to non-Member States will remember that it was decided that as the creation of the CWG-Internet was a result of a Plenipotentiary resolution, only another Plenipotentiary resolution could make a decision on how open—or otherwise—the CWG should be.

Is CWG-Internet terminally ill or temporarily comatose?

Note: I attended the fourth 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.

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

The fourth meeting of the ITU Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet), held 3-4 March 2014, was a bit of an anticlimax after the very spirited five-day CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC) meeting held the previous week. It seemed that everyone had lost the will to discuss the Internet. Even the Member States keen for a new intergovernmental Internet policy mechanism seemed off their game.

This was the final CWG-Internet meeting before the ITU 2014 Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-14) begins in October. PP-14 will decide the future programs and activities for the Union for the years 2015 to 2018. This includes the future direction of the CWG-Internet. Yet there wasn’t a single contribution to this CWG-Internet meeting proposing how the CWG could or should continue its work after 2014. Of course, the CWG itself can’t decide its work program, but it could have made suggestions on what the group members think is needed and included those suggestions in the CWG-Internet Chair’s report for consideration at the ITU Council meeting in May, and subsequently at PP-14 in October. Instead, the CWG kind of just… floundered…. for its first day, then finished its second day well before noon, having spent the morning finalizing the contents of the 1300 word Chair’s report of the first day.

One of the more colourful Member State representatives—from a Member State that hadn’t submitted any contributions for the meeting—expressed frustration about the lack of progress the CWG seemed to be making. Others also said that there needed to be discussion about the way forward for the CWG. But the fact is that not a single one of these States had taken the time to contribute anything formal to the CWG on possible future directions for the group.

It was all rather odd. Were the frustrated Member States hoping that someone else would do the heavy lifting for them? Was the concerned posturing during the meeting a half-hearted practice run for Internet-related negotiations at the main event, PP-14? Or has CWG-Internet been sidelined by other events and proposals in the Internet governance sphere, including the much-hyped NETmundial in April? Is it simply Internet governance fatigue? Have Member States who’ve been wanting an alternative to the current Internet governance ecosystem, and been forum shopping amongst a growing number of UN bodies, finally reached the same stage of discussion fatigue that those of us who follow the existing Internet ecosystem discussions and the increasing number of UN body discussions have long felt? Are there just far too many big ITU meetings this year and it’s proving difficult to devote time and energy to them all? Frankly, I suspect it’s a bit of all of these things. I guess we have to wait until the next CWG-Internet meeting-if PP-14 resolves to continue the group-to find out whether CWG can wake from its current slumber.

Informal discussions on where the CWG-Internet should go from here

Because there were no formal contributions outlining ways for the CWG to move forward, there couldn’t be any consensus agreements made on the future of the CWG-Internet. But the informal discussions that occurred do perhaps foreshadow more formal proposals for the CWG-Internet’s future activities that may emerge in the lead-up to PP-14. Therefore, I have included a brief summary of those discussions below:

  • One Member State suggested that the CWG-Internet should not duplicate work already being done in other groups.
  • Other Member States suggested that the CWG-Internet should produce more defined outputs (consensus position statements, recommendations, etc.)
  • One of the Member States said that the CWG’s mandate was to focus on international policy (not national Internet policy, which had been the focus of the questionnaire to governments), and the CWG needed to focus on how to address the gaps and weaknesses in international Internet-related public policy so Internet growth could be encouraged.
  • One Member State stated that the CWG-Internet had done its open consultations and it was now time to move on and begin its development phase. The Chair echoed this, stating that open consultation with stakeholders would be an important part of the CWG’s work, but that the group needed to be able to produce structured outcomes from which others can benefit.
  • Another Member State noted that CWG-Internet wasn’t the only group discussing Internet-related public policy issues, but that there is currently no formal relationship that defines how all these groups interact and work on similar or complementary issues. The Member State hadn’t formulated a solution to this lack of clarity but believed something needed to be done if the CWG-Internet was to achieve its objectives.
  • One Member State suggested that the CWG-Internet should beginning looking at the role of governments and the role of other stakeholders in Internet governance. (I should note that I am alarmed by the possibility of a group of governmental folk in a closed environment discussing the roles of non-government stakeholders… and possibly assigning those stakeholders roles in their absence, much like a rerun of the Tunis Agenda definition of stakeholder roles).
  • The Chair wrapped up these discussions by encouraging Member States to submit proposals on the way forward for CWG-Internet to both the ITU 2014 Council and PP-14.

Finally, some musings on the meeting’s participants

There were very few representatives from the Member States that would very much benefit from experience sharing with other States on how to help support Internet development within their borders. In particular, there were only one or two Member States from the African region, and apart from India, none of the developing States from the Asia Pacific region. Latin American and the Caribbean was also poorly represented (Paraguay was present). Instead, the meeting was limited to active participation by Saudi Arabia and Bahrain from the Middle East, Japan, India, Iran and Australia from the Asia Pacific, the USA and Canada from North America and Sweden, UK, Russia, Germany, Poland and Bulgaria from Europe. In other words, the usual suspects, with the usual positions, said the usual things to each other in yet another venue discussing Internet issues.

Is the lack of participation by others a sign of the lack of relevance of the CWG-Internet to their real world needs? Or is the lack of participation a sign of resource constraints preventing developing countries from attending the meeting? ITU does provide fellowships for developing countries, so if non-Geneva based delegates wished to attend, there were some funds available to cover travel costs. This, of course, doesn’t address the issue of limited human resource capacities, and some Member States simply can’t afford to lose a valuable member of their department while they spend a couple of weeks sitting in meetings in Geneva unless they’re certain something of value will come of it. I suspect that lack of relevance played a big part in the lack of participation at this meeting, as the CWG-Internet took place in the same room as earlier CWG meetings, and there were around twice the number of country flags in the room as there were countries represented at the CWG-Internet. Clearly, a lot of the countries felt there wasn’t any need to stay on for the CWG-Internet discussions.

It was also clear that a number of people in the room had very little real understanding of the Internet and ICTs. Many of the same people who attend CWG-Internet meetings are the exact same people who’ve been attending ITU meetings since before the days of the Internet. They’re radio folk, satellite folk, telephone folk, or diplomats from missions in Geneva with a wide portfolio of issues to cover, of which the Internet is just one of many competing for their attention. I understand the need to have experienced diplomats and veterans of the ITU discussing Internet-related issues in intergovernmental spheres, but I also think it would help discussions substantially if those diplomats could bring with them an advisor who understands Internet issues at a level deeper than “I can use the Google”.

My next post, A summary of a very quiet 4th CWG-Internet meeting, reports on the rest of the fourth CWG-Internet meeting, including a summary of ITU Secretary-General Touré’s opening speech, discussion on the 37 contributions to the CWG-Internet questionnaire to governments, and wrangling over the second CWG-Internet public consultation.

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.