Internet governance in 2014: Let’s keep calm and carry on – Part 1

keep-calm-and-carry-onWe spent the last quarter of 2013 developing all sorts if new activities to “fix” Internet governance, managing to thoroughly confuse ourselves in the process. A large percentage of these activities only have relatively short lives and will compete with each other for the attention (and participation) of the wider Internet governance community. In a series of posts over the next few days, I’ll look at those initiatives to see whether all the attention/panic/hand-wringing they’ve generated is warranted and see if there are better ways to approach each of the initiatives.

I’ll start with the big one, the Brazil meeting, which now has the formal name of…

Global Multistakeholder Meeting on Internet Governance (GMMIG)

What we know so far

There are only four months between now and the meeting in Brazil. It’s been just over two months since the meeting was first announced and a month since announced that there would be four committees to organize the meeting. We’ve been told that the deadline for proposals to be discussed at the meeting is 1 March, three months from now. Since the 26 November announcement from, however, there’s been silence.

No doubt, there is lots of work going on in the background, but there has yet to be a call for nominations for the two multistakeholder committees. Experience in other Internet governance activities has taught us that it will be at least a fortnight between a first call for nominations and a final deadline for nominations (with prerequisite grumbling from stakeholder groups that they don’t have enough time to do proper consultation to identify and select the best candidates). Given we’re heading into the Christmas/New Year silly season, the earliest we’re likely to hear a call for nominations is early January. That gives the committees one and a bit months to get their act together, decide an agenda for the meeting and decide how to handle Internet governance proposals submitted to the meeting.

GMMIG will be a two-day meeting, meaning there will be very little time for real discussion and negotiation between divergent views onsite.

The meeting does not yet have a website. And there have not yet been any official calls to submit proposals for the meeting.

We’ve heard that the local hosts don’t want a cast of thousands at the meeting, but instead will limit the number of representatives from each country and each stakeholder group. (Limiting the number of representatives from stakeholder groups is not a new idea. The oft-praised Brazilian Internet Steering Committee itself has set numbers for each stakeholder group, as has the CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation.)

What does this mean for GMMIG’s impact on Internet governance?

Let’s look at the meeting that many people have compared it to: the IGF. It takes a year for the IGF to organize each of its meetings. There are no binding decisions, recommendations or statements that come out of IGF, but MAG members and the community still manage to spend a lot of time discussing, disagreeing and developing a compromise IGF program that mostly reflects people’s various interests. (“Everyone is equally unhappy”, as Markus Kummer would say.)

Is the Brazil meeting, with its incredibly truncated preparation period, going to be able to achieve an agenda that not only reflects divergent views on what is important to discuss, but can also achieve the local host’s aim of “pursu[ing] consensus about universally accepted governance principles and to improve their institutional framework” in relation to Internet governance?

How are potential participants going to have the time to read and fully digest what could be a substantial number of proposals in March and early April, which is a period full of existing meetings and processes in the Internet governance sphere (ITU’s CWG-Internet, finalization of CSTD WGEC report, ICANN49, the additional ITU MPP meeting for the WSIS+10 High Level Event)?

If the meeting does result in a consensus on “universally accepted governance principles and [how] to improve their institutional framework”, how legitimate is that consensus, given the limits placed on the number of people who can attend? Do we end up with another optional opt-in set of principles, like the OECD Principles for Internet Policy-Making?

I suspect that with only two days, the best that the meeting can hope for is a very high level, generic set of principles. They may be useful to the extent that the pro-multistakeholder Internet crowd have a statement from a very big government-hosted event to back up their beliefs in bottom-up, participatory Internet governance. But if we look at the OECD principles, have we seen anyone amend their policy-making processes, or stamp their existing policy-making processes as “OECD compliant”?

The meeting is outside the UN framework, so will not have the same level of gravitas that, say, a statement from the 2015 WSIS+10 review can have. The Brazil meeting also does not have a clearly identified and committed community that will go away after the meeting and implement the governance principles, in the same way that IETFers will implement specifications documented in an RFC.

If GMMIG’s outputs are likely to be limited, should we invest our time in it?

Yes, but I’d suggest that we start to view it as a long-term process and not a hectic process lasting only a few months in early 2014.

What I believe is important about GMMIG is that it will probably begin a long-term series of government-hosted meetings that support the multistakeholder principle and look for ways to improve it. OECD and the European Commission have held some interesting meetings related to Internet governance issues, but the fact that most of the countries involved in those meetings have been from developed, not developing, countries, has limited how well the outcomes and recommendations from those meetings are perceived in the developing world.

As I’ve stated in a CENTR paper that is due to come out later today, I believe that the announcement that France is now a co-host of the meeting could be an indication that France will host a follow-up meeting on its territory a year or two in the future. We’ve seen this happen with the 2011 London Conference on Cyberspace, which then led to the 2012 Budapest Conference on Cyberspace and this year, to the 2013 Seoul Conference on Cyberspace.

What is also very important about GMMIG is the way a country outside the usual—to use a UN term—WEOG (Western European and Others Group) crowd is leading the process. It’s good to see a country like Brazil being proactive and leading the initiative to help reframe Internet governance. Contrast this to a number of countries in the UN space who prefer to complain about unfairness and the disparity of Internet development in different countries, but see the answer as getting funding from developed countries and interventions via UN bodies rather than being proactive about making changes themselves.

What is also important about GMMIG, and sets it apart from the “movement” that is 1net, is that it has governments as active members of the dialogue.

GMMIG was original scheduled to happen after the ITU WSIS+10 High Level Event. However, with the High Level Event now being moved to later in the year, and an additional MPP meeting for the High Level Event being added in April, GMMIG can be an influence on the documents for the WSIS High Level Event.

Finally, GMMIG is part of a long-term Internet governance dialogue. That dialogue started in earnest around the time of WSIS in the early 2000s and has ramped up again in the last couple of years as preparations for deciding the agenda for WSIS next 10 years began. The Internet governance community needs to stop focusing on specific events (WCIT, WSIS+10, ITU Plenipotentiary) as “threats” and instead focus on improving the overall system of Internet governance.

The problem with focusing on specific events is that the much of the community tends to collapse in an exhausted heap after each event, pat itself on the back, saying to itself “Phew, dodged a bullet there! Aren’t we lucky we saved the Internet from bad decisions at [latest evil event]?” But by seeing the threats to Internet governance as external time-delimited forces, we fail to see the threats we pose to ourselves. Sure, we need to take notice of events like ITU’s WCIT and this upcoming GMMIG in Brazil, but we also need to be mature enough to keep a constant eye on our own processes, our own organizations, and be open to criticism at all times—not just in the lead-up to specific global meetings.

UN puts off decision on overall review of WSIS for a few more months

On 14 November 2013, at the 35th meeting of the Second Committee, on behalf of the G77 States, Fiji presented a draft update to the annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution that bears the title, “Information and communications technologies for development”.

Every year, it seems that the first draft of this resolution causes a bit of a stir amongst the Member States who weren’t involved in the drafting. This first draft is then followed by lots of informal consultations between Member States and, finally, a new compromise draft that deletes or modifies some of the proposed updates and adds some new text that, in essence, is a counterbalance to the particular views of the original drafters.

This, of course, is what happened to this year’s “Information and communications technologies for development” (ICT4D) resolution. The version that Fiji presented, A/C.2/68/L.40, was particularly contentious, however, because of the looming deadline of the 10th anniversary of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+10). Just as many folks go into a panic when they hear the in-laws are coming to stay, the ever-nearing arrival date of WSIS+10 in 2015 has caused pretty much everyone–Member States and other stakeholders in Internet governance, in particular–to spend a lot of time discussing what should change, how much should change, and who’s going to pay for it all.

The G77 version of the ICT4D resolution was problematic for many Member States primarily because it suggested having a full-scale review summit, complete with a series of preparatory meetings. Russia had already proposed this at the 16th Session of the CSTD in June 2013. At that time, CSTD Member States hadn’t supported the idea because a) it was clear it would cost the UN and Member States a lot of money that they didn’t want to spend, and b) the whole issue of ICTs for development may potentially become part of the high-level Summit in September 2015 that will mark the next phase of Millennium Development Goals.

After a month of informal consultations, the Vice-Chair of Second Committee verbally presented a compromise draft, A/C.2/68/L.73, on 11 December 2013. That verbal proposal was adopted by consensus.

Below is a brief overview of the main differences between the November (not adopted) and December (adopted) versions of the ICT4D resolution.

What’s new in the adopted ICT4D resolution?

1. UNGA Second Committee decides not to decide…. yet

The most significant change between the G77 and the adopted ICT4D resolution was the removal of text that would launch a full-scale WSIS Review Summit, complete with a preparatory process that would begin in January. Instead, the consensus resolution defers the decision on what to with WSIS+10 until the first quarter next year-by the end of March 2014 at the absolute latest.

2. “Open intergovernmental consultations” will be used to develop the modalities of 2015 WSIS+10 review

I have no idea what “open intergovernmental consultations” means. Does it mean that instead of “informal consultations” that happen in small rooms, the “open consultations” will be publicly webcast? Does it mean that non-government observers may be allowed to observe in the room itself? I suspect the phrase will have as many interpretations as the Tunis Agenda’s “enhanced cooperation” text. However, given these open consultations have a maximum lifespan of three months,  decisions about the modalities of the “open intergovernmental consultations” which will develop the modalities of the WSIS+10 2015 event need to be made public as quickly as possible.

What is very clear, though, is that the process will be intergovernmental and not involve other stakeholders. (Perhaps the word “open” was added to appease the many non-government stakeholders in the WSIS process who aren’t being consulted: the process, although multilateral, is to be open and transparent, at least.)

3. The Brazil meeting on global Internet governance

The resolution “welcomes” the meeting. Short and sweet.

4. There are countries lined up to hold the next three IGFs

The resolution “welcomes” the offers by Turkey, Brazil and Mexico to hold the next three IGFs. Mexico, of course, will only have its offer taken up if the IGF’s mandate is renewed past 2015.

5. Recognition that non-government stakeholders play an important role in ICTs

This is worth quoting in full:

Further stresses the important role played by private sector, civil society and technical communities in information and communications technologies

Surprisingly, although the Tunis Agenda recognizes the important role all stakeholders have to play in ICTs, the UNGA ICT4D resolutions never seem to have explicitly included a similar statement. They have included statements about the role of non-government stakeholders in the international management of the Internet, however. But for the first time here in this consensus resolution, the academic and technical communities make an appearance in that Internet management paragraph.

6. References to more recent UN events and resolutions were added

Of particular interest to the Internet governance crowd are the following additions:

What didn’t make it into the adopted ICT4D resolution?

1. ITU Council 2001 Resolution 1179 is out

ITU’s 2001 Council Resolution 1179 endorsed having a two-phase WSIS in 2003 and 2005. The removal of the reference to this old ITU resolution is probably a response to two things:

  • There have been concerns expressed that the original G77 draft contained too many references to ITU’s involvement in WSIS and not enough acknowledgement of the other UN partners in WSIS.
  • The resolution is so old and obscure that it doesn’t really have any relevance to the UN-wide process that will decide the way forward in 2015 and beyond.

2. The glowing description about the WSIS Forum was deleted

ITU’s media department might be disappointed that this description of ITU’s multistakeholder poster child was removed:

[The WSIS Forum has] become a key forum for multi-stakeholder debate on pertinent issues related to the World Summit process, and noting further that the Forum’s inclusiveness, openness and thematic focus have strengthened responsiveness to stakeholders and contributed to increased physical and remote participation

3. Financing by the private sector is out

This whole paragraph was removed:

Recognizing that, in addition to financing by the public sector, financing of information and communications technologies infrastructure by the private sector is playing an important role in many countries

This is an interesting deletion. Usually, it’s the non-G77 countries such as the USA and European countries that like references to the important role of the private sector. Perhaps it was deleted because it could be interpreted as encouraging governments to start applying ICT infrastructure taxes or other financial requirements to private sector entities within their borders. Perhaps it was deleted because the issue of finance is always a difficult one and in the interests of getting the resolution adopted before the end of the year, it was expedient to remove such obvious speed bumps.

4. No “new and additional” resources for the implementation of WSIS outcomes

Instead, UN funds and programs and specialized agencies are to allocate “adequate” resources to WSIS implementation. Here, we see the usual division between the developing States who wrote the draft in November wanting access to UN funds to help them implement WSIS in their countries while the better-resourced UN donor countries don’t want to put more money in the pot. “Adequate” is a compromise. Developing countries can interpret it as meaning “more resources” while developed countries can interpret as “we don’t have to increase our contributions to the UN”.

IGF 2013: Why so many theme and format changes?

igf-2013-logoFor the first time in years, the IGF Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) as a whole seemed ready to embrace change. This is probably a response to a number of developments:

  1. The CSTD WG on IGF improvements issued a report recommending, in essence, that IGF be responsive to stakeholders’ needs as the Internet environment continues to change.
  2. WCIT showed that many Member States still have serious reservations about the current Internet governance ecosystem. It’s becoming increasingly clear to even the least perceptive of Internet governance folk, that unless the community finds ways to address such issues in friendly forums like IGF, unhappy Member States will increasingly press for intergovernmental venues, like the ITU and UNGA, to address their concerns.
  3. UNESCO’s WSIS+10 review in February and ITU’s WTPF in May both showed that it is in fact possible to have open and frank discussions about differences of opinion without any side feeling like they’ve lost the battle.
  4. With WSIS+10 only a couple of years away, everyone with any connection to the original WSIS action lines is aware that failure to achieve the original WSIS goals could result in the United Nations deciding on a new plan of action with unwelcome side effects on the current Internet governance ecosystem.
  5. Pending the outcome of the WSIS+10 process, IGF’s second mandate of renewal is due in 2015. IGF must be seen to be relevant and responsive if it is to be renewed.
  6. After seven IGFs, the forum has matured enough that people feel able to experiment without fearing that failed experiments could lead to IGF’s demise.
  7. Given, over the last few years, IGF has been slightly short of funds needed to execute everything everyone wants it to do, MAG members are aware that developing a more attractive sets of themes and more flexible set of forum sessions may once again attract donors.
  8. Workshop proposals for IGF 2013 have also been creative in their formats for discussion.

Even China, which was rather passionately arguing to keep the critical Internet resources theme and dump the human rights/freedom of expression theme, was on board with the larger set of changes.

Will the changes work?

In all probability, newcomers to IGF will find wider array of session types just as confusing as the old IGF format (with up to 11 parallel tracks!) And there is a large possibility that more technically or operationally minded participants will find the new focus on high level issues related to multistakeholder enhanced cooperation and Internet governance principles a bit esoteric. But if the IGF website documents the program well, and if the daily onsite orientation sessions are effective, the various stakeholders, with their wide range of interests, will find their way to sessions that meet their needs.

Of course, not all the new ideas that the IGF 2013 MAG has decided to include in the Bali meeting will work. But the fact that a major UN-hosted event is willing to try so many experimental approaches is something we should all support.

The changes are particularly commendable when you consider that IGF 2013 is trying to attract governments who have never attended an IGF before. The previous IGF formats were already a bit of a stretch for governments used to more formal intergovernmental meetings. The addition of more non-traditional meeting formats in upcoming IGF will no doubt ratchet up the discomfort factor for some governments. But, with any luck, the inclusion of topics directly responding to governments’ calls for greater involvement in Internet governance##enhanced cooperation, Internet governance principles, combatting cyber threats-will more than help governments overcome their fear of non-hierarchical and informal session formats.

IGF 2013 is about building bridges. If the skeleton program that came out of the May preparatory meeting is any hint, IGF 2013 will help members of the Internet governance ecosystem to build some very innovative bridges, indeed!

IGF 2013 program

igf-2013-logoI’ve put this together from the MAG meeting discussions in Geneva last week, so please take the outline below as a rough outline rather than a canonical agenda:

Day 0 Pre-events
Known pre-events High-level government roundtable organized by the Indonesian local host,
GigaNet conference,
Regional IGF roundtable.
Possible pre-events A roundtable on the theme of the Day 2 Main Session topic, “The Internet as an engine for growth and sustainable development”. This is due to the fact it’s not possible to have workshops before the first main session. The roundtable would instead form input to the first main session.
Capacity building event. It may pick up some of the workshops proposals related to capacity building that have not been approved for the main program.
Day 1
Opening ceremony Formal opening with dignitaries
Opening session A focus on building bridges and the role of governments in the multistakeholder Internet governance model. Brazil’s draft “Opinion 7” from WTPF is to be a starting point for further work on developing discussions for this.
Day 2
Main session (morning) The Internet as an engine for growth and sustainable development (picking up from the older IGF themes of access and diversity)
Main session (afternoon) Human rights, freedom of expression (picking up from the older IGF theme of openness)
Short afternoon or evening taking stock session 30 minutes for participants to digest the day’s events. This is one of the new formats the MAG is choosing to experiment with in Bali.
Day 3
Main session (morning) Legal and other frameworks related to spam and cybersecurity (picking up from the older Security theme). The session will attempt to address issues that were raised as issues of concern by some ITU Member States during last year’s WCIT.
Main session (afternoon) Open forum. Anyone can raise any issue related to Internet governance. The list of potential topics for people to think about will include all previous IGF topics, including CIR. This is one of the new formats the MAG is choosing to experiment with in Bali.
Short afternoon or evening taking stock session 30 minutes for participants to digest the day’s events. This is one of the new formats the MAG is choosing to experiment with in Bali.
Day 4
Main session (morning) Internet governance principles, multistakeholder enhanced corporation
Closing session Emerging issues. This harks back to the closing session format of the first IGF held in Athens.

Other sessions happening throughout the four days of IGF

Open forums
Requests have already been received from ITU, UNESCO, ICANN, NRO, and the IETF.
For the first time, smaller organizations will also be able to request open forum slots. Slots for smaller organizations, however, may be reduced to 30 minutes.
Dynamic coalitions
To be guaranteed a slot, though, dynamic coalitions must produce a report of their activities over the past year.
Capacity building/orientation sessions
These morning sessions on each day of the program will help newcomers understand how IGF works and give insight into the topics on the agenda for each day.
Workshops can “feed” into main IGF 2013 themes, or be standalone discussions on other Internet governance issues. There was discussion of encouraging “flash sessions” for workshop proposals that the MAG didn’t believe could sustain 90 minutes of discussion. However, I’m not sure from the discussions in Geneva whether flash sessions will go ahead.
Roundtables will be organized as a way to help better channel “feeder workshop” discussions and outcomes into main session topics. This is one of the new formats the MAG is choosing to experiment with in Bali.