Has Internet governance permanently tainted the word “governance”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

ITU CWG-Internet Day 2: A very brief overview

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

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

Consultation on role of governments in Internet governance

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

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

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

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

Deadline for governments on the CWG-Internet consultation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repository of national experiences

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

Looking back at ICANN 47

Why am I writing this? I’ve been told that I haven’t written anything amusing lately. There are much better summaries of ICANN 47 out on the Web, so what I’m presenting here, a week after ICANN 47 has ended, is…

…A not-so-serious commentary on a completely arbitrary selection of ICANN 47 events

The first new registry and registrar agreements were signed during the Opening Ceremony.
I was hoping the Opening Ceremony photo op would outdo the laying of hands on the giant HAL computer (remember 2001, the movie?) that happened at ICANN 46 in Beijing.

HAL at ICANN 46. Photo credit: ICANN

HAL makes a celebrity appearance at ICANN 46. Photo credit: ICANN

Or outdo the giant Canada goose that stalked ICANN CEO, Fadi Chehadé, in Toronto.

It looked less scary in InDesign... Giant Canada goose stalks Chehadé. Photo credit: ICANN

It looked less scary in InDesign… Giant Canada goose stalks Chehadé. Photo credit: ICANN

But I had to settle for this less visually interesting, but more historically significant, event.

There's a non-white man in there. No women though. Photo credit: ICANN

Many white men, reflecting geographic distribution of new gTLD applications. One man from Africa. No women. Photo credit: ICANN

New gTLD applicants were cranky with the GAC’s advice and the Board’s new gTLD committee said the GAC’s advice was not implementable.
The GAC’s Category 1 safeguards from Beijing didn’t go down well with applicants. The Board’s New gTLD Program Committee (NGPC) questioned how well thought out the advice was, suggesting that there was no way it could actually be implemented.

The NGPC said they weren’t rejecting the GAC’s advice outright, but hoped they could work with the GAC to find a way to achieve the GAC’s aims. The GAC explained that the advice was meant to be an early draft for comment by the wider ICANN community and not a final position. The NGPC seemed mollified by this. New gTLD applicants weren’t so happy, and spent a lot of time at the microphone during the Open Forum expressing their displeasure.

Amazon was particularly cranky with the GAC.
It was surprisingly dramatic when, one by one, many of the GAC members expressed their support for Brazil’s objection to Amazon Inc.’s .amazon application in their Tuesday morning GAC session. Amazon Inc. wasn’t in the room on Tuesday, but they were certainly at the microphone during the Public Forum on Thursday to express their strong objection to the GAC’s Durban advice on .amazon. Stay tuned for more on the .amazon issue in coming months.

The GAC stayed up well past midnight developing a Communiqué text that all GAC members could live with, if not actually be happy about.
Unsurprisingly, the cause of the long drafting session was debate about new gTLD strings. .wine and .vin were the main culprits. No doubt, many of the GAC members were desperate for a glass or two of .wine to drown their sorrows when the marathon drafting session finally ended.

Those who have followed ITU for any length of time may be interested to learn that it was Kavouss Arasteh, the Iranian representative to the GAC, who played mediator between opposing parties in the late night negotiations. Arasteh is the man who initiated the infamous vote during WCIT. After that vote, you may remember, things went seriously downhill.

Arasteh is very excited to vote at WCIT. Other participants? Not so much. Photo credit: ITU

Arasteh is very excited to vote at WCIT. Other participants? Not so much. Photo credit: ITU

Arasteh seems to be redeeming himself by acting as elder statesman at ICANN GAC meetings. Durban was only his second ever ICANN meeting too. Keep an eye on Arasteh, folks. It’ll be interesting to see how he progresses as he learns even more about ICANN-related activities.

The GNSO went around telling anyone who’d listen that the GNSO Policy Development Process (PDP) wasn’t as broken as everyone had been saying it was.
The general message was that, yes, the PDP can take two to three years before something comes out the other end, but that other processes, including those by IETF and ccNSO, can take even longer. Even Chehadé called for less criticism of the GNSO PDP and more celebration of its achievements.

ALAC and the GAC agreed that working together would be useful.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t think of any current projects that they could work together on, and momentarily discussed if they could create some new joint projects. Because people in the ICANN community don’t already have enough on their plates. We definitely all need more projects to fill in that time we currently squander on sleep.

The ccNSO celebrated turning 10 years old by showing a video mash-up of ccTLD community members dancing in ways that only geeks can.
Perhaps “half-hearted wiggling” would be more accurate than “dancing”, but anyhow… That little gem has now been uploaded to YouTube for all to enjoy. Skip through to 3:20 to go straight to the dancing.

The ccNSO celebration dinner also marked itself out as possibly the only time in ICANN’s history that an entire Supporting Organization tried to escape the ICANN CEO. As Chehadé arrived to schmooze the room, the last remnants of the ccNSO party goers were escaping via the lifts. Chehadé, not to be defeated, invited himself onto the homeward bound bus, helping out the bus driver by calling out the names of conference hotels on the route.

The Internet Governance update discussed WCIT. Again.
In Costa Rica, we discussed WCIT. In Prague, we discussed WCIT. As we got closer to WCIT, we discussed it a bit more in Toronto. Then WCIT was held in December. In April, in Beijing, we looked back at what happened at WCIT. And in Durban, because we all can’t get enough of that warm WCIT feeling, we discussed WCIT again.

Please. ICANN. No more WCIT. Really. Stop.

There’s enough happening in the crowded Internet governance calendar to fill the Internet Governance Update session. We don’t need to revisit the same event at each meeting.

ICANN fellows were really active.
Whatever ICANN is doing to support ICANN fellows and newcomers, keep doing it. It was fantastic to see so many new faces speaking so confidently at the microphone in a wide assortment of ICANN sessions. I didn’t feel completely comfortable at ICANN meetings for a long time, so it’s great to see ICANN is working so hard to make today’s newcomers feel valued from the moment they step foot into the conference venue.

Why it’s good China is part of the IGF MAG

igf-2013-logoLast week, as part of a series of posts about preparations for the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Bali later this year, I blogged about the MAG’s consensus-minus-one decision to remove Critical Internet Resources (CIR) as one of the themes of the main sessions (it’s still a workshop track theme) and include human rights and freedom of expression as main session themes.

One thing I didn’t manage to fit into the flow of that post was why, even though China was alone amongst MAG members in its objections to these theme changes, it is important to recognize how significant it is that China chooses to remain a MAG member.

China’s positions on Internet governance issues in MAG discussions

Critical Internet Resource management aka “ICANN is a tool of the US government”

The Chinese government has had a representative on the MAG since the preparations for the first IGF in 2006. China, like a number of States, was-and still is-very unhappy with the US government’s unique role in the global CIR management system. No doubt, therefore, China saw a place on the MAG as another venue for keeping discussion on the USA government’s pre-eminent role in CIR management alive. Of course, we’re all already well aware of the need for ICANN to truly internationalize. It’s just that China, and a number of other States, would prefer it internationalize by moving its CIR functions into an intergovernmental body such as the ITU, or perhaps a completely new body under the UN system.

China should not be criticized for continuing to push for a spotlight on the US government’s role in the IANA and ICANN. It is a legitimate view. And just as legitimate as the view of many members of the Internet technical community who have spent their time on the MAG doing the exact opposite: trying to shift IGF’s discussions away from a sole focus on the CIR management model to a wider range of Internet governance issues.

Human rights and freedom of expression

It’s clear that China is not going to be the poster child for human rights at any point in the foreseeable future. It’s no surprise, therefore, that China’s representatives on the MAG would not support human rights related themes for the IGF. In past years, there have been IGF workshops with a human rights angle, but they’ve been placed under other headings (development, access, etc.), so less of a threat than a clearly stated main theme. This year, however, the preparatory meetings clearly showing community and wide MAG member interest in having human rights and freedom of expression as main IGF themes.

If you’re a State with a less than stellar history of meeting UN obligations in a certain area—whether it be freedom of expression, women’s rights, environmental protection, or more—and there’s a UN conference that will include that topic as a main theme, you’re going to do everything you can to get that theme removed. So it’s no surprise that China was vocal in opposing human rights and freedom of expression on the Internet in the main themes of IGF 2013. It is surprising, though that other States on the MAG weren’t supporting China. Azerbaijan, for example. Let’s also not forget that only a few months earlier, many States were madly opposing the inclusion of human rights in the preamble to the ITRs at the WCIT in Dubai. (Human rights were eventually included, but probably only because the ITU Secretary General, Dr Hamadoun Touré, actively lobbied dissenting States to agree to the reference.)

Reframing China’s participation in the MAG: multistakeholderism in action

Listening to China repeatedly take the floor during the May open consultations and MAG meetings to express its views on CIRs and human rights may have seemed frustrating at the time, but with hindsight, it was a good example of multistakeholder consensus decision making in action.

The value of the multistakeholder nature of the IGF’s advisory group is its deliberate incorporation of stakeholders with vastly different viewpoints on Internet governance issues. China stated its objections to the theme changes; other MAG members engaged with China to explain their reasons for supporting change and to assure China that CIRs remained a key theme of IGF 2013, but in a different way—via the workshop track.

As we know, by the end of the May meeting, China still hadn’t been swayed by the discussion and remained the dissenting view in the MAG on the main themes for IGF 2013. China did, however, accept the interim Chair’s proposal that the final report to the UN in New York would both include the MAG’s consensus themes as the recommended themes for IGF 2013, while also noting China’s dissenting opinion.

China didn’t get its way at the first IGF in Athens. CIR management wasn’t a main theme at that IGF. But China stuck with the IGF and has remained on the MAG ever since. China may not agree with many of the principles and values of the multistakeholder bottom-up Internet governance model, but it has engaged in the system.

It’s been noted by various IGF supporters over the years that States opposing the current Internet governance ecosystem tend not to engage in the IGF. China opposes the current CIR management model, but is engaging with the IGF. And even more importantly, it is recognizing when its view isn’t the consensus view and accepting, with a degree of grace, the decision by the overwhelming majority of MAG members. In response, its relationship with other MAG members becomes stronger, and helps lay a better foundation for future deliberations.

Towards the future

The open and frank discussions at WTPF last month on Brazil’s draft “Opinion 7” have helped pave the way for constructive and collaborative work to enhance the participation of governments in Internet governance in future. Similarly, China’s willingness to participate in the MAG, even when the MAG reaches general consensus on issues it doesn’t agree with, bodes well for an IGF that can encourage stakeholders with divergent views to engage with each other and make progress on Internet governance issues.

China shouldn’t feel that it lost an argument at the IGF MAG meetings this year. Rather, it succeeded in having its view clearly expressed and understood by others. Equally, the other MAG members shouldn’t feel they won the debate over the main themes for IGF 2013. Instead, for the first time, they had to accommodate a dissenting view in the report to the UN in New York.

Multistakeholderism isn’t easy. And it’s increasingly difficult to navigate our way to mutually acceptable solutions as more stakeholders, with a wider range of views, enter the discussions.

We will all lose if holders of dissenting views leave the system, or never enter it in the first place. That’s why China’s continued participation in the MAG is encouraging for the long-term health of the Internet governance ecosystem. China may still prefer Internet governance to be a largely intergovernmental affair, but it’s engaging with the multistakeholder model, even when the model heads in directions it may not agree with, as with the MAG’s CIR and human rights theme decisions.

So let’s view China’s interventions at the May MAG meeting less in the vein of “Here they go again” and more in the spirit of “They are participating and that is good for us all”.