Let’s show the CWG-Internet there’s public interest in their work

Only a few weeks ago, the ITU Council 2013 had a long debate over whether it was appropriate to open the Council Working Group on international Internet-related public policy issues (CWG-Internet) to non-government stakeholders. The conclusion of that debate was they would have to wait until ITU Plenipotentiary 2014 in Busan, 20 October – 7 November 2014, to discuss any potential changes to the Guadalajara version of Resolution 102, which started the CWG.

In the meantime, however, the first ever open online consultation conducted by the CWG-Internet is about to close on 1 August 2013.

Any stakeholder can submit responses to the three following topics that the CWG is seeking further information on:

  • Issue 1: Consultation on effectively countering and combatting spam.
    The Council Working Group on International Internet-Related Public Policy Issues invites all stakeholders to provide input on international public policy issues related to effectively countering and combatting spam.
  • Issue 2: Consultation on international public policy issues concerning IPv4 addresses.
    The Council Working Group on International Internet-Related Public Policy Issues invites all stakeholders to provide input on international public policy issues related to (a) unused legacy IPv4 addresses, and (b) inter-region transfers of IPv4 addresses.
  • Issue 3: Consultation on developmental aspects of the Internet.
    The Council Working Group on International Internet-Related Public Policy Issues invites all stakeholders to provide input on international public policy issues related to developmental aspects of the Internet.

Given the interest so many non-government stakeholders had in the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) and the Fifth World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum (WTPF-13), you’d probably expect the CWG-Internet consultation to be inundated with responses, yes? Well, actually, in reality, the answer is “no”.

Since the open consultation opened in February this year, it has received exactly four responses. And not a single one of those four responses are from any of the Internet-related organizations that have pushed so hard to be able to participate in ITU’s Internet-related activities. It’s a little perplexing.

Why the lack of response to CWG-Internet’s Online Consultation?

Having asked a number of people why their organizations aren’t responding to the online consultation, I’ve heard two main responses:

  1. The information about the online consultation topics is very vague.
    Probably the worst offender here is Issue 3, which asks for input on international public policy issues related to “developmental aspects of the Internet.” With a topic is so broad, people don’t have a clue how to begin framing a response to it.
  2. There are so many Internet governance related processes underway, that organizations are losing the capacity to respond to all of the processes.
    In the first half of this year, we’ve had UNESCO’s WSIS+10 review, ITU’s WTPF (plus its final Informal Experts Group meeting in February), the WSIS Forum, the formation of the CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC), two IGF preparatory meetings, an ICANN meeting, Regional Internet Registry meetings, and much, much more. The ever-expanding Internet governance calendar is growing at such a rate that it’s not just developing country stakeholders that have trouble following it all. Even the best-resourced stakeholders are having difficulties fitting in all these consultations with their actual day-to-day work.

Why it’s important that stakeholders do respond

Despite the very understandable reasons stakeholders haven’t responded to the CWG-Internet consultation, it’s vital that we do have a decent response rate to the consultation.

If we don’t respond, then it gives the governments who have a “let’s keep the CWG-Internet closed” stance a fantastic argument for keeping the status quo. After all, if the community shows no interest in interacting with the CWG-Internet even when the CWG-Internet has asked for submissions, what could possibly be achieved by opening up the CWG’s meetings?

Instead, we need to help bolster the case for opening the CWG-Internet by showing that non-government stakeholders do have something very important to contribute to the governments’ work on international public policy issues related to the Internet. By providing submissions to the online consultation, we can support the ongoing efforts of governments who have been trying to open the CWG-Internet.

A template to help stakeholders respond to the online consultation

To make it easy for stakeholders to respond to the online consultation in the short time that remains, below is a proposed structure for responses to CWG-Internet:

  1. Thank the CWG-Internet for seeking input from the larger community.
    Your organization understands that the members of the CWG-Internet are discussing a very wide range of international public policy issues related to the Internet. As it’s unreasonable to expect that government representatives in the CWG-Internet are experts in all areas under discussion, your organization welcomes the CWG-Internet’s recognition that it needs the input of subject matter experts in specific Internet-related fields.
  2. Explain what your organization is and why it can help the CWG-Internet with its work.
    Don’t overdo the introduction to your organization, but do explain why you have expertise or interest in one or all of the three issues CWG-Internet is seeking input on. Do give links to, or append, any documents you have produced on the issues CWG-Internet is interested in.
  3. Note that, unfortunately, it’s not possible to give specific advice to the CWG-Internet given the overly broad parameters of the consultation, but welcome the opportunity to respond to more specific questions from the CWG-Internet.
    Including this will help pro-“open the CWG” governments argue for the need to make CWG-Internet’s documents available to non-government members, even if we can’t get the CWG-Internet meetings opened. By offering to answer any specific questions the CWG-Internet has on the issues they have sent to open consultation, we can hopefully get a more meaningful and informed dialogue happening between governments in the CWG-Internet and the wider ecosystem of Internet governance stakeholders.
  4. Provide links to forums that are already discussing the issues CWG-Internet is interested in, and encourage them to engage with those forums.
    In the interests of “enhanced cooperation”, take the time to direct governments to organizations and forums that are already discussing the issues that are the subject of the online consultation. If there’s a page associated with the forum that explains how to participate, include a link to that, too.
  5. Thank the CWG-Internet again, and tell them you look forward to engaging with them in future to assist in their deliberations.
    If you’re feeling really bold, you may want to encourage the CWG-Internet to consider more direct interaction with your organization and other non-government stakeholders in future, via more open CWG-Internet modalities.

CWG-Internet discussions at ITU Council 2013

ITU Council 2013

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

After the divisive discussions about the ITU’s role in Internet issues at WCIT in December 2012, the harmony that appeared to reign at WTPF-13 in May this year signaled hope for better relations between governments and other stakeholders in future Internet governance discussions. The ITU Council 2013, however, held 11-21 June 2013, showed that there are still many speed bumps in the road ahead.

The CWG-Internet decision at ITU Council 2013

The issue was discussed on four separate occasions during the two-week council meeting: 13 June, 14 June, 19 June, and 20 June. There were five formal proposals related to the Council Working Group on international Internet-related public policy issues (CWG-Internet) and the Chair of Council 2013 proposed two ways forward.

Ultimately, the decision on the CWG-Internet by the ITU Council 2013 was not to make a decision.

Instead, Member States informally accepted that the Secretary-General could, in his work to support ITU activities, energize the public consultations that the ITU Council 2012 agreed to adopt in Resolution 1344.

How the Secretariat-General will achieve this is not clear. However, it does seem very probable that the informal mechanism proposed by the Chair of Council 2013—that the Secretariat-General convene a meeting of an Informal Experts Group on the day prior to CWG-Internet meetings—will not be implemented. This is because Resolution 1344 requires a full month’s gap between when the public consultation period ends and when the CWG-Internet meets.

Please note that there was no resolution or decision related to this. Instead, there was simply informal acknowledgement that the Secretary-General will do something to encourage non-government stakeholder involvement in the existing open consultation process.

When is the next opportunity to open the CWG-Internet?

We now have to wait until the next ITU Plenipotentiary Conference (PP-14), 20 October-7 November 2014, for Member States to consider whether or not to open the Council Working Group on international Internet-related public policy issues (CWG-Internet) to non-government stakeholders.

What can non-government stakeholders do in the meantime?

  • Ask your government to allow you to be part of its delegation to CWG-Internet meetings. This is in keeping with the Secretary-General’s statement on a multiple occasions that multistakeholderism can occur in ITU through multistakeholder composition of Member State delegations.
  • Ask your government to share the CWG-Internet documents with you. If you’re particularly public-spirited, be one of the lovely souls who sends them to WCITleaks so others can read them, too.
  • Respond to the CWG-Internet online consultations. As of the time of writing this blog, only four responses have been received to the public consultation first announced in January. That’s less than one submission per month. Closing date for submissions is 1 August 2013. Respond, people!

More detail on what happened at ITU Council 2013

I have a habit of writing too much for a single blog post, so below are links to smaller sections, containing summaries and analysis on the CWG-Internet discussions that happened at ITU Council 2013:

Reflecting on what the Council decision means for the multistakeholder model

[This post is part of a series on the ITU Council 2013 discussions on CWG-Internet. To read from the beginning, go here.]

It’s all very well for pro-open CWG-Internet parties to use WTPF-13 as a shining example of multistakeholder participation, but in reality, the majority of multistakeholder participation happened in the preparatory Informal Experts Group (IEG) work and not at the WTPF-13 in May.

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

A number of States had, for various reasons, not participated in the three IEG meetings and, instead, expected WTPF-13 to follow the usual pattern of intergovernmental meetings: you turn up, you debate the proposed texts, you play around with square brackets, and make changes to the proposed texts until everyone is equally unhappy.

At WTPF-13, however, there was a strong push by governments who’d participated in the IEG process not to reopen debate on the carefully developed IEG consensus draft Opinions. Sure, remote participation was available for the IEG meetings, and many governments chose not to use it. The fact is, however, that in hindsight, WTPF-13 reinforced the main two opposing views held by governments in discussions about the Internet governance model:

  1. Multistakeholderism is effective in getting all views represented and included.
  2. Multistakeholderism benefits those with the money to participate while penalizing the developing world.

Those who participated in the IEG meetings tended to be the pro-multistakeholder crowd and were happy with the largely pro-multistakeholder text that came out of the IEG meetings.

Those who doubt the virtues of multistakeholderism tended to have skipped the IEG meetings, or, if they’d attended the IEG meetings, believed that IEG consensus texts could be reopened at WTPF-13. When those texts weren’t reopened in Geneva, they felt like their views had been excluded in a process that, ironically, was lauded for being “multistakeholder”.

Those holding the latter view were, quite understandably then, concerned that their last refuge of equality amongst governments, the CWG-Internet, might be opened. Given the rhetoric of multistakeholderism and its inclusion in the Tunis Agenda, however, it’s hard for States to openly reject multistakeholderism. Therefore, in the end, the formal proposals to open the CWG-Internet were defeated by the procedural issue of whether or not it was legal for the Council to change the contents of a Plenipotentiary resolution.

Of course, the Member States of the ITU will replay the CWG-Internet argument all over again in Busan during Plenipotentiary 2014. In Busan, however, there will be one major difference: the procedural arguments that defeated attempts to open the CWG-Internet, even on a limited trial basis, will no longer apply. The Plenipotentiary in 2014 will have the authority to update the resolutions made at Plenipotentiary 2010. The debate, therefore, is likely to focus on the value, or otherwise, of including non-government stakeholder participation in the CWG-Internet.

At this June’s ITU Council meeting, we caught a preview of the arguments that some Member States will probably use to keep the CWG-Internet closed during Plenipotentiary:

  • Multistakeholderism does not ensure equal representation of all views.
  • Multistakeholderism does not mean that individual stakeholder groups can’t hold their own (closed) meetings.
  • The Tunis Agenda states that each stakeholder group has a distinct role in Internet governance and “policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States”.
  • There are lots of other forums that other stakeholder groups can participate in, both at the ITU and in the wider Internet governance landscape

The last argument is the weakest, so I won’t deal with it any further here. But the first three arguments merit further consideration. For now, though, I’ll only address the first argument. I’ll blog later on the second two arguments later.

Argument against opening CWG-Internet: “Multistakeholderism does not ensure equal representation of all views”

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

It’s true that multistakeholderism, as practised today, leads to an unbalanced representation of stakeholder views. I disagree, however, with the Member State representative who said at ITU Council 2013 that until the problems of multistakeholderism are fixed, it shouldn’t be invoked in the CWG-Internet. If we waited for perfection before doing anything, the Internet, and many other things we rely on, would still not exist. However, we shouldn’t passively accept the problems with multistakeholderism either. Instead, we should all be looking for ways to ensure there are no barriers, financial or otherwise, for participation by all stakeholders in multistakeholder settings.

Unbalanced multistakeholder participation isn’t a problem limited to ITU. We also see it in the so-called “I* organizations”: ICANN, ISOC, IAB, IETF, the RIRs and W3C. Yes, there has been much work by the I* organizations to enable participation through fellowships, remote participation, multilingualism and more. But is it enough? Could the I* organizations do more? Can the large companies who have benefitted from the Internet plough some of their profits to help less well-resourced stakeholders participate in Internet governance discussions? Could governments from developing countries work more closely with stakeholders in their own countries to ensure a wider range of views are included?

Finding ways for those with more resources to assist stakeholders with limited resources is about ensuring that the Internet ecosystem survives. If supporters of the multistakeholder model of Internet governance really want to ensure that the model thrives and grows—even to the point of opening up the CWG-Internet—then it’s vital to use a community-developed approach to making that model more effective.

It can be very easy to criticize an opponent’s point of view. We’ve seen many times over the years how pro-multistakeholder parties point out the deficits of a government-only model. (I’ve done this myself). And we’ve seen pro-government parties point out the deficits of the multistakeholder model.

The problem with this model is that in focusing on our opponent’s flaws, we forget to about our own flaws. Or, even worse, we work so hard to hide our flaws from our opponent, we are scared to even admit to ourselves that what we do is less than perfect. The risk in such an approach is that it can alienate our own supporters.

This is where organizations invoking multistakeholder practices must be careful today. We must acknowledge where multistakeholderism isn’t working so well and fix it. We must listen to those who criticize our practices and find ways either to explain the merits of those practices or to examine those practices to address their concerns.

Of course, not all criticisms will be legitimate. But we should never reject a criticism out of hand simply because we don’t like the overall philosophy of those who are making it. Multistakeholderism is about embracing a variety of views, even if they are different to our own.

Right now, a number of governments are concerned about embracing multistakeholderism because they see it as a messy process where the loudest and best-resourced voices continue to dominate. They have a point. If we want them to let us in the CWG-Internet room when they’re having discussions, then we also need to make sure they feel that they can participate on an equal footing with better resourced governments and other stakeholders in other venues too.

We should all work on improving multistakeholder practices to ensure that all stakeholder voices, particularly those who have found it difficult to participate, are included. If we can do this, then one of the major arguments against having multistakeholder processes for the CWG-Internet will disappear.

Finally, if we are truly committed to multistakeholderism, we should ensure that we demonstrate good multistakeholder etiquette when interacting with the ITU. And how better to do that than ensure the full diversity of stakeholders respond to the current CWG-Internet’s open consultation before it closes on 1 August 2013? With only four submissions received since the consultation opened in February, we’re currently doing a terrible job of demonstrating the existence of even the faintest multistakeholder interest in participating in the CWG-Internet’s activities.

Member State views on opening the CWG-Internet

[This post is part of a series on the ITU Council 2013 discussions on CWG-Internet. To read from the beginning, go here.]

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

Member States on the Council were divided on whether or not to open the CWG-Internet to non-government stakeholders. There weren’t any surprises about which States supported which side; the divisions played out like pretty much all previous discussions on Internet-related issues at the ITU. One State didn’t want the CWG-Internet meetings opened, but were amenable to making its document available to all. Other States didn’t like the formal proposals to open the CWG-Internet, but were okay with the idea of an Informal Experts Group (more here) as proposed by the ITU Council 2013 Chair.

The various reasons that Member States in the two main camps gave for their positions are described below. Where some of the reasons seem to be more specific examples of a broader reason, I’ve sub-bulleted them. This doesn’t mean, however, that the same Member State stated both the main and sub-bulleted reasons.

Open the CWG-Internet because:

  • WTPF-13 had shown how well multistakeholderism can work.
    • Now is the right time to seize the opportunity to build on the momentum of the highly successful WTPF-13.
    • The outside world’s view of ITU changed with multistakeholder success of WTPF-13. If ITU chooses to keep the CWG-Internet a closed club, suspicion may return.
  • The Tunis Agenda has stated that the multistakeholder model is the appropriate model for Internet governance
  • Opening the CWG-Internet will have benefits for everyone, and particularly for developing countries.
    • Opening CWG-Internet sends an important political sign to the outside world that ITU is committed to openness and transparency.
    • Other stakeholders will bring the necessary expertise to CWG discussions on Internet issues. Diversity encourages broad and creative problem solving rooted in maximizing the effectiveness, efficiency and utility of the global Internet.
  • In the end, the work of the CWG-Internet will always be a Member State affair (it must report to Council), so there is nothing to be lost in opening participation in CWG-Internet meetings.
  • ITU Council shouldn’t be focusing on matters of process (“does Council have power to modify Plenipotentiary resolutions?”) but on matters of substance and principle (“Because CWG-Internet discussions affect all stakeholders, all stakeholders should have the opportunity to participate”).
  • The CWG-Internet is the only place in the foreseeable future that can make real decisions about Internet governance, and therefore must have multistakeholder input.
    • Other venues that discuss Internet governance are too far away or are non-decision making forums:
      • The next WTPF could be years away, and may not address Internet issues.
      • The IGF is annual event, but doesn’t make decisions.

Don’t open the CWG-Internet because:

  • ITU Council has no legal right to change any resolution adopted by the Plenipotentiary
  • ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 is only a year and a half away. There’s no need to rush and change things now.
    • It would be better to continue studying the issue and submit a more detailed report to Plenipotentiary to consider.
  • ITU Council is only a subset of ITU Member States and such an important decision should be discussed by all Member States.
  • CWG-Internet isn’t a forum. It’s a working body of the ITU.
  • Proposals to open CWG are basically changing the rule for decision-making on public policy issues within the ITU.
  • The openness of WCIT led to politicization on issues still at an early stage, making it very difficult for countries to reach agreement, and reducing effectiveness of the process. (The Secretary-General, who had proposed opening the CWG-Internet, also referred to this same issue during the Council meeting.)
  • WTPF-13 wasn’t the great success that some of the Member States say it was. When Member States arrived onsite, they found they weren’t supposed to reopen any texts that had reached consensus at the final IEG meeting. Brazil’s proposed “Opinion 7“, because it hadn’t reached IEG consensus, also couldn’t be adopted at WTPF, but was instead deferred to the CWG-Internet.
  • Multistakeholderism in Internet governance is problematic because it doesn’t represent all stakeholders.
    • Only stakeholders with the resources can attend. In particular, stakeholders from developing countries aren’t represented effectively.
    • Until multistakeholderism is more representative of the true diversity of views, a government-only approach, which allows the diversity of all country’s views to be adequately represented, should be maintained.
    • Multistakeholderism itself should be addressed by public policy since stakeholders do not come in similar sizes and packages. These days, some of the companies involved in Internet activities are bigger than most of the countries in the Council. At WCIT, some of the delegates were put under immense pressure, and even threatened. (The Member State representative who made this comment didn’t know who made such threats, but had heard that it had happened.)
  • There are lots of other Internet governance related forums that other stakeholders can attend, including WTPF and IGF.
  • CWG-Internet has a very specific mandate: to discuss international public policy issues related to the Internet. Public policy is a government responsibility so it is only right that the CWG-Internet remain an exclusively governments-only environment.
  • Under the multistakeholder model in Tunis Agenda, each stakeholder group has a different role to play. International public policy is sovereign right of each country.
  • Stakeholders can and should take part in all the work of the ITU, but within the regulatory framework described in the Constitution and Convention.
  • CWG-Internet already has a method to engage with other stakeholders: the open consultation process.
  • It is a sensitive issue that Member States have discussed for a long time, without finding a solution.
  • ITU shouldn’t take any action, just to “appease the masses”. Instead, it’s important to take the appropriate action.
  • Why can’t individual stakeholder groups have their own space to discuss Internet governance issues amongst themselves? Why must everyone be in the same room when we discuss the Internet? Inclusivity of discussions is laudable, but it doesn’t mean that there can’t be side discussions for individual stakeholder groups as well.

In addition, Member States voiced some general concerns and opinions during the discussions:

  • Opening up the CWG-Internet could create an imbalance in terms of representativeness. If ITU were to open the CWG-Internet, it would have to take steps to ensure that developing country participants were supported.
  • One Council member had no problems opening the CWG-Internet to stakeholders who are responsible for public policy, but not for stakeholders who aren’t responsible for public policy.
  • How can stakeholders engage in the CWG-Internet’s work (in whatever form) if they can’t also have access to the documents?
  • One Council member believed that to gain the capacity to do the CWG’s work well, outside involvement could be useful, but the modalities of such participation needed to be addressed.

In response to the discussions by Member States about whether now was the time to respond to community calls for greater openness, the Secretary-General reflected:

“Let’s not be influenced by people who are listening to us. No. We should just be influenced by what is right. We’ll not be judged by only what we do and the way we do it, but we’ll also be judged by what we did not do. That’s also something we need to keep in mind.”

By not reaching a formal decision, but allowing the Secretary-General to energize the CWG-Internet open consultations, the 2013 ITU Council seemed to have achieved that delicate balance between action and non-action that the Secretary-General alluded to.