How ITU Council 2013 reached its non-decision on 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.]

The four phases I describe below should not be confused with the four separate occasions that the ITU Council 2013 discussed the Council Working Group on international Internet-related public policy issues (CWG-Internet) in its plenary sessions. Instead, the phases are an attempt to help readers better understand how the discussion changed focus over the two weeks of ITU Council 2013.

Phase 1: Member States discuss the formal proposals on opening the CWG-Internet

It was clear from the initial Member States comments about the four proposals to open the CWG-Internet that it wasn’t going to be easy to find middle ground between the “open CWG-Internet” versus “keep CWG-Internet as is” positions.

Phase 2: The Chair suggests an ad-hoc group to find potential middle ground

After the first round of comments, the Chair of ITU Council 2013, Catalin Marinescu, from Romania, initially proposed an ad hoc group to examine ways forward that would be acceptable to the Council. However, a Council member stated that, in Council, all Member States needed to participate in the discussions. An ad hoc group was fine when used for drafting documents at ITU meetings, but was an inappropriate to use within the context of a Council session.

Phase 3: The Chair suggests bypassing need for official Council decision altogether

The Chair’s second suggested compromise was to invite the ITU Secretary-General to convene a balanced informal group of experts open to all stakeholders (IEG-Internet).

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

This IEG-Internet would be composed of experts invited by the Secretary-General from ITU sector members and non-ITU member entities with Internet governance expertise and experience based on the roles and responsibilities they may possess according to paragraph 35 of the Tunis Agenda. Under this second compromise suggested by the Chair, the Secretary-General would work to improve the participation of developing country stakeholders in the meetings of IEG-Internet. The IGF-Internet would meet on the day before the CWG-Internet’s own meeting, with the Secretary-General summarizing the IEG-Internet’s expert opinions in his own submission to the CWG. To enable ITU to get the best expert opinions on issues under discussion at the CWG-Internet, the IEG-Internet would need to have access to CWG documents.

The compromise was designed to sidestep the problem of reaching a decision in the Council by reframing multistakeholder participation in the CWG-Internet’s work as an administrative support function of the Secretary-General. As such, there was no need for the Council to publish a decision or resolution on the issue at all.

You might think that at this point, given the Council didn’t need to make a decision on the issue at all, that the discussion would come to an end. But you would be wrong. The Council was currently only halfway through the discussion at this point.

Phase 4: The Council discusses whether or not they like the non-decision option

  • One Member State was concerned about the relationship between the IEG-Internet and CWG-Internet.
  • Another was concerned about the financial ramifications of holding IEG-Internet meetings.
  • A Member State who supported the Chair’s compromise suggested that having the IEG before PP-14 would be a good way for PP-14 participants to be better informed about how Plenipotentiary Resolution 102 (Rev. Guadalajara, 2010) could be updated to include the participation of other stakeholders.
  • Another Member State was concerned about the legal implications of having an IEG-Internet meeting the day before CWG-Internet. ITU Council 2012 Resolution 1344 states that public consultations must end one month before CWG. A meeting the day before CWG would contradict that resolution.

The Chair had made his compromise proposal verbally, which had confused some of the Member States (English is not everyone’s first language and simultaneous interpretation doesn’t always allow the finer nuances of a proposal to be communicated). He therefore offered to produce a draft explaining the proposal in more detail. However, one Member State objected to this.

The Member State believed that as the action of the Secretary-General didn’t need the approval of the Council members, it would be inappropriate for the Chair of the Council to document what he thought the Secretary-General should do. Instead, recording the discussion in the minutes would suffice. The same Member State also insisted that it was up to the Secretary-General to decide how to energize the public consultation—which the same Member State noted had not received much public input to date—and not up to the Chair to suggest to the Secretary-General that an IEG be created.

Where we are now

It will be up to the Secretary-General to decide how he will encourage stakeholder participation in the CWG-Internet open consultations. However, the deadline for current open consultations is now less than a month away: 1 August 2013.

It is very unlikely that the Secretary-General can do much at all to support multistakeholder input into the second CWG-Internet meeting for 2013. Any face-to-face meeting for multistakeholder input before the 1 August public consultation deadline is likely to be poorly attended given the short timeframe involved. So it is likely that all the Secretary-General can do in the short-time is send letters to various Internet governance stakeholders and ask them write a written response to the open consultation. Right now, there are only four responses to the public consultation, which is pretty poor given the open consultation opened back in February. (As an aside, it’s interesting to note that none of the responses to date are from the key Internet organizations which have, in the past, been vocal in calling for greater inclusion of multistakeholder views in ITU’s work on Internet issues.)

There is the possibility that the Secretary-General could perhaps do more than send letters to non-government stakeholders for the CWG-Internet’s meeting early next year. Perhaps there could be a proto-IEG-Internet meeting in the fourth quarter this year. The issue, however, would be in ensuring that developing country stakeholders could be equally represented at such a meeting without affecting ITU’s already tight budget.

Toward the future

Depending on how successful the open consultation process is in the lead-up to the next two CWG-Internet meetings, there may be the possibility to allay many of the fears of Member States who currently oppose any form of opening up the CWG, no matter how minimal. But the future modalities of the CWG-Internet is not the only issue that we should think about here. We should also think about how we can all address some of the very real concerns some governments have about the multistakeholder Internet governance model.

Formal proposals regarding 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.]

There were four CWG-Internet related proposals by Member States and one proposal by the Secretary-General:

Contribution 64, ITU Secretary-General

Annex A of the report on WTPF-13 was a draft resolution, Participation of all Stakeholders in the Council Working Group on international Internet-related Public Policy Issues. It recommended that, given the success of multistakeholder participation in WTPF-13, PP-14 make CWG-Internet open to all stakeholders. It recommended that in the interim, the CWG-Internet be make open to all stakeholders on a provisional “test” basis. The rationale for the “test” opening of the CWG-Internet before PP-14 was that it would help Member States at PP-14 make a better-informed decision on how the dynamics of multistakeholderism in the group would work.

Contribution 67, Russia

This proposal states that as many WTPF-13 delegates supported both the need to define the role of governments in the Internet governance model and the need for further discussion of the issues raised in Brazil’s “Opinion 7“, the CWG-Internet should define general principles for State participation and the role of governments in the Internet governance model for consideration at PP-14.

Despite the similarity to the “operationalizing enhanced cooperation” discussions happening at the CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC), the proposal avoids directly referring to “enhanced cooperation”. Instead, it refers to WTPF-13 Opinion 5 by number, rather than by its full title, On supporting operationalizing the Enhanced Cooperation Process.

Contribution 69, USA

USA proposed amending Council resolutions 1336, which created the CWG-Internet in 2011, and 1344, which in 2012 defined how CWG-Internet open consultations would take place. USA proposes opening CWG-Internet to all stakeholders and making all CWG-Internet documents freely available to all. The successful use of open and transparent discussions during the deliberations of the Informal Experts Group during WTPF-13 preparations is used as the reason to open the CWG-Internet.

Contribution 70, Sweden

Sweden’s proposal suggests that all CWG-Internet documents should be freely accessible to all stakeholders, with a provision that, on a case-by-case basis, individual documents still be kept accessible to governments only, if felt necessary. This is Sweden’s second attempt to get CWG-Internet documents made publicly available. The first time was at last year’s ITU Council 2012 meeting, where it submitted Contribution 65, Contribution from Sweden – Council Working Group on international Internet-related public policy issues (CWG-Internet. It uses WTPF-13 as an example of how well multistakeholderism can works within ITU’s Internet-related discussions.

Contribution 84, Poland

Poland proposed holding a discussion to amend Plenipotentiary Resolution 102 (Rev. Guadalajara, 2010) to open CWG-Internet to other stakeholders. Note that the proposal isn’t to open the CWG-Internet. It’s a proposal to discuss opening the CWG-Internet. As with the USA, Sweden and ITU Secretary-General proposals, it uses the success of multistakeholder participation at WTPF-13 to explain why opening the CWG is a good idea.

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”.

IGF open consultations in May

The IGF may need to reconsider the open consultations format if this May’s open consultation was any indication. I used the transcripts (and here) to perform a rough analysis of who spoke on the day and this is the outcome (rounded down to the nearest thousand words):


Who said what during May 2013 IGF open consultations

    Notes on the pie chart:

    • Markus Kummer’s words have been split from the others because of his role as interim Chair.
    • Likewise, I grouped together the word count from the informational presentations by the Indonesian local hosts, the official welcoming speeches by EBU and UNDESA and the comments by Chengetai Masango in his IGF Secretariat administrative role.

If you add up the total number of words said by Kummer, MAG members, and the miscellaneous others, that’s a whopping 30,000 words compared to only 12,000 words from non-MAG members.

Even if you remove the miscellaneous others, it’s still 27,000 words from MAG members and the Chair to a mere 12,000 from non-MAG participants (including remote interventions).

Another way of viewing it: of the 42,000 words spoken at the May open consultations, only 12,000 were spoken by the general Internet governance community.

Is the answer as simple as reminding MAG members that the open consultation day is for them to gather feedback from the community? Or is the problem more complex than overly talkative MAG members? Is the problem related to the Internet governance community itself?

Non-MAG members who spoke on the day

The majority of non-MAG member contributions came from a handful of well-known faces: Marilyn Cade, Milton Mueller, Zahid Jamil (ex-MAG), Martin Boyle and Avri Doria. All of these people have been prominent members of the Internet governance world for the last decade or more. I am not in any way criticizing their contributions. All have strong opinions on Internet governance issues and it is good that they contributed their views. They also represent different perspectives from within the business, technical and civil society stakeholder groups, which is important to the multistakeholder IGF.

But where was the wider community? The newer voices? The voices that the IGF is supposed to be encouraging to participate in the wider Internet governance ecosystem?

Why are so few newer voices participating in the preparations?

Contributing to open consultations isn’t limited to those who can afford the trip to Geneva. Remote participation is available to all. However, only around 30 people in total logged into the remote participation room on the open consultation day. One of the problems could have been the decision to schedule the preparatory meeting at the same time as the Stockholm Internet Forum. The Stockholm Internet Forum attracted a lot of the Internet governance crowd who may normally be interested in IGF open consultations. But the open consultations began a day before the Stockholm Internet Forum started, meaning that those who had arrived in Stockholm could have participated remotely.

Is it enough that newer voices participate in the annual global IGF? Is it okay that they don’t participate in the preparatory processes?

Given the fact that, during the MAG meeting that followed the open consultations, MAG members repeatedly commented that proposed workshops submitted by newcomers were consistently lower in quality than those submitted by the usual crowd, we may be seeing a negative feedback loop in action…

It’s difficult for newcomers, particularly from developing countries, to attend IGF without a specific purpose (being a speaker or session organizer). In turn, it’s hard for newcomers to know from experience what makes a good workshop, leading to their workshop proposals being rejected. And by not having workshops accepted, they yet again can’t justify attending IGF, leading newcomers to perhaps not feel they have enough experience to contribute meaningfully to IGF preparatory processes.

The developing country participants on the MAG certainly expressed a need for IGF to address the difficulties faced by developing country stakeholders during the May meeting. As a result, the MAG had agreed to work with the lower-scored workshop proposals from newcomers in an attempt to include more newcomers in the organizing of IGF activities.

With any luck, this may encourage more newcomers to participate in next year’s IGF preparatory process.

What is the future of the IGF open consultation day?

Another view is that the preparatory processes is just not important enough for most of the Internet community to set aside time to participate in. Let’s face it. The Internet governance calendar is already splitting at the seams with worthy events.

In which case, is it important that IGF continue following the open and participative process of holding open consultations, even if most of the wider community chooses not to participate? Is maintaining the principle of seeking multistakeholder input into a multistakeholder event more important than the reality: a lack of significant and diverse input by the community?

Given the MAG members made the overwhelming majority of contributions at this May open consultation meeting, perhaps it might be making the first day of the three-day preparatory meeting more flexible. For example, perhaps the Chair could ask MAG members to refrain from commenting during the open consultations-except to answer questions from non-MAG participants-and if all non-MAG members have exhausted their contributions by lunch or early afternoon, the MAG meeting could begin earlier.

There are lots of other ways IGF could encourage more participation on open consultation days, including:

  • Don’t hold the open consultations in the same week as another major Internet governance event
  • Limit the number of interventions any one person can make
  • Actively ask the quiet people who are in the room (or in the remote participation room), but haven’t requested the floor, for their opinions on specific issues under discussion
  • In advance of the meeting, publish specific questions for the community to consider rather than a general call for contributions
  • Have MAG members reach out to people in their professional spheres to encourage them to participate remotely, if only for an hour or two
  • Have MAG members conduct outreach when attending other Internet governance-related events, collecting feedback from the community on the fly, and report back during open consultation days on what they’ve been told by members of the community

Oh, and don’t let anyone who’s submitted a multi-page written contribution, particularly if they’re a MAG member, read out their contribution in its entirety at the beginning of the open consultation. It’s a mood killer, for sure.