ITU PP14 Day 3: An overview

Quote of the day

“ITU is an old lady who serves the interests of us all.” – France

The real work begins… sort of

pp14-busan-twitterThe first meeting of the Working Group of Plenary was held on Day 3 in parallel with Plenary (more policy statements by Member States) and Committee 3 (budget control).

The Chair is Musab Abdulla from Bahrain, who I became a fan of during WCIT in 2012 (I embarrassed myself and freaked out Musab when I over-enthusiastically told him at IGF in Bali, “Oh my god, I’m such a fan of yours! I watched you on the WCIT webcast!”)

As with the any new group that is forming, the WG spent a lot of time trying to find common ground among its members. There was a particularly long discussion on the correct terminology for the groups to be spun out of the WG: were they to be informal groups, small groups, drafting groups or ad hoc groups? In the end, we had “ad hoc groups”. The group discussed Resolution 35, Telecommunication support for the protection of the environment. Some felt that a more recent resolution, Resolution 182, The role of telecommunications/information and communication technologies in regard to climate change and the protection of the environment, covered the contents of the older resolution, and the older resolution could be suppressed. Other States believed that Resolution 35 had elements that were not included in Resolution 182. In the end, the Chair suggested that any decision about suppressing Resolution 35 be deferred until proposals to amend Resolution 182 had been discussed and resolved.

Electioneering ramped up

So many receptions by Member States hoping to have their representatives elected to various ITU positions. If you were a head of delegation (many of the receptions were limited to the highest member of delegations only), you had a choice of:

  • Thailand’s morning coffee break (for all)
  • UK’s stand up cocktails over lunch (offsite)
  • Saudi Arabia’s lunch (for all)
  • Kenya’s lunch
  • France’s evening reception (offsite)
  • Canada’s evening reception (offsite)
  • India’s evening reception (offsite)
  • Mauritania’s evening reception (at the PP14 venue)
  • Nigeria’s dinner (at the PP14 venue)
  • Indonesia’s dinner (offsite, and beginning at 9 pm)

Nobody was interested in sponsoring an afternoon coffee break on Day 3.

If you think that all those evening receptions and dinners means that delegates are now carrying an extra 10 kilos or so weight this morning, think again. In an effort not to offend any hosting Member State (which could result in that Member State choosing not to vote for you), heads of delegation were flitting from event to event, often having to leave receptions before the food had begun to be served. Six evening receptions and dinners can result in an unintended fast… believe it or not.

Member States with candidates in the various elections taking place also took the opportunity to work the Plenary room before Plenary sessions formally began. Poland, with their large electioneering badges, were particularly active room workers.

More policy statements from Member States

Although these seem to be never-ending, they will come to a close shortly, I promise. We had a personal best on Day 3, with a total of 40 States presenting their policy statements:

  1. Thailand
  2. Tunisia
  3. Somalia
  4. Zimbabwe
  5. Nepal
  6. Iraq
  7. Ghana
  8. Cuba
  9. Papua New Guinea
  10. Nigeria
  11. Cameroon
  12. Malawi
  13. Rwanda
  14. Mozambique
  15. Jamaica
  16. Swaziland
  17. Chile
  18. Germany
  19. Kuwait
  20. Palestine
  21. Niger
  22. Turkey
  23. Georgia
  24. Vanuatu
  25. Italy
  26. Colombia
  27. Indonesia
  28. Burundi
  29. Djibouti
  30. Laos
  31. Paraguay
  32. Costa Rica
  33. Bangladesh
  34. South Sudan
  35. Democratic Republic of the Congo
  36. Samoa
  37. Philippines
  38. Israel
  39. France
  40. Namibia

An overall trend in many of the policy statements

Over the three days of policy statements to date, a very large number of developing countries have made requests for ITU to continue its capacity building work. For many developing States, ICT-related capacity within the government is still at such limited levels, the government cannot even begin to think about developing their own policy positions on issues such as child online protection, cybersecurity and Internet governance. Often, for developing or very small countries, the department or ministry handling ICT issues also handles a broad range of other issues completely unrelated to ICTs. Such governments, therefore, often rely heavily on the ITU to provide them with assistance and advice on how to advance ICT within their borders. Those States often also rely heavily on the leading G77 States to set the policy direction for developing countries and will support general G77 positions on ICT issues. These developing countries, therefore, tend not to include policy positions in their policy statements, but emphasize, more pragmatically, the need for ITU to continue its capacity building activities. This doesn’t mean that their statements are any less important. What it does mean, however, is that not all Member States are engaging, or interested in engaging, in many of the policy debates that will be happening over the next two weeks here. However, if it ever comes down to a vote, these States with less capacity will tend to align themselves with G77 positions on the issues. While developed western States tend to be exasperated by this, it reflects the reality that when you don’t have the capacity to develop your own views on an issue, you tend to align yourself with those most like you: in this case, the better developed, but still developing, leaders of the G77.

Highlights from the policy statements

  • Cuba stated that they believed many of the goals of WSIS remain unfulfilled and that PP14 was appropriate forum to address these outstanding issues. It also took the opportunity to talk about the USA’s trade blockade against Cuba, noting that despite 55 years of USA’s blockade, Cuba had still managed to make many advances in its ICT sector. It also highlighted attempts by others (that is, the USA) to use of ICTs to undermine Cuba’s political and socioeconomic framework. At the ITU Council 2014 meeting that took place mid-year, Cuba explicitly mentioned the “Cuban twitter”, Zunzuneo, but it did not name that particular program by the USA here in PP14.
  • France supported efforts by outgoing Secretary General, Dr Toure, to turn the ITU into a multi-actor, multistakeholder organization. It acknowledged that ITU is working in more open way, with free access to online texts and more transparent processes. Amusingly, the live English translation of France’s statement included the following delightful statement: “ITU is an old lady who serves the interests of us all.” Grande dame. France meant “grande dame”. It should not have been translated into English.
  • Germany stated thatITU should not be politicized, as this would overburden the institution. Germany was strongly in support of multistakeholder Internet governance, stating, “governance of the Internet cannot be legitimately discussed in the restricted circles of government representatives in a technical organization. For further developing Internet governance, Germany will therefore stick to the multi-stakeholder model of internet governance.” Germany also expressed strong support for applying human rights to the online environment.
  • Ghana highlighted the role big data could potentially play in combatting the current Ebola outbreak. Given three Member States (Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia) were specifically requested by South Korea not to attend PP14 due to the government’s concerns about Ebola entering the country, it seems unfortunate that these three most affected countries will not be able to participate in the Secretary General’s Ebola Consultative and Brain storming session happening on Monday 27 October at 3:30 pm. Ghana also expressed support for multistakeholder governance, noting that the composition of their delegation was evidence of their commitment to multistakeholderism.
  • Iran called for the creation of an international coalition of ICT sector actors with the aim of preventing terrorists from using ICTs to further their goals.
  • Israel chose not to respond to Palestine’s policy statement, saying that PP14 was not the appropriate venue to discuss its differences with Palestine. But it’s unlikely that this will be the last time that the Palestine/Israel conflict is raised at PP14.
  • Nigeria highlighted how they had used social media (a combination of an Android app, Facebook and Twitter) to combat Ebola.
  • Palestine, which is not yet formally recognized as a Member State,objected to Israel’sblocking of Palestine’s access to ICT equipment, in contravention with ITU resolutions.
  • Samoa stated that they believed that the development of ICTs in their country had been a contributing factor from their move from “Least Developing Country” to “Developing Country” on the UN scale of development. With the role ICTs can play largely missing from the discussion of post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals, this was a timely reminder of how ICTs really do enable substantial economic development, even for small island states like Samoa.
  • Somalia spoke about their enthusiasm for using ICT in innovative ways, including national identity cards that would be partially based on IPv6 numbers. I suspect Somalia may not be aware of the privacy debates in the early days of IPv6 about the potential to track users by binding a user’s (theoretically unique) MAC address to create their IPv6 address.

Badge envy at ITU PP14

Overheard this morning as a Member State delegate inspected the collection of electioneering badges on another delegate’s lanyard: “Aw, you’ve got the Chinese one. I really wanted one of those!”

Yes, folks, the most coveted items at PP14 are election badges being distributed by States. Personally, I’m coveting the “Bruce” badge from Canada.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you have any intention of voting for the country whose badge you are wearing/are trying to obtain. What matters is that the badge is cool. Australia’s koala badge is cool. Australia’s wattle blossom flower badge is not. There are still plenty of Australian wattle badges, if you want an extra badge and aren’t particularly fussy about what’s on it.


ITU PP14 Day 2: An overview

Plenipotentiary Conference 2018 announcedpp14-busan-twitter

We’ve hardly begun this conference, and we already have a venue for the next Plenipotentiary in 2018: the United Arab Emirates. The UAE hosted another big ITU event, the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), in 2012.

Women’s breakfast

There are now regular breakfasts at big ITU events aimed at helping women in the ITU community network. The first networking meal between women took place in 1992, with only 13 women present. This has grown over the years until there are now this many women and their supporters at the PP14 women’s breakfast:

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

A series of rather grim statistics about women’s participation in ICTs was presented, including:

  • Only 9% of app developers in Europe are women
  • Only 6% of the CEOs world’s top 100 technology companies are women
  • There are 200 million fewer women online in the world than men
  • The ratio of women studying ICTs has reduced significantly over the past couple of decades

In contrast, attendance by women at ITU Plenipotentiaries 2010 and 2014 looks positively rosy: in both plenipots, women have formed around 21% of the total delegate population.

The breakfast ended on a more upbeat note, with four female ICT ministers from Nigeria, Poland, Qatar and Sudan answering questions about the role and prospects for women in ICT.

Policy statements

There were 37 policy statements by Member States on Tuesday. While most of the statements on Day 1 were within the five-minute limit, statement lengths started to creep over that time limit on Day 2. The countries that spoke were:

  1. Malaysia
  2. China
  3. Kirgizstan
  4. Ukraine
  5. Sudan
  6. Mali
  7. Bhutan
  8. Gabon
  9. Uganda
  10. Kenya
  11. Argentina
  12. Ethiopia
  13. South Africa
  14. Singapore
  15. Bahrain
  16. Egypt
  17. Brazil
  18. Romania
  19. Hungary
  20. Mauritania
  21. Burkina Faso
  22. United Arab Emirates
  23. Algeria
  24. Tanzania
  25. Afghanistan
  26. Côte d’Ivoire
  27. Zambia
  28. India
  29. Myanmar
  30. Iran
  31. Peru
  32. Angola
  33. Dominican Republic
  34. UK
  35. Mexico
  36. Cyprus
  37. Lithuania

Most of the statements followed the standard format of thanks, facts and figures about ICT developments in their countries and a request to please vote for them in this week’s ITU elections. Many developing countries also referred to the assistance they had received from ITU and other ITU Member States to help develop their ICT infrastructure and services. It is worth remembering that the assistance the ITU has been able to provide to developing countries is one of the main reasons so many developing countries are such strong supporters of ITU. For these countries, ITU really has been an effective UN body. Of course, the other side of the coin is that the occupants of the some of the largest donor States do not see ITU doing anything to progress their needs or wants, and wonder if their money is being well spent (for example, there was a 2013 petition asking the US government to stop funding the ITU).

Highlights from the policy statements:

  • Afghanistan reported on the exponential growth of ICTs in its country since 2002, when its citizens needed to cross into adjoining countries to make a simple phone call. If you ever wondered whether the ITU is relevant in this day and age, cases like Afghanistan prove that it can and does play a fundamental role in supporting the development of ICTs in developing countries.
  • Brazil, which couldn’t get any mention of NETmundial included in this year’s CSTD draft ECOSOC resolution on WSIS follow-up, did make sure it highlighted NETmundial in its policy statement. It also highlighted President Roussef’s speech at the UN General Assembly in 2013, where she presented her principles for management of the Internet, which then became the underlying framework of the NETmundial outcome document.
  • India, which has a reputation for having a rather multiple personality approach to Internet governance (it depends which department is doing the talking), presented a pro-multilateral position in its policy statement. It highlighted its concerns that a country’s critical information infrastructure could be knocked out by cyber attacks and hoped that via ITU, Member States would work to harmonize their national policy and regulations to provide an effective response to cyber threats. India’s policy statement is directly linked to their very recently proposal for a new resolution, ITU’s role in realizing Secure Information Society. India previously submitted the proposal to the regional Asia Pacific group of ITU Member States, the Asia Pacific Telecommunity, but there was no consensus to support it as a common Asia Pacific proposal. Finally, clearly having missed the memo that ITU now embraces gender equality and mainstreaming, it referred to its fellow Member States as “brotherly”. Hm.
  • Iran had one of the most interesting of speeches to date. Not particularly known as a vocal supporter of the multistakeholder principles of WSIS, Iran referred a number of times to “stakeholders”. It never actually said the “M” word (“multistakeholder”) but the mere use of the term “stakeholder”, a concept that is integral to multistakeholderism, is significant.
  • Malaysia, with their recent experience of the loss of two Malaysian Airlines planes, stressed the importance of developing more advanced systems of communications for the airline industry. While this may seem like a very specific concern to be raising, it demonstrates the fact that Member State priorities at ITU are often direct responses to immediate and very personal experiences of the country.
  • Mexico announced that it is so committed to the work ITU is doing, it is raising its financial contribution to ITU from one contributory unit to three. That amounts to an extra CHF 600,000 per year.
  • UK, which supports a common European regional proposal to open the vast majority of ITU documents to the public,took the opportunity toemphasize its believe that ITU should make its processes and forums transparent and made publicly available wherever possible. This is probably linked, in particular, to previous debates in ITU Council about making the meetings and documents of the Member States-only Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet) available to other Internet governance stakeholders. Those ITU Council meetings decided that it wasn’t up to the Council to decide on the issue, but it had to be a matter for all States at the Plenipotentiary to reach agreement on.
  • Ukraine, deeply unhappy about Russia’s annexation of Crimea, took the opportunity to describe Crimea as a “temporarily occupied territory of Ukraine” and protest the use of Ukrainian telecommunication networks and frequencies by Russian telecommunication operators and broadcasting organizations now operating in Crimea. So we can add the new set of tensions between Ukraine and Russia to the traditional tensions between USA and Cuba and Palestine and Israel to the mix of geopolitical hostilities that will crop up from time to time during the week. Of course, a specialized UN forum like the ITU is not going to be able to settle such problems, but given there is no one-stop-shop venue to settle these inter-country disputes, the aggrieved countries will use every UN forum to raise the profile of their dispute in the hope that specialized resolutions from individual UN forums may over time help their greater cause.

Still to come in Week 1 of PP14

pp14-busan-twitterWeek 1 of Plenipot is largely about elections, food and gifts. The food and gifts are direct results of Member States trying to convince other Member States to vote for them in the countless positions that are up for election here in Busan. I asked one Member State if rich food diplomacy really convinced others to cast votes in a certain way. I was told that it didn’t, but it did help raise awareness of who was running for elections, particularly for those running from less well-known States.


We will also hear a lot more five-minute policy statements from Member States and do a lot of general preparation for the following two weeks where the real work will take place. While the policy statements can seem a little mind numbing to listen to, given the general similarity of their content, they can also be useful indicators of the general positions the States will maintain in the following two weeks. You just have to find the nuggets of gold from amongst all the national ICT facts and figures, “vote for us” and thank you and congratulatory messages that they contain.

Week 1 is also a chance to build relationships between delegates, which will help with negotiations in Weeks 2 and 3. Never underestimate the power of inter-personal connections to bridge geopolitical divides.

A lot of delegates will disappear once elections have taken place at PP14 as they came to Busan to help with the lobbying for votes and won’t have a role to play once participants begin the hard work of drafting updated resolutions. The delegates remaining behind will then have two weeks of late nights and early mornings in drafting groups without much access to food to work off the weight gained at all the receptions held this week.


There will also be an influx of new delegates arriving toward the end of the week and early next week. These new delegates will be focussed on doing the less glamorous, but substantive, work of the conference: drafting resolutions and other key documents that will steer ITU’s path over the next four years.