ITU PP14 Day 1: An overview

pp14-busan-twitter A lot of Day 1 of PP14 was about looking good. The South Korean hosts of the event wanted to present the best of Korean ICTs and culture to the world. The outgoing Secretary-General wanted to present his stewardship over the last four years of ITU as a success (yep, even that WCIT bit). Member States wanted to present themselves as being progressive leaders of ICT adoption and innovation.

There wasn’t much of substance discussed on Day 1, so the overview of the day below is rather short:

Opening Ceremony

Opening ceremonies like this are fairly predictable affairs, whether they be at ITU, ICANN or the IGF: they’re full of very earnest statements to the already converted about the importance of the organization whose meeting it is, followed by a bunch of facts and figures showing how the local host country is a leader in the area of whatever topic the meeting is focusing on. This is followed by glitzy videos of local culture and attractions. Everyone agrees with the speakers on how important the work of the meeting is (“Yeah! We’re doing Very Important Things!”) and then wonder if they can slip away at some point to experience some of the touristy things they’re being shown glimpses of.

The highlight of the P14 Opening Ceremony was the president of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, speaking. She spoke about the hyper-connected digital world we are moving into. Her presence, however, resulted in wifi and mobile phone signals being jammed in the room for the duration of the Ceremony. People had to pay attention to the speakers instead of surfing the Net. Oh, the hardship of it all.

Plenary 1

Outgoing Secretary-General Dr Hamadone Toure spoke confidently about how well the next three weeks would proceed and how much cooperation and collaboration there would be between delegates to develop goals for ITU to achieve in the next four years. In other words, there will be good outcomes, y’all hear? Even if it means Dr Toure has to come into the room and beat heads together until you learn the value of cooperation, ‘kay?

qatar-speaking

Member States embarked on the first of many sessions that will include Policy Statements from Member States. There are 193 Member States, and all have the option to speak for five minutes, so we could be in for a bit of marathon over the next few days as we try and get through them all.

Countries that delivered their speeches on Day 1 were:

  1. South Korea
  2. Japan
  3. Russia
  4. Saudi Arabia
  5. Viet Nam
  6. Qatar
  7. Azerbaijan
  8. Jordan
  9. Poland
  10. Kazakhstan
  11. Lebanon

Not all have been translated into other languages yet, but policy statements are published shortly after they have been presented on the floor.

Rather than try and explain what the contents of all these policy statements were about, here’s a summary of it in 140 characters:

Finally, three highlights from the policy statements:

  • Japan supported the multistakeholder model of ICTs without ever using the word “multistakeholder”. Is “multistakeholder” becoming as taboo as references to “NETmundial” in some circles? Is it possible that Japan is trying to encourage some of the other States to embrace the concept of multistakeholderism by repackaging it in ways that they won’t balk at?
  • Russia emphasized their deep concerns about cyber threats and the need for an international (intergovernmental) approach to tackling these problems. This should not surprise anyone as it is a position they have had for a long time now. The English interpretation of their speech talked about concerns about domain names and databases being corrupted, causing routing problems. Until we get a more leisurely translation of the written version of the speech, however, I would advise not becoming overly excited or concerned about this reference, as nuances of meaning can be lost in live interpretation.
  • Saudi Arabia requested that the ITU play a leading role in the preparatory process for the overall review of the 10th anniversary of WSIS happening in 2015. The UN General Assembly resolved earlier this year that the preparatory process begin in June 2015, culminating in a High-Level Meeting during the General Assembly in December 2015. ITU was the initiator of the original WSIS process, having first passed a resolution on WSIS back at its 1998 Plenipotentiary. In 2001, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution that turned it into a UN-wide event. Given ITU’s pivotal role in creating the WSIS process, it is understandable that some Member States may want ITU to have a pre-eminent role in the upcoming WSIS+10 overall review. Particularly as two of the other key UN bodies involved in the WSIS+10 review process, UNESCO and CSTD, have demonstrated a more multistakeholder-friendly attitude toward the WSIS process. The ITU, on the other hand, is still an active battle ground between States that want ITU to be more multistakeholder and those that want ITU to remain predominantly intergovernmental in nature.

A light-hearted look at PP14 Day 1: delegates are just like you and me

pp14-busan-twitterBy “you and me”, I don’t mean the average person on the street, by the way. I’m thinking about the crazy crew of Internet governance folk who attend meetings such as IGF, ICANN and the like.

1. They embrace and kiss each other warmly after not seeing each other for sometimes… whole weeks.

Do not laugh, Internet governance people. You are extremely guity of this – moving from this week’s Internet governance-related meeting to next week’s Internet governance meeting and greeting each other like you haven’t seen each other in years. Two kisses, one on either cheek, or the air space next to each cheek, seems to be the norm here.

2. Part of the unofficial greeting protocol is to ask each other when they arrived and where they’re staying.

Those who’ve hit the ground running the same day as arriving after a long flight get respect. They also perform ad hoc Tripadvisor-like reviews on their hotels. One hotel here is charging $17 for a coffee: “It’s even more if you request it via room service”. A cheaper hotel doesn’t provide irons: “I want my business shirts to look crisp.” Another provides a mini-kitchenette: “But I won’t have any time here to use it. I’ll just buy some fruit and maybe some juice and keep it in the fridge.” A different hotel has a large dining room table in a delegate’s room: “Perfect for having a a small dinner party!”

3. They take group selfies.

I haven’t seen anyone take an individual selfie yet. Maybe there’s an unwritten ITU delegate rule that individual selfies are uncool. Group selfies, however, are to be embraced with enthusiasm.

4. They don’t pay attention to the boring bits.

Member States all want to have their five minutes in the spotlight with a Policy Statement, but that doesn’t mean they want to pay attention to anyone else’s statement. Instead, have a chat on the side, or come back late from that lovely afternoon tea sponsored by Rwanda.

5. They get cheesed off when the wifi and mobile phone signals are taken away

If you take away ITU delegates’ ability to check their Facebook pages, they get  cranky. In this case, it was during the Opening Ceremony where South Korea’s President, Park Geun-hye, addressed the participants. She may be president, and therefore need the security of jammed frequencies, but we need to upload grainy smart phone shots of the ceremony to Instagram, dammit!

6. They have trouble with basic tech functions, just like a lot of Internet governance policy folk.

“Have you pushed the plug in far enough?”

plug-forceA more seriously summary of Day 1 to follow shortly…

Reporting from ITU Plenipotentiary: I’ll pay full attention so you don’t have to

pp14-busan-twitter

Have you heard various weird and wonderful things about the big meeting happening in Busan beginning next week?

Have you heard some people say that ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 (PP14) will be looking at proposals that support governments taking over the Internet?

Did you consider attending, but couldn’t get onto your government’s delegation and aren’t a Sector Member of the ITU?

Do you have a day job that means you really don’t have time to follow a three-week meeting, but still care how the outcomes might affect  Internet governance and the Internet world more generally?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any or all of the above, you may be happy to know I’ll be in Busan from Day 1 of the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 (Monday 20 October) right through to the very end (Friday 7 November).

An experiment in crowdfunding neutral reporting of a key event in the Internet governance calendar

If you have appreciated my live tweeting and analysis of Internet governance meetings in the past, please consider being part of this initiative. I’m hoping to have funding from as wide a range of stakeholders as possible to ensure that there are no perceptions that my reporting from Busan has been influenced or captured by any single stakeholder group.

So far, organizations have committed USD 13,000 to this project, but I still need a further USD 11,500 to turn the three weeks from a charitable donation by me for the rest of the community into something that allows me to do this professionally. Amounts big or small are gratefully received. And funds do not have to be provided before the Plenipotentiary begins, as I’ll be absorbing the cost differences up-front.

Diplo is kindly helping support the crowdfunding of my attendance. More information at Crowdfund neutral reporting of ITU Plenipotentiary 2014.

What I’ll be doing at PP14

Tweeting!

For all those people out there who were disappointed that I didn’t tweet IGF 2014 (I was flat out working for the IGF Secretariat working on the Chair’s Summary and taking photos), here is your opportunity to enable me to concentrate on producing a constant stream of informational, and sometimes (hopefully) funny, tweets live from a key meeting of interest to folks working in the world of Internet governance and Internet operations.

Blogging

I’ll be blogging to provide summaries of what’s happening at PP14 as well as to provide background to explain or speculate why negotiations are happening the way they are. As I did with WCIT, I’ll strive to post documents that show the differences between old versions of ITU’s Internet-related resolutions and the status of changes happening at PP14. I’ll also post some post-PP14 blogs analyzing what PP14’s outcomes may mean for future Internet governance discussions and the WSIS+10 UNGA event coming up in 2015. The blog posts will be published under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence 4.0, enabling people or entities to publish parts or all of the articles, or tailor the articles for specific communities.

Podcasts

This is dependent on me figuring out how to use my brand new digital microphone and audio editing app during ICANN 51. My plan is to talk to PP14 participants to find out more about what people are thinking about Internet-related discussions at PP14. In particular, I am hoping to talk to those who aren’t the standard set of cheerleaders for multistakeholder Internet governance. The reason for this is the fact that I believe that if we’re ever to bridge the ideological and political divides that exist in the Internet governance sphere, we need to start listening to each other, and not just talk at each other.

ITU Council 2014 – Day 1

Note: I am attending the ITU Council 2014 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.

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

Quick facts and stats

  • Over 500 people registered to attend Council 2014, but the main room only accommodates 260, so the overflow is being sent to Room C.
  • This being the year of the Plenipotentiary Conference, with its many elections for various positions within the ITU, five government ministers—from Australia, Cameroon, Egypt, Ghana and Mali— are gracing the ITU Council 2014 with their presence.
  • The Council continued the tradition of electing the previous year’s Vice-Chair[1] to the position of this year’s Chair position. Mr Aboubakar Zourmba of Cameroon, therefore, is the Chair of ITU Council 2014.
  • Following the tradition of ensuring geographic diversity, it is the turn of Region E (Asia and Australasia) to hold the position of Vice-Chair. Secretary General Toure will report back soon on which member of the Asia Pacific region will hold the position.
  • Australia’s Caroline Greenway was re-elected as Chair of the Standing Committee on Administration and Management (excuse me while I’m parochial for a minute… Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!) Marcin Krasuski (Poland) and Vernita Harris (USA) will also continue their roles as Vice-Chairs in 2014.
  • The Council session has received 26 contributions by Member States. 17 of these were submitted by the deadline (22 April, which is two weeks before the meeting starts). You can find who submitted what and when at the Contributions index page).
  • Freely available versions of all Council 2014 documents have been made available on the WCITLeaks website.

Some of key quotes from Day 1

“There is no beginning and there is no end. There is only change.”—Chair of ITU Council 2013, Catalin Marinescu (Romania)

“One of the Secretaries General of the Union, Mr Mohamed Ezzedine Mili, described the Internet as an explosive marriage between the computer and telecommunications. If we are not careful, those of our people who have difficulty reading and writing may be left by the wayside.”—Chair of ITU Council 2014, Aboubakar Zourmba (Cameroon)

“The Dubai Declaration recently adopted at the WTDC-14 describes telecommunications and ICT infrastructure, services and applications as powerful tools for economic growth and innovation. This is true of course, and yet, infrastructure, services and applications will not foster innovation and from that, economic growth, if innovation is hampered in other ways. Governments cannot legislate innovation, but what we can and should do is make it much easier for businesses in our countries to innovate.”—Australia’s Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull

ITU Council 2014

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

Summary of the most interesting topics (to me) on Day 1

1. Report on the implementation of the strategic plan for 2012-2015 and activities of the Union for 2010-2014

ITU must have one of the best PR and marketing departments of any organization I’ve ever come across. Instead of making participants of ITU Council 2014 sit through a really long read-through of the summarizing this 82-page report, the media folks at ITU put together a slick and glitzy video highlighting ITU’s major achievements over the past few years. The technical bodies of the Internet governance world could certainly learn a thing or two from ITU about producing videos that highlight key achievements in such easily digestible forms. (In contrast, take a look at how the Internet governance world fails to effectively communicate what it’s doing, and manages to confuse many of its own true believers here.)

2. ICTs and people with disabilities

This really is low hanging fruit issue that is impossible for anyone to object to. Like the whole “think of the children”/child online protection issue, anyone who objects to activities that help a group of people with intellectual or physical disabilities really is entering Cruella De Vil territory. Of interest, though, was a suggestion by a Member State to use the term “disabilities and specific needs” in all future ITU documents on this issue (this term made its first appearance in the ITU context in the documents of the recent WTDC-14 held in Dubai).

3. Gender mainstreaming and promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women through ICTs

After the protracted debate on the equal participation of women in Internet governance at last week’s CSTD WGEC (I’m still to blog on this… watch this space), it was a relief to hear overwhelming support by the Council members for the need to encourage equal participation of women in the ITU sphere. It was less encouraging that of the seven interventions from the floor supporting the ITU’s work in this area, six of the interventions were made by men.

The ITU Secretariat provided some historical data on women’s participation in ITU (and its previous incarnations). The first woman to take the floor was from the Soviet Union during a 1932 meeting (that’s 67 years after the creation of International Telegraph Union). And the first woman to be a head of delegation was from Bolivia, in 1962 (97 years after the creation of the Union). These statistics aren’t published on the ITU website yet, but the staff responsible for implementing Plenipotentiary Resolution 70 (Rev. Guadalajara, 2010) are compiling more information about the history of women’s participation in ITU and the result of that work will hopefully be published on the ITU website in some form soon.

A written statement by ITU Secretary General Touré, read out by Deputy Secretary-General Houlin Zhou, noted that the implementation of gender mainstreaming was a high priority for ITU in 2014. As part of its gender mainstreaming activities, ITU will be launching the GEM (Gender Equality and Mainstreaming) awards at a side event on gender issues during ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 (PP-14).

ITU Council 2014

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

4. Free access to ITU publications

While ITU has expanded the number of publications available for free, in 2013, its revenues from the sale of publications increased when compared to the previous year’s sales. Interestingly, CDs and DVDs have experiences the largest growth in sales since 2009, with the overall sales of paper-based publications dropping dramatically between 2010 and 2012. Paper-based publications doubled in sales between 2012 and 2013 however (13% to 26% of sales). Sale of online publications (downloadable formats such as PDFs) has remained extremely small (only 1% of publication sales in 2013). These figures are important because ITU is considering how many other publications to make freely available and how much free availability of documents will affect ITU’s income stream. There were some concerns expressed in the room that additional free documents could have a negative impact on ITU’s budget (ITU is already trying to work out how to do an expanding list of things its members want it to do while also juggling budget constraints). Based on the discussions on Day 1, a draft proposal to make additional documents available freely will be amended by the author State and another interest State.

5. Council Working Group report on WSIS activities

There were two documents submitted by the CWG: C38, which was an overall report on WSIS activities by the ITU, and an Addendum to C38 (which was a report on the CWG’s meeting held on Monday, 5 May 2014). There was a bit of discussion over the way that the Council would take action on the two documents: it was proposed that C38 be “noted” while C38 Addendum 1 be “approved”. Some Member States were reluctant to “approve” the Addendum, given it was a mix of summary paragraphs on the Monday meeting as well as proposals on the way forward. But when the Chair pushed for closure on the topic, asking if anyone had strong objections to the document, Member States kept silent, so the document was approved.

6. Defining “ICT”

The long Council discussion on the definition of “ICT” cheered me up immensely. It put the ongoing debates about what “enhanced cooperation” is, and the never-finalized-but-still-a-working-definition-after-10-years “Internet governance” into perspective. The definition was part of a report by the Correspondence Group on the Elaboration of a Working Definition of the Term “ICT”. The working definition included in the report is:

Technologies and equipment that handle (e.g., access, create, collect, store, transmit, receive, disseminate) information and communication.

The report of the Correspondence Group is meant to be forwarded to the PP-14 for their consideration, but a number of Council members objected to the definition being included in the report as they felt that the definition was not yet “mature” enough. The Chair intervened with “We’ve been discussing this since 2006 and still don’t have a definition of ICT.” Other Member States said that that since the Correspondence Group had been tasked with coming up with a definition by the last Plenipotentiary Conference (in 2010), it was important to report back to PP-14 on the status of its work, even if the current definition wasn’t the final one. A couple of States supported the idea of submitting the report of the Correspondence Group along with a summary of the discussion about the definition of ICTs held here in Council.

After about half an hour of this to-ing and fro-ing, the Secretary General intervened: “This is a chess game. It’s starting again.” At the heart of the definition of ICTs, he said, was the fact that the Internet was lurking in the background. “ICT does include the Internet. Let’s face it. […] This is a very innocent definition […] But it’s not going to fly […] It’s harmless. Whether we define it or not, we’ll continue to work. We’ve been working for 150 years and will continue to work for another 150 years.”

The day ended with the Chair proposing that a small group get together and work on the definition outside of plenary in the hope of finding a consensus solution.

More to come…

Key issues of interest to Internet governance folk:

  • The Council Working Group on international Internet-related public policy issues (CWG-Internet) (Thursday 8 May)
  • ITU’s Internet activities (Thursday 8 May)
  • Opening ITU documents to the general public (Friday 9 May)

[1] Official ITU language only recognizes the terms “Chairman” and “Vice-Chairman”. However, I am not similarly constrained to use such gender-biased terms, and will only use “Chair” and “Vice-Chair”… even if the positions are still overwhelmingly filled by men.