A spaghetti tangle of Internet governance initiatives and names

On 7 October 2013, the Montevideo Statement on the Future of Internet Cooperation was published.

On 10 October, the Global Multistakeholder Meeting on Internet Governance (GMMIG) in Brazil was announced.

On 23 October, during a lunch break at IGF 2013, a very packed room listened to a rather confusing mixture of explanations from various I-Star leaders about the Montevideo Statement, the Brazil meeting, what was happening to what had formerly been known as ICANN’s 5th Strategy Panel on the Role of ICANN in the Future of Internet Governance, and the vague website called 1net that had mysteriously appeared in the days leading up to IGF 2013.

Standing room only at IGF 2013 lunch meeting as IGF participants crowd in to hear about the Brazil meeting, the 1net initiative and more.

Standing room only at IGF 2013 lunch meeting as IGF participants crowd in to hear about the Brazil meeting, the 1net initiative and more.

Almost a month later, on 17 November, ICANN issued an announcement updating people on what had previously been ICANN’s 5th “Strategy Panel on the Role of ICANN in the Future of Internet Governance” and was now known as the non-ICANN-branded “Panel on the Future of Global Internet Cooperation”. The title of the press release called it a “High Level Panel” that would address “Internet Governance”, adding some confusion to what the panel’s real name was. Further adding to the confusion was the fact that the Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus began using “HLLM” to refer to this panel. HLLM (High Level Leaders’ Meeting) was the name of the IGF 2013 pre-event that had, at IGF 2012, been called the High Level Ministerial Meeting (HLMM).

Feeling overwhelmed yet? But wait! There’s more…

On 20 November, at the ungodly hour of 7 am, ICANN 48 attendees met to hear the I-Star leaders clarify why they had written the Montevideo Statement, were supporting the Brazil meeting, and wanted the community to join 1net (which still had a very vague website and a mailing list—with the name of i-coordination—that failed to sign up a lot of the people who had signed up for it… which wasn’t helping public perception of 1net as aiming to be an open, bottom-up process). In response, the ICANN community decided to add yet another group into the mix: the Cross-Constituency Working Group (CCWG) on Internet Governance. The idea was to use the CCWG to break down the usual ICANN constituency silos and channel ICANN community input into 1net, which, in turn, would feed its input into the Brazil meeting (GMMIG).

Have you got all these groups and meetings mapped out in your head clearly now? No? What’s wrong with you? Keep up!

On 26 November, NIC.br announced that there would be four committees created to prepare for GMMIG (the Brazil meeting):

  • High-Level Multistakeholder Committee (HLMC)
  • Executive Multistakeholder Committee (EMC)
    Anyone else notice the alarming similarity to Einstein’s equation, E=mc2? Is this a veiled reference to needing an advanced physics degree to understand how all these new Internet governance committees and groups relate to each other?
  • Logistics and Organizational Committee (LOC)
  • Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC)
    Not to be confused with the ICANN GAC. It’s quite simple really. One is the Governmental Advisory Committee and the other is the… Governmental Advisory Committee. Hmmm. Oh well, just stick GMMIG in front of one—GMMIG GAC—and ICANN in front of the other—ICANN GAC—and all will be clear.

At this point, I’m sure that many people in the Internet governance world were only pretending to have an understanding of the mushrooming set of groups and committees and name changes for said groups and committees.

On 13 December, the panel formerly known as the ICANN’s 5th ICANN Strategy Panel on ICANN’s Role in the Future of Internet Governance, the panel that, at the start of the day was called the Panel on the Future of Global Internet Cooperation was, by the end of the day, renamed the High Level Panel on Global Internet Cooperation and Governance Mechanisms. Or HLPGICGM, if you like unpronounceable acronyms. Or to make it pronounceable, maybe add some vowels: HLPoICaG. Nope, that didn’t help. To confuse matters, though, while the heading of the panel’s press release called it a “High Level Panel”, the text of the release only called it the “Panel on Global Internet Cooperation and Governance Mechanisms”.

How did we end up in this state?

Seriously, Internet community people. Can we take a minute to just think about all of this? I understand the desire to find ways to improve Internet governance mechanisms in ways that help address all the criticisms that have been flung in the direction of the current Internet governance ecosystem. But is creating a plethora of new committees, panels and groups, giving many of them completely non-memorable names, thinking twice and renaming them to even less memorable names… is this really helping? If we are confusing ourselves with all of this, how on earth do you think it looks to outsiders? To those governments and other critics of the current Internet governance system?

A couple of issues, I think, are contributing to this confusion:

1. People with communications expertise aren’t being involved.

This was evident to me when the Montevideo Statement came out. That thing is not a statement. It’s a press release about a statement that actually hasn’t been written.[1] If you don’t involve people who understand communications, you end up with panel names like (High Level) Panel on Global Internet Cooperation and Governance Mechanisms. Sure, that panel name very accurately describes exactly what the panel is going to discuss. But who is going to type out a panel name that is 74 characters long? Who is going to say the name out loud when it is 24 syllables long? Instead, if the panel is lucky, the general community will shorten it to “High Level Panel”. The downside of this is that the panel’s name becomes decontextualized and emphasizes the top-down nature of the panel’s composition.

If the panel is unlucky, people will continue to refer to it by other names: “the panel that used to be the 5th ICANN panel”, “that other panel, you know, the one that’s not the Brazil meeting or the 1net thing”, or, using the hashtag the panel uses (#internetpanel), “the Internet panel”. The downside of this variety of names is that the panel fails to have any sort of uniform identity in the community. If “Internet panel” becomes the norm, it could make it sound like it’s the new ultimate source of Internet decision-making, attracting the wrong sort of attention to its activities. Lack of communications staff in the various processes is also apparent in the lack of any clear documentation about pretty much all of these initiatives. Sure, there’s a need to get the community’s input into these processes, but given the proliferation of activities, it would help the community know where to focus their attention if they had a clear picture of how all the pieces fit together.

2. Everyone sees a problem. Everyone has come up with a different idea for fixing it.

Yes, Internet governance is in need of a bit of re-boot. It’s great that so many people and organizations are recognizing this. What’s not so great is the fact that there’s not a lot of time before the 10th anniversary of WSIS in 2015 and there’s not enough coordination between all these people and organizations with great ideas. Add into the mix the poor utilization of the skills of communications staff, and you also have the problem of bridging the gap between the originators of initiatives and the communities they hope to involve.

How do we fix this?

I’ve used humour in this post to highlight the lighter side of the confusing array of processes that have begun in the last few months. But it’s also a very serious issue. As Internet governance undergoes its version of the Cambrian explosion, we need to ensure we emerge with a diversity of structures and processes that help, rather than hinder, Internet coordination and development long-term.

Unfortunately, the Law of Complexity suggests things get more complex—not simpler. When you break a plate, you could try gluing it back together again, but all you end up with is a bunch of shards glued together in a plate-like shape. It’s not the same plate it was before it broke.

Similarly, we are not going to be able to un-create the new and overly busy little world of late-2013 Internet governance initiatives. But it is possible to make it more accessible. We’re seeing on the 1net mailing list an absolute flurry of passionate people saying what they think should happen/should have happened/should not happen. It’s also happening on the Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus and Best Bits lists. But right now, it’s pretty much impossible for anyone to follow all of the mailing lists that are discussing Internet governance, let alone have the time to contribute well thought out opinions to the debates.

What’s needed now is for Internet technical organizations to use the skills of their plentiful communications staff to produce clear, easy to understand information that allows people to participate when issues of interest to them arise.

This is starting to happen, but it needs to happen more, and communications staff need to be front and centre whenever any of the initiatives release new information.

Having a random leader of an I-Star organization write a blog post or email to a mailing list in their personal capacity, expressing their own view on what’s happening, is not enough.

Yes, the Internet governance model is a bottom-up and multistakeholder, but when confusion abounds, as it currently does, there needs to be clear, high-level documentation available. Even if such documentation could only show decision trees, it would help the community understand where we are and what decisions need to be made.

Stage 1 of “Operation Re-boot Internet Governance” (ORBIG?) has been accomplished: the people have been awoken. We now need to accomplish Stage 2: give people the information they need to participate. Without that information, people become frustrated and destructive. We’ve seen that happening in the last couple of months.

We only have four months until the Brazil meeting and perhaps 18 months until the final review of the WSIS outcomes. Policy-related folk are clearly key players in Internet governance, but if we don’t take advantage of communications folk, a couple of thousand policy folk will remain stuck in the tangle of processes and committees and mailing lists, trying in vain to figure out where to best focus their attention.

[1] This is what I think the Montevideo Statement should have looked like if it wanted to look like the sort of statement that governments recognize as a serious output document:

Important: This is not the statement that the I-Star leaders wrote. This is what I wish they’d written if they’d taken the time to consult with one or more of their communications or policy staff first.

Montevideo Statement on the Future of Internet Cooperation

The leaders of 10 of the organizations responsible for coordination of the Internet technical infrastructure globally,

1. Having met in Montevideo, Uruguay, to consider current issues affecting the future of the Internet,

2. Recognizing that the Internet and World Wide Web have brought major benefits in social and economic development worldwide,

3. Further recognizing that both the Internet and World Wide Web have been built and governed in the public interest through unique mechanisms for global multistakeholder Internet cooperation and that these mechanisms have been intrinsic to their success,

4. Identifying the clear need to continually strengthen and evolve these mechanisms for global multistakeholder Internet cooperation, in truly substantial ways, to be able to address emerging issues faced by stakeholders in the Internet,

5. Reinforce the importance of globally coherent Internet operations, warn against Internet fragmentation at a national level, and express strong concern over the undermining of the trust and confidence of Internet users globally due to recent revelations of pervasive monitoring and surveillance;

6. Identify the need for ongoing effort to address Internet Governance challenges, and agreed to catalyze community-wide efforts towards the evolution of global multistakeholder Internet cooperation;

7. Call for accelerating the globalization of ICANN and IANA functions, towards an environment in which all stakeholders, including all governments, participate on an equal footing;

8. Call for the transition to IPv6 to remain a top priority globally and, in particular, Internet content providers must serve content with both IPv4 and IPv6 services, in order to be fully reachable on the global Internet.

UN puts off decision on overall review of WSIS for a few more months

On 14 November 2013, at the 35th meeting of the Second Committee, on behalf of the G77 States, Fiji presented a draft update to the annual United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) resolution that bears the title, “Information and communications technologies for development”.

Every year, it seems that the first draft of this resolution causes a bit of a stir amongst the Member States who weren’t involved in the drafting. This first draft is then followed by lots of informal consultations between Member States and, finally, a new compromise draft that deletes or modifies some of the proposed updates and adds some new text that, in essence, is a counterbalance to the particular views of the original drafters.

This, of course, is what happened to this year’s “Information and communications technologies for development” (ICT4D) resolution. The version that Fiji presented, A/C.2/68/L.40, was particularly contentious, however, because of the looming deadline of the 10th anniversary of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+10). Just as many folks go into a panic when they hear the in-laws are coming to stay, the ever-nearing arrival date of WSIS+10 in 2015 has caused pretty much everyone–Member States and other stakeholders in Internet governance, in particular–to spend a lot of time discussing what should change, how much should change, and who’s going to pay for it all.

The G77 version of the ICT4D resolution was problematic for many Member States primarily because it suggested having a full-scale review summit, complete with a series of preparatory meetings. Russia had already proposed this at the 16th Session of the CSTD in June 2013. At that time, CSTD Member States hadn’t supported the idea because a) it was clear it would cost the UN and Member States a lot of money that they didn’t want to spend, and b) the whole issue of ICTs for development may potentially become part of the high-level Summit in September 2015 that will mark the next phase of Millennium Development Goals.

After a month of informal consultations, the Vice-Chair of Second Committee verbally presented a compromise draft, A/C.2/68/L.73, on 11 December 2013. That verbal proposal was adopted by consensus.

Below is a brief overview of the main differences between the November (not adopted) and December (adopted) versions of the ICT4D resolution.

What’s new in the adopted ICT4D resolution?

1. UNGA Second Committee decides not to decide…. yet

The most significant change between the G77 and the adopted ICT4D resolution was the removal of text that would launch a full-scale WSIS Review Summit, complete with a preparatory process that would begin in January. Instead, the consensus resolution defers the decision on what to with WSIS+10 until the first quarter next year-by the end of March 2014 at the absolute latest.

2. “Open intergovernmental consultations” will be used to develop the modalities of 2015 WSIS+10 review

I have no idea what “open intergovernmental consultations” means. Does it mean that instead of “informal consultations” that happen in small rooms, the “open consultations” will be publicly webcast? Does it mean that non-government observers may be allowed to observe in the room itself? I suspect the phrase will have as many interpretations as the Tunis Agenda’s “enhanced cooperation” text. However, given these open consultations have a maximum lifespan of three months,  decisions about the modalities of the “open intergovernmental consultations” which will develop the modalities of the WSIS+10 2015 event need to be made public as quickly as possible.

What is very clear, though, is that the process will be intergovernmental and not involve other stakeholders. (Perhaps the word “open” was added to appease the many non-government stakeholders in the WSIS process who aren’t being consulted: the process, although multilateral, is to be open and transparent, at least.)

3. The Brazil meeting on global Internet governance

The resolution “welcomes” the meeting. Short and sweet.

4. There are countries lined up to hold the next three IGFs

The resolution “welcomes” the offers by Turkey, Brazil and Mexico to hold the next three IGFs. Mexico, of course, will only have its offer taken up if the IGF’s mandate is renewed past 2015.

5. Recognition that non-government stakeholders play an important role in ICTs

This is worth quoting in full:

Further stresses the important role played by private sector, civil society and technical communities in information and communications technologies

Surprisingly, although the Tunis Agenda recognizes the important role all stakeholders have to play in ICTs, the UNGA ICT4D resolutions never seem to have explicitly included a similar statement. They have included statements about the role of non-government stakeholders in the international management of the Internet, however. But for the first time here in this consensus resolution, the academic and technical communities make an appearance in that Internet management paragraph.

6. References to more recent UN events and resolutions were added

Of particular interest to the Internet governance crowd are the following additions:

What didn’t make it into the adopted ICT4D resolution?

1. ITU Council 2001 Resolution 1179 is out

ITU’s 2001 Council Resolution 1179 endorsed having a two-phase WSIS in 2003 and 2005. The removal of the reference to this old ITU resolution is probably a response to two things:

  • There have been concerns expressed that the original G77 draft contained too many references to ITU’s involvement in WSIS and not enough acknowledgement of the other UN partners in WSIS.
  • The resolution is so old and obscure that it doesn’t really have any relevance to the UN-wide process that will decide the way forward in 2015 and beyond.

2. The glowing description about the WSIS Forum was deleted

ITU’s media department might be disappointed that this description of ITU’s multistakeholder poster child was removed:

[The WSIS Forum has] become a key forum for multi-stakeholder debate on pertinent issues related to the World Summit process, and noting further that the Forum’s inclusiveness, openness and thematic focus have strengthened responsiveness to stakeholders and contributed to increased physical and remote participation

3. Financing by the private sector is out

This whole paragraph was removed:

Recognizing that, in addition to financing by the public sector, financing of information and communications technologies infrastructure by the private sector is playing an important role in many countries

This is an interesting deletion. Usually, it’s the non-G77 countries such as the USA and European countries that like references to the important role of the private sector. Perhaps it was deleted because it could be interpreted as encouraging governments to start applying ICT infrastructure taxes or other financial requirements to private sector entities within their borders. Perhaps it was deleted because the issue of finance is always a difficult one and in the interests of getting the resolution adopted before the end of the year, it was expedient to remove such obvious speed bumps.

4. No “new and additional” resources for the implementation of WSIS outcomes

Instead, UN funds and programs and specialized agencies are to allocate “adequate” resources to WSIS implementation. Here, we see the usual division between the developing States who wrote the draft in November wanting access to UN funds to help them implement WSIS in their countries while the better-resourced UN donor countries don’t want to put more money in the pot. “Adequate” is a compromise. Developing countries can interpret it as meaning “more resources” while developed countries can interpret as “we don’t have to increase our contributions to the UN”.

ITU CWG-Internet Day 1: A very brief overview

The third meeting of the ITU Council Working Group on international Internet-related public policy (CWG-Internet, also known as CWG IIRPP) is currently underway in Geneva. Below is a brief report of Day 1. I will provide more detail about the meeting, with proper analysis, after the meeting concludes.

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

The role of governments in Internet-related public policy issues

The role of governments in Internet-related public policy issues has been a major topic of discussion at the intergovernmental level ever since the Tunis Agenda was written in 2005 as part of WSIS Phase 2.[1] It was an important part of the discussions taking place at the CSTD WGEC (Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation) meeting last week and was the main focus of Day 1 of the CWG-Internet meeting this week. It will surprise no one who follows Internet governance that governments remain divided into two main positions:

  • Governments who believe there is a fundamental need for governments to begin exercising their sovereign rights to make international Internet-related public policy decisions on an equal footing with other governments
  • Governments who believe that governments should play a lighter role in Internet governance decisions, preferring to encourage various forms of multistakeholder decision-making that leverage the expertise of a wide array of stakeholders.

Day 1 ended with Member States in the CWG-Internet agreeing to draft two questions that will be made available to all ITU Member States on the appropriate role of governments in the international Internet-related public policy issues listed in Annex A of ITU Council Resolution 1305 (document available to ITU TIES account holders). It is not clear whether additional public policy issues raised in some of the contributions to the CWG meeting will be added to the list on for consideration by Member States when answering the two questions. Nor is it clear whether the consultation will also be available for non-Member States to answer as part of the open consultation process associated with the CWG. No doubt, these issues will be clarified today, in Day 2 of the meeting.

Responses to the open consultation process conducted between February and October 2013

There was no discussion on Day 1 of the contents of the 32 responses made by both Member States and non-Member States to the CWG-Internet’s online consultation process. The topics that the CWG agreed in January to open for online consultation were:

  1. Consultation on effectively countering and combatting spam
  2. Consultation on international public policy issues concerning IPv4 addresses
  3. Consultation on developmental aspects of the Internet

It is notable that none of the formal contributions to the current CWG-Internet meeting are on any of the above three topics. However, a number of the Member States have made contributions on the topics as part of the public consultation process.

A number of Member States made interventions encouraging the CWG-Internet to discuss the 32 public contributions as part of its current meeting. It was not totally clear at the end of Day 1 whether there was a plan to conduct this discussion on Day 2, the final day of the CWG-Internet, but there is a strong desire by a number of the Member States present at the meeting to have these contributions discussed.

[1] Paragraph 35 of the Tunis Agenda states:

35. We reaffirm that the management of the Internet encompasses both technical and public policy issues and should involve all stakeholders and relevant intergovernmental and international organizations. In this respect it is recognized that:

  • Policy authority for Internet-related public policy issues is the sovereign right of States. They have rights and responsibilities for international Internet-related public policy issues.
  • The private sector has had, and should continue to have, an important role in the development of the Internet, both in the technical and economic fields.
  • Civil society has also played an important role on Internet matters, especially at community level, and should continue to play such a role.
  • Intergovernmental organizations have had, and should continue to have, a facilitating role in the coordination of Internet-related public policy issues.
  • International organizations have also had and should continue to have an important role in the development of Internet-related technical standards and relevant policies.

The text in paragraph 35a has been the topic of much discussion by some government ever since the Tunis Agenda was written in 2005 as part of WSIS Phase 2.

Paragraph 69 of the Tunis Agenda has also been at the heart of discussions on the role of governments in Internet governance:

69. We further recognize the need for enhanced cooperation in the future, to enable governments, on an equal footing, to carry out their roles and responsibilities, in international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet, but not in the day-to-day technical and operational matters, that do not impact on international public policy issues.

Changes to WCIT-12 Internet resolution

For those reading through the recently released DT/55, which contains all the text of the ITRs, its appendices and associated WCIT-12 resolutions, I’ve highlighted the changes made to the Internet-related resolution text in the screenshot below. As you will see, the changes made to the text since the draft was discussed as part of DT/51 rev. 1 in the final plenary of 12 December are very minor:

Internet resolution changes