Reflecting on what the Council decision means for the multistakeholder model

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

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

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Member State views on opening the CWG-Internet

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

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

Photo credit: ITU pictures via Flickr

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

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

Open the CWG-Internet because:

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

Don’t open the CWG-Internet because:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

The final day of WTPF-13

First of all, I apologize, dear reader, for taking so long to post this. I started writing a week ago then got sidetracked into analyzing the earlier versions of the Brazilian draft proposal. It all became so complex, that I’m now splitting it all up into a series of posts over the next few days.

To begin with, I’ve posted the remainder of my summaries on the three days of WTPF-13:

Also, some short thoughts on what WTPF-13 may mean for the future of inter-stakeholder interactions in the ITU environment:

I’ve previously blogged about the first day and a half of WTPF-13 here. And about the second half of the second day here.