Looking back at WTPF-13: was it a game-changer?

In many ways, what happened at WTPF-13 reminds me of the first IGF in Athens in 2006. In 2006, the Tunis Agenda was only a year old, and had been crafted as a compromise after a lot of heated debate between States during WSIS Phase 2. Those attending the first IGF were wary about the event and whether it could achieve its stated goals.

Similarly, WTPF was the first big ITU meeting after the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in December 2012, where a lot of heated debate led to many States not signing the final International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs).

At both the first IGF in 2006 and this WTPF in 2013, participants began the meetings not really sure whether disagreements from the previous big event would spill over into the current event and prove equally divisive. As it turned out, in both cases, they didn’t.

IGF has moved on from that first slightly wobbly event in Athens to become an important forum in every stakeholder group’s Internet governance calendar. It continues to experiment with formats with the aim of further enabling more open, dynamic and productive discussions on Internet issues. Its openness and flexibility encourages similar traits in those who attend it, which has positive ramifications for multistakeholder engagement on Internet issues outside the IGF.

Will WTPF-13, which the majority of delegates believe was a success, change the way ITU operates in future? WCIT certainly began the process of change for ITU, with its publicly available webcasts. WTPF-13, however, really pushed the boundaries with its preparatory process open to all interested participants. In the past, issues of government’s role in Internet governance has been a highly charged issue where agreement on even high level concepts has been almost impossible to achieve. WTPF-13, with its mix of stakeholder groups, did discuss this highly contentious issue, and didn’t result in further entrenching people’s positions. Instead, there was recognition of the validity of all views.

There was also recognition of the value of including experts who may not be ITU members, but who could offer practical insights into issues being debated at a policy level. This is a major change from earlier ITU meetings where there has often been a gap between the political debates about Internet technologies and the practical realities of how those technologies actually function. The fact that there was no strict order in which WTPF-13 delegates could speak (no “Member States speak first” approach) was also a major change for a large ITU event.

Just as that first IGF in Athens was the start of a new era in multistakeholder Internet governance, I believe WTPF-13 is a big, positive step towards more constructive interaction in the ITU between ITU Member States-even the ones who traditionally haven’t embraced multistakeholderism-and other stakeholders. May ITU long embrace the multistakeholder WTPF model!

The afternoon of WTPF-13 Day 3: final approval of Opinions and wrapping up

(For an overview of the morning of Day 3, go here.)

The afternoon session of the last day of the World Telecommunications/ICT Forum (WTPF-13) was largely filled with formalities.

Given there weren’t parallel tracks during WTPF-13, most people had attended all of the Working Group sessions that had adopted the six Opinions. But procedure dictated that the plenary session had to approve the Opinions presented by the Working Group Chairs. All Working Group Chairs read out reports on what had happened during their sessions. All six Opinions were approved by the plenary.

More discussion on what to do with Brazil’s “Opinion 7”

The suggestion by Working Group 3 Chair in the morning to forward Brazil’s document to the ITU Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet) had caused some to be concerned. CWG-Internet is a closed, Member States-only working group. No documents from the CWG are available to Sector Members or any other non-Member State representatives.

Other delegates, however, welcomed the document’s discussion within the CWG. Mexico suggested that the document be discussed in the CWG as well as in other forums. Russia, however, preferred that the document not be discussed in too many forums, concerned that “too many cooks could spoil the broth”.

Richard Hill, a former ITU staff member, and the person behind the Association for Proper Internet Governance (APIG), stated that procedurally, it wasn’t up to WTPF-13 participants to decide where Brazil’s draft was discussed further within ITU. Instead, it was the ITU Council that was responsible for that decision.

We’re all good friends now

Traditionally, the closing part of an intergovernmental meeting tends to include lots of self-congratulating amongst the delegates. Delegates make statements on how much progress was made during the event. Event hosts, organizers and delegates thank each other for making the event such a success. This also happened at WTPF-13.

What was most interesting about the closing discussion, however, was the wide recognition by delegates, the WTPF-13 Chair, and ITU Secretary General Toure that something special had happened during the discussion about Brazil’s Opinion 7. Rather than the high levels of distrust that were on display during Internet-related debates at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) last year, Opinion 7 discussions were respectful of everyone’s views. There was recognition of divergent opinions and no attempt to force others to accept that any one view was more correct than any other.

There was also a lot of support expressed for the multistakeholder Internet model, with ITU Secretary General Toure highlighting ITU’s commitment to continue engaging with all stakeholders, including ICANN, ISOC and the IETF. Toure also noted that a number of Member States had included civil society members on their WTPF-13 delegations. There were a number of requests from delegates for ITU to continue holding events using the same open, multistakeholder format as WTPF-13. Even Iran, which hasn’t been known for its commitment to multistakeholderism in the Internet in the past, stated that contributions from all stakeholder groups to WTPF had provided richness to the Forum’s discussions.

Best of all, Toure announced that he would be requesting the ITU Council in June this year to consider opening the CWG-Internet to all interested parties. The ITU Council meeting last year also discussed making the CWG-Internet open to non-Member States, but a number of States had pushed hard to keep it closed. Instead, the best outcome that the 2012 ITU Council could manage was to agree that the CWG-Internet would hold open consultations on specific issues. However, the usefulness of such open consultations is debatable given potential contributors would have no access to the documents of the CWG, and therefore not know in what context their submission was to be discussed.

The change of heart signaled by Toure’s announcement, therefore, is significant. Let’s hope that the success of the open, multistakeholder WTPF-13 process will encourage the ITU Council, this year, to agree to open the CWG-Internet to all.

WTPF-13 Day 3: Brazil’s draft Opinion, informally known as “Opinion 7”

First, some background…

Brazil had submitted its first draft of the Opinion just before the third meeting of the Informal Experts Group (IEG) meeting in February this year. At that point, the draft’s title was On the Role of Government in the Multistakeholder Framework for Internet Governance.

The text was substantially revised by an informal drafting group during the third IEG meeting, but that second version ultimately failed to gain consensus amongst the wider members of the IEG. Brazil, therefore, submitted the non-consensus draft Opinion to the WTPF-13 for discussion. The version submitted to WTPF-13 contained some amendments to the IEG-revised text, removing some of the text that was less likely to reach agreement in Geneva. That was version three. By the time it was under discussion on the ground in Geneva, it had gained the informal name of “Opinion 7” amongst Member States supporting its adoption alongside the six draft Opinions that had reached consensus at the IEG.

Discussions begin on WTPF-13 Day 2

Discussions began on version three at the end of the second day of WTPF-13. Chile and Argentina expressed support for the draft Opinion, stating that governments needed to be able to exercise their rights over their own territories. USA explained to the room that Chile and Argentina’s views were partially influenced by the non-geographic .patagonia and .amazon new gTLD applications submitted to ICANN, and that discussion about those applications was ongoing. USA, like every government taking the floor, did express support for the need for governments to participate more in Internet governance processes.

The discussion on that second day of WTPF-13 focused on two issues. First, there was the issue of whether it was appropriate to be discussing a role for governments at WTPF-13 when the CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation was about to begin its work. The other concern was whether it was appropriate for ITU to be discussing governments’ role in Internet governance when Internet governance covered a much wider area than ITU’s mandate. Finland and Germany put forward the view that rather than discussing the issue from the outside, issues of greater government participation should be tackled inside the organizations where such need was identified (such as ICANN).

Bahrain felt that WTPF-13 was the perfect forum to discuss the Tunis Agenda’s text referring to governments’ role in international Internet-related public policy. Costa Rica, which stated that it was 100% behind the multistakeholder model, said that Brazil’s draft Opinion was general enough to merit discussion at the forum.

At the end of the day, the Working Group Chair asked Brazil and Russia to informally consult with other delegations overnight and incorporate as many of their concerns into an updated version of the draft for discussion on the final, and third day, of WTPF-13.

Discussions on Day 3

When WTPF-13 resumed at 9:30 am, the revised, and fourth, version of Brazil’s Opinion 7 had only just been posted. Brazil summarized its changes, explaining that following feedback from its discussions with other delegates during the week, the latest version had been significantly simplified and that the title had been changed. It was now “Operationalizing the Role of Government in the Multistakeholder Framework for Internet Governance”. Russia’s proposed amendments to Opinion 5, which had been moved into Opinion 7 discussions, hadn’t been included in Brazil’s revised text. However, Russia was confident that Brazil’s revision addressed its fundamental concerns. Brazil expressed that the current moment, with a much-improved relationship between ITU and ICANN, had prompted it to believe that now was the right time to move further forward in further operationalizing government’s role in Internet governance. Opinion 7 was written by Brazil with a view to achieving that goal.

Delegates, who had barely had time to read the new text, were then sent away for 45 minutes to digest the new draft.

When delegates returned at 10:35 am, there was a lengthy discussion on the Opinion and how to move forward with it. The discussion is summarized below, grouped by theme. If you want to read a more detailed blow-by-low account of who said what, I’ve compiled a Storify article from tweets made during Day 3.

1. Comments on overall issues contained in Opinion 7

There was wide agreement amongst delegates that the issues the draft Opinion hoped to address were important issues that needed to be tackled. Some of the more specific comments made about the overall contents of the draft are listed below:

  • The European Union felt the draft contained two different issues:
    1. The role of governments in the multistakeholder model of Internet governance
    2. The specific role of ITU in supporting governments and other stakeholders in that multistakeholder model
  • Paypal noted that some of problems the draft 7 aimed to address were also problems experienced by civil society, business, and academia.
  • The Netherlands, Portugal, and Paypal were concerned that the draft only referred to ITU’s role in operationalizing government involvement in Internet governance, even though the issue was much bigger than the ITU space.
  • Portugal stressed that any processes to operationalize the role of governments in the multistakeholder model had to include other forums that were also working on the same issue (for example, ICANN and CSTD).

In response to the feedback, Brazil explained that their draft did refer to the work of other forums, but that since WTPF was an event within the ITU framework, the emphasis was on what ITU could do to advance the issue.

2. Procedural issues

There were main two main procedural concerns expressed by a number of delegates:

  1. Given the late time of posting of the latest version of the text, a large number of delegates believed that there wasn’t enough time to develop a consensus text for Opinion 7.
    • Germany and Sweden were concerned that they needed time to discuss the latest version of the text with their various stakeholder groups before they could develop a common position.
    • The USA and ICANN stated that given the complexity of the issues in the draft, it would be best to explore them more fully in a future forum.
  2. Some delegates were concerned that it would be inappropriate to approve Opinion 7 using a different process to that used for the six approved Opinions.
    • The USA and CCIA were concerned that the six previous Opinions had undergone a consensus process at both the IEG and WTPF-13 levels, and that an attempt to approve Opinion 7 at WTPF-13 alone was effectively leapfrogging a step in the process.
    • PayPal was concerned that there had been two draft Opinions that had not reached consensus at the IEG, but that only one of those two drafts, the one by Brazil, was now being discussed at WTPF-13.

In response to the above concerns, other delegates who supported continuing with the process of trying to reach consensus on Opinion 7 during WTPF-13 presented the following arguments:

  • Argentina pointed out that Brazil’s draft Opinion had existed in various versions since February, so delegates had plenty of time to develop views on the issues it contained.
  • Mexico and Russia stated that the problems Opinion 7 was attempting to address had existed for a long time and that it was well and truly time to discuss the issues.
  • Bahrain stated that since there seemed to be wide agreement that the issues in the draft were important to discuss, and that not all WTPF-13 delegates would be part of the CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC), it was worth discussing the issues at WTPF-13 as well.
  • Mexico felt that delegates who were saying there wasn’t enough time to discuss the draft were showing disregard for the States who had contributed their views on the Opinion in the hope of having it reach consensus.

Another interesting procedural issue that was raised by the Ukraine was that of translation. Given the text of Opinion 7 had only been submitted early on Day 3, there had not been time for it to be translated into all six UN languages. It meant, therefore, that not all delegates were equally able to analyze the English version. Non-English speaking delegates were at a disadvantage.

3. Text changes suggested

While the vast majority of interventions about Opinion 7 were to support the general concept of the proposal while questioning whether there was the time available at WTPF-13 to develop consensus, some brave delegates suggested specific text edits for the draft:

  • Spain requested that the capacity building reference in the “invites” section be sure to refer to using existing ITU tools, such as the Study Groups.
  • Iran wanted the actions described in the “invites” part of the Opinion to reflect the “operationalization” referred to in the new title.
  • Poland suggested that the Opinion not refer to specific Tunis Agenda paragraphs, but to the Tunis Agenda as a whole. It also suggested that the Opinion refer to the activities taking place in other forums to operationalize government participation in Internet governance, including the CSTD and IGF.
  • The European Union suggested that a reference be made to all other relevant forums in paragraph 2 of the “invites Member States” section.
  • CNRI suggested that references to “Internet governance” be replaced with “coordination of international Internet public policy related matters”.

4. How to move forward with the Opinion 7 after WTPF-13

Brazil, although very disappointed that so man delegates didn’t want to attempt to reach consensus on the draft at WTPF-13, very graciously agreed not to pursue consensus on the text at the Forum. Instead, it hoped that the Working Group 3 Chair would record the variety of views expressed during the morning’s discussion and that talks on the draft could continue past WTPF-13.

The Chair agreed that it was important to discuss the issues contained in Opinion 7 and asked delegates for ideas on how the document could be discussed in future. Below is a summary of delegates’ suggestions:

  • Mexico and the European Union suggested further discussion take place in an open, inclusive, multistakeholder manner.
  • Australia proposed that discussion not take place exclusively within ITU, but also at other forums.
  • The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) and CSTD were both suggested as possible venues by a number of delegates
  • Brazil was concerned that the IGF, as a non-decision-making forum, couldn’t produce actionable outcomes. Discussion at IGF was fine, but it wanted the draft also to be discussed in a venue that could lead to action on the material in the draft.
  • Saudi Arabia stated that the issues raised by Brazil’s document should be taken to ITU Plenipotentiary 2014. Russia supported this, and suggested a special working group be created between WTPF-13 and the Plenipotentiary to look at the issues.
  • Brazil suggested that their proposal could be discussed at the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) 2014 as well.

The Working Group 3 Chair closed the morning session by proposing that the text of the draft Opinion be forwarded to the ITU Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet) and that WG could perhaps forward the document to the ITU Council for further consideration.

The summary of Day 3 at WTPF-13 continues in the next post:

WTPF-13 Opinions 5 and 6

The first day of the World Telecommunications/ICT Forum (WTPF-13) went so well. Day two started off well, too. Then we hit Working Group 3.

Credit: ITU

Multistakeholderism and enhanced cooperation

Working Group 3 was tasked with discussing Opinion 5 and Opinion 6 on multistakeholderism and enhanced cooperation.

Traditionally, these two concepts have generally been seen as polar opposites. Multistakeholderism represented the current Internet governance ecosystem that has evolved organically since the Internet’s creation. Enhanced cooperation represented the desire of some governments to have more say in how the Internet operates.

Multistakeholderism has been associated with openness and freedom of expression and innovation at the edges. Enhanced cooperation has been associated with a more locked down model of the Internet: one where fears of cybercrime and spreading dissent amongst citizens are some of the driving forces.

It is interesting, therefore, that the Informal Experts Group (IEG) had reached consensus on two draft Opinions that endorse, separately, multistakeholderism and enhanced cooperation. But could this consensus survive Working Group 3 onsite in Geneva? The short answer is “yes”. Some of the reasons I think that this happened are described below:

Why Opinions 5 and 6 survived Working Group 3 almost unchanged

1. IEG consensus versions were innocuous
The IEG consensus texts on multistakeholderism and enhanced cooperation were pretty bland when compared to other, more polarizing, texts and proposals on the same issues.Some earlier versions of the enhanced cooperation draft Opinions had been more alarmist in tone. For example, this was included in a draft at one point:

[…]that, despite its essential character, the Internet continues to suffer from critical weaknesses in its security protocols and in its governance processes that also make it the vehicle for spam, online child pornography and other abuses of children, identity theft and many other forms of cybercrime, damaging denial of service attacks, and disregard of considerations of national security, public order, public health and public morals while enjoying freedom of expression

The IEG consensus text, however, had been shaped into something all could find acceptable.

The UN General Assembly’s instructions late last year to CSTD that it create a Working Group on Enhancing Cooperation (WGEC) certainly helped take the heat out of the Opinion 6 debates. After all, it was pretty clear to everyone that it wouldn’t be appropriate for ITU Member States to be making decisions about a topic that the UN General Assembly has given to the CSTD to work on.

I’m sure that while everyone wished the drafts expressed more of their own views on the topics, everyone was also happy that the views of others didn’t dominate the Opinions.

2. Precedent
The second reason the Opinions survived without much change is the precedent set by the first four Opinions discussed at WTPF-13. In each of those cases, there had been many statements, often from those who participated in the IEG, that the consensus text reached in the IEG meetings should be respected. They should be respected because they had incorporated the widest range of opinions that could reach some level of agreement amongst all stakeholders.Even the smallest proposed changes had met with considerable opposition in Working Groups 1 and 2. In the end, there was only a single word change made during the discussion of the first four Opinions. That change was the inclusion of “relevant”, in relation to “international, regional and national forums” in the broadband-related Opinion 2. None of the other proposed changes were accepted. Instead, proposal authors dropped further pursuit of their proposals after:

  • Being convinced by discussions on the floor that the goal of the proposals was already covered in the existing draft Opinion text, or
  • Agreeing to the Working Group Chair ‘s suggestion that their concerns be included in the Chair’s Report of the Working Group’s activities.

It was very easy, therefore, for Working Group 3 to follow the same pattern as the earlier two Working Groups.

I suspect that, aware of the order of discussion of the six Opinions, some States worked hard to prevent significant redrafting of the earlier draft Opinions precisely so this precedent would be in place by the time the most difficult of the draft Opinions, 5 and 6, were up for discussion.

3. Concern by States that they could lose ground in the negotiation process
As I mentioned in point 1 above, the text of draft Opinions 5 and 6 were the result of intense negotiations within the IEG. While, no doubt, nobody was entirely happy with the text that came out of the last IEG meeting, everyone could be reasonably satisfied that the text, at the very least, didn’t contain anything that could seriously damage their chances of achieving their long-term Internet governance goals.

Given the short time available for discussion onsite in Geneva, many delegates were probably aware that there was a chance of something damaging to their position slipping into the text before they had the chance to understand its full ramifications. “Better the devil you know,” basically.

4. Lack of any strong leader pushing for stronger texts
If WTPF-13 had been held before the death of Syria’s Nabil Kisrawi in early 2011, I suspect it might have had a very different outcome. Kisrawi was the leading force amongst ITU Member States. He knew ITU procedures back to front. He passionately fought for the issues he thought should be fought for. Since his death, however, there hasn’t been anyone to replace the Kisrawi-shaped hole in the ITU world.Kavouss Arasteh from Iran has tried, but hasn’t quite succeeded in replicating Kisrawi’s forceful presence in ITU meetings. In fact, at WTPF-13, Mr Arasteh has changed his earlier focus from one that focuses solely on ITU’s role in Internet-related issues to one that sees collaboration and cooperation between ITU and Internet organizations as the way of the future. (His first ICANN GAC meeting in Beijing last month was apparently his “Saul on the road to Damascus” moment).

With nobody rallying the troops to call for changes to the IEG consensus text, States who had submitted proposed changes were left arguing for the changes on their own, with few or no other States to back them up.

5. Brazil’s separate draft Opinion
Brazil submitted a separate draft Opinion, Operationalizing the Role of Government in the Multistakeholder Framework for Internet Governance. Its content were somewhere in between the content of Opinion 5 and Opinion 6, encouraging greater government participation in Internet governance, while not proposing a governments-only form of enhanced cooperation. It had the potential to keep both pro-multistakeholder and pro-enhanced cooperation parties happy.Russia had originally submitted substantial proposed changes to Opinion 5. If those proposed changed had been discussed as part of Opinion 5, I suspect we still wouldn’t have an agreed version of the text. But the appearance of Brazil’s separate draft Opinion saved the day. Russia agreed to a request by the Chair of Working Group 3 to discuss Russia’s proposed text as part of Brazil’s proposed draft Opinion.

Where we’re at right now

Opinions 5 and 6 will go to Plenary for final approval this afternoon. The issues related to government participation in Internet governance processes, raised by Brazil’s draft, are still unresolved after a full morning of discussion.

Brazil’s revised draft Opinion didn’t reach anywhere near consensus during the discussions, although there was broad agreement that the issues were important. Instead, a summary of the discussion will be included in the Report of Working Group 3 Chair. The Chair has suggested that a summary on where Brazil’s draft stands, including the feedback of the WG3 participants, be sent to the ITU Council Working Group on international Internet-related public policy issues (CWG-Internet). CWG-Internet may then forward it to the ITU Council, which in turn may decide how to proceed with it within the ITU framework.

I will blog separately, and later, on the discussions of this morning’s WTPF-13 session. Stay tuned!