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.

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