- New gTLD database
ITU Council edges slowly, painfully toward the Internet
by Kieren McCarthy | 18 Oct 2011 |
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is continuing its difficult journey toward the 21st century in Geneva this week.
Picking up where the organization’s Plenipotentiary in Guadalajara a year ago left off, the ITU Council has been considering a number of proposals concerning the Internet and, not for the time, has hit the Internet’s culture of openness head on.
Following literally days of discussions spent trying to bridge the gap between a closed inter-governmental culture and the Internet’s open approach to policy, a series of odd compromises has been struck.
Key among them is future discussions of the “Dedicated Group on international Internet-related public policy issues”. The DGIRPPI (the worst acronym we’ve seen for a while) is transitioning to a more formal Working Group designation and is the hub of most of the work that emerges with respect to the Internet.
The ITU however finds itself stuck between two competing models and facing contradictory language over how to make that transition.
Photo: Veni Markovski
The process that created the Dedicated Group (WSIS) was, initially at least, an inter-governmental approach. That changed over time, and the final document (the Tunis Agenda) was liberally scattered with references to the term ‘multi-stakeholder’ – taken to mean including not just governments but also business, technical community, civil society and so on.
On top of that, one of the biggest outcomes of the four-week Plenipotentiary in October 2010 was the inclusion, albeit as a footnote, of various Internet organizations, including ICANN, the RIRs, IETF, ISOC and W3C.
So the question facing the ITU Council and the DGIRPPI therefore was: are non-governments allowed into the Working Group?
Same fight, same wording
The discussion broke down familiar lines with mostly Western governments, notably the United States, asking for the Working Group to be opened up to others, particularly sector members.
On the other side were, broadly, Middle Eastern governments insisting that the Dedicated Group was specifically set up with member state-only membership. China and Russia are known to favor a government-only approach but only speak up if they fear the argument will not go their way.
Both sides were able to pull out approved ITU wording to make their case. The WSIS resolutions and Guadalajara resolutions were bandied about and the meaning and intent and so on and so forth of each discussed to the point of tedium.
Even without Syria’s one-man stalling machine Nabil Kisrawi (who died earlier this year), the fact that some countries – in particular Iran – were not willing to budge means that the status quo is retained and the group will be restricted to member states.
Which led to the second part of the conversation – the consultations used to inform the Working Group’s work. After more back-and-forth in which Sweden, Brazil, Switzerland, Poland, and even Mali interjected to say that it was important that the consultation process be open, it was agreed that the consultations will be open.
Of course, the outcome was already pre-decided since both issues had already been heavily discussed and explicitly stated a year earlier in the Guadalajara Resolution 140, in point six for the Council, which reads:
to modify Resolution 1282 adopted by the Council at its 2008 session to establish a working group of the Council for the Dedicated Group on international Internet-related public policy issues, open only to Member States with open consultation to all stakeholders
But, as some country representatives pointed out, having an open consultation but a closed Working Group was a bit of a contradiction. Bulgaria noted for example that if the actual decisions and discussions are closed, it may discourage non-governments from bothering to take part in the open consultations. That argument was not accepted, nor was the subsequent suggestion that the Working Group documents at least be made public.
Almost all ITU documents – including all the ones for this Council discussion, including the agenda – are behind password protection, something that is a constant and stark reminder of the organization’s closed nature.
And so the ITU has ended up with an odd hybrid system – an open consultation of all stakeholders followed by a closed deliberation process for governments only. Almost everyone recognizes that this is not a system that can hope to work for very long, particularly the ITU staff who will have to switch between two completely different methods of work depending on what stage a document is in.
The momentum is clearly toward a more open process but it may be some time before that becomes a reality.
It may also provide Internet organizations with a reason to not engage formally with the ITU i.e. become sector members. The ball was put in the Internet organizations’ court – particularly ICANN – when the ITU acknowledged them in the Guadalajara resolutions. But with the ITU Council giving little reason or advantage to becoming a sector member in this discussion over the DGIRPPI, it will be easier for Internet organizations to argue there is no point signing up.
To read the remainder of this article, including:
- What the actual resolutions are
- The fight over the definition of 'ICT' that will define the ITU's role with respect to the Internet
- Efforts to create a whole new Internet governance meeting in 2013
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