UN And Internet Governance, Next Four Years: Better Cooperation Or Bigger Role?Published on 27 October 2010 @ 7:53 pm
By Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch
After three weeks of negotiations, member countries and the secretariat of the United Nations International Telecommunication Union hailed the consensus and success of the 2010 Plenipotentiary Conference, which sets the ITU work programme for the next four years. But even through the final rounds of applause, the tensions about how much the internet features in the core mandate of the Union remained audible.
The plenipotentiary wrapped up its work with “broad agreement on core issues,” the secretariat announced in its final press release. The meeting was held in Guadalajara, Mexico from 4-22 October. Delegates approved the 632 million Swiss franc financial and strategic plans for the Union for the next four-year term and, in a long list of resolutions, agreed, for example, on “better use of information and communication technologies to manage climate change and disaster response.”
A delegate from Russia said in the closing ceremony that the conference had stated “that the ITU is open for cooperation and is ready to take the first steps to bring closer together other organisations that are dealing with internet-related matters.” But, he said, the ITU is also “ready to take on itself a leading role in internet governance within the scope of its competence and we ask the secretary-general to inform the General Assembly of the UN and all those concerned in telecommunications on our progress in this field.”
Is ITU Only One Partner?
The opposite position underlining ITU’s need to cooperate with existing self-governing internet organisations was provided by the Swedish delegate speaking for the 48 members of the “European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations” (CEPT). Changes both within the Union and in the cooperation with other organisations are necessary, the delegate said. “We need to be more efficient internally and we need to avoid overlap with the work done by other organisations. This is particularly important in the internet area.” The 2010 plenipotentiary decisions will “guide the ITU in the right direction,” the Swedish delegate said.
The whole package [All final acts will be available here] [Clarification: The ITU has now said the documents will be freely accessible to the general public when ready in publication form, i.e., by end February 2011] of internet-related resolutions (Resolutions 101, 102, 133 and a new resolution on the new internet protocol, or IPv6) was passed at a late hour on Thursday night, close to the end of the three-week meeting and it needed re-elected ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré’s urgent appeal for a compromise. For days, delegations mainly from the Arab world and from Russia had fought against a reference to the self-regulatory organisations like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs), the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Society and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) in the internet resolutions.
Proposals to transform ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee (GAC) into an “international committee, or create an (ITU) Council working group (…) with powers of supervision over ICANN,” or a “progressive cooperation agreement between ITU and ICANN and define a mechanism to increase the participation of governments” were all struck from the text. Also struck earlier in the Guadalajara meeting was a Russian proposal to integrate the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) whose future is on the agenda of the UN General Assembly this week. The IGF was an outcropping of the 2003-2005 ITU-led World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).
How, asked Syrian delegate Nabil Kisrawi, can an intergovernmental UN organisation like the ITU be considered to be on equal footing with a California-based private company like ICANN? An explanation of the concerns of the Arab countries came from the Saudi delegation. Some people just did not want the names of ICANN and the other self-regulatory bodies in the resolutions because, “we think that in fact there’s a risk of undermining the role of the ITU in the internet.” All countries are in favour of having ICANN work under international and not under California law, the Saudi delegation said.
Touré’s last-minute compromise for the internet resolutions asked at least for “reciprocity” in the cooperative efforts of the ITU, ICANN and the other internet management organisations, and this formula is now part of all four internet-related resolutions of the ITU work plan for 2012-2015.
Special Forum in 2013
The discussion about the ITU’s role in the internet will continue, though, and Resolution 101 contains the task to prepare a “special forum” to be held in 2013, to discuss all the issues raised by the ITU internet resolutions. The “Dedicated Group on Internet-related Public Policy Issues,” so far part of the ITU Council Working Group on the World Summit on the Information Society, will be changed. Under Resolution 102, it now shall become an independent Council Working Group, “limited to member states, with open consultations.”
Requests for Assistance
Besides the additional efforts to cooperate with the self-regulatory groups, the ITU is tasked in the four internet resolutions with classical monitoring, information gathering for its members, and “assistance” in areas to help with the transition to new IPv6 internet addresses for those countries who ask for it.
As the current IPv4 internet addresses are running out even earlier than expected, migration to the new IPv6 is necessary, the community of regional IP address-managing organisations – the RIRs – said a few days ago. For some time, a number of ITU member countries tried to establish another IP-address-registry within the ITU, which is currently the registry for country codes in the telephone system.
As with the proposal to increase oversight by the ICANN GAC, the idea of an ITU IP address registry was rejected by the group of western, industrialised countries. The directors of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau and the ITU Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, newly elected Brahima Sanou and re-elected Malcolm Johnson, according to the resolution now only get a small stick: they shall monitor allocation policies for the numbers, “point out any underlying flaws in the current allocation mechanisms,” and “communicate proposals for changes to existing policies, if identified under the studies above, in accordance with the existing policy development process.”
Plus, ITU shall “assist those Member States which, in accordance with the existing allocation policies.” Developing country interest in getting assistance in the area of internet management and policy seems to motivate some of the requests for a broader mandate. In the very heated debate about the ITU’s future role in dealing with cybersecurity and cybercrime, the delegate from Ghana said: “Administrations should have the right to ask for assistance in all aspects of ICT [information and communications technology].”
The request of the United States and other western countries to cut cybercrime, issues of national defence, and content issues from the ITU cybersecurity agenda therefore was difficult to accept, the Ghanaian delegate said. Secretary General Touré, said the ITU, despite its “Global Cybersecurity Agenda” is not working on cybercrime. He called it regrettable that “the membership always tells us what not to do, instead of what to do.” The US delegate, meanwhile, said that the ITU could expect more requests to include the reference to its “core mandate” in resolutions in the years to come.
The demand to stick to its core mandate would not prevent the ITU from offering assistance to countries in “the elaboration of workable legal measures relating to the protection against cyberthreats,” that is agreed in the resolution, a representative from the United Kingdom said. Financial assistance to developing or war-stricken countries in the build-up of their telecommunications networks also was passed for several individual countries like Serbia and Lebanon and Palestine, which became an official ITU observer, and a list of countries grouped in the Annex of Resolution 34.
ITU Becomes More Geeky
Alongside the ongoing discussion on the ITU’s role in internet governance, the organisation also decided to become more open access and somewhat more “geeky,” increasing use of social networks, blogging and other newer online tools. In the past, the secretariat had been sceptical about granting free online access to its documents, but an ongoing pilot project of access to ITU-T recommendations led to an increase of downloads of more than 7,000 percent. Member states therefore concluded that in the future, online access to the recommendations of ITU-T and ITU-R would be free as would the basic texts and the final acts of the plenipotentiary conferences.
This will allow everybody to read through the 300 pages of final acts from Guadalajara now and ponder how they might be implemented, from “the stepping up of ITU’s activities in the area of emergency communications and humanitarian assistance” and the “ITU Broadband Strategy,” to the “Digital Inclusion for Indigenous peoples” and “measures to prevent the illicit use and abuse of telecommunication networks through unauthorized calling and routing practices.”
Throughout the three-week session, blog posts, and video posts with interviews of top officials and tweets announcing fresh compromises were used to allow observers from the outside world to get a glimpse of the inner workings of the “plenipot” mega-machine.
Another step to becoming more open is a resolution that grants academic institutions membership status for the price of 3,975 Swiss francs. Sector members, meaning industry members from developing countries, will enjoy reduced fees. Possibly by easier access and a bigger membership the Union could also do away with some of the financial cutbacks that are reflected in a resolution on how to save money by being more conservative in setting up new working groups for example. The next four-year budget is expected to see a reduction of 3.5 percent, with 12.6 percent reduction in contributions from sector members and a 1.6 percent decline in contribution from member states, according to the final acts.
Non-governmental organisations have criticised the ITU for many years and the internet self-regulatory bodies looked at the ITU as interested in “taking over.” With the formal acknowledgement of private domain regulator ICANN, the IP-address allocating RIRs, the Internet Engineering Task Force and the World Wide Web Consortium – standardisation organisations for the internet protocol and the Web respectively – in its plenipotentiary documents, the ITU might be seen as giving up its claim as sole representative for future networks. But how much will the ITU give up?
Monika Ermert may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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