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 PrepCom-2 Highlights: 24-25 February 2005


PrepCom-2 Considers Internet Governance


PrepCom-2 convened on 24 February to consider the preliminary report of the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG). The first phase of the WSIS held at Geneva in December 2003 requested UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to establish a Working Group to investigate and make proposals to the Tunis Summit for action, as appropriate, on the governance of the Internet.


Markus Kummer, Executive Coordinator of the Working Group, introduced the status report on behalf of Chairman Nitin Desai. Mr Kummer said that the open, inclusive and transparent nature of discussions, which also allowed for online inputs, contributed to the working definition of Internet Governance, but he stressed that no definitive viewpoint had yet been adopted. Several definitions of both the Internet and Internet Governance had been posted in the Website and all stakeholders were invited to comment. 


The WGIG sees itself not as a negotiating body but as a working group, tasked with preparing the ground for negotiations to be held within the framework of the World Summit on the Information Society. WGIG relied on external contributions and comments as well as input from open-ended consultations as an integral part of its work. It had also taken note of several regional and thematic meetings that had addressed the subject. 


In its final report, the Group will address three main questions: developing a working definition of Internet governance; identifying relevant public policy issues; and developing a common understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the different actors.


Member States formulated 21 working papers that provided material for discussions in hopes of creating a common understanding on a wide range of issues in the fact-finding phase. At its last session from 14 to 16 February 2005, it had discussed Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and administration of the Internet Root Server system. Robert Kahn, a co-inventor of the medium who had attended the session, deemed that there was now “a deeper understanding of the diversity of issues involved”.


Looking ahead, Mr Kummer said that WGIG acknowledged that the Internet is fast-moving and that any governance of it would need to be flexible and supportive of technological innovation. 


A lively debate followed with interventions from 35 governments and several stakeholders. Delegations commended the Group’s transparent, open and inclusive methods, hailing its pioneering work and stated that consultations with stakeholders should remain in effect. 


A spectrum of views emerged as well as some key stumbling blocks. Chief among them was the legal vacuum in Internet governance. All agreed that the issue of Internet governance involved a host of issues and went beyond assigning IP addresses and domain names. Therefore, devising a legal ‘fine’ line between technical operations and public policy issues meant building an interface between international public law governing state action, and business and private law governing the Internet. Stakeholders would have to address this complex and difficult issue. 


PrepCom-2 recognized that the issue of Internet Governance involved a host of issues that went beyond assigning IP addresses and domain names and consensus on the need to improve the current Internet international coordination arrangements emerged. At the same time, delegates agreed that the process should not undermine the stability and reliability of the Internet.


Member States Have Their Say


Brazil took the lead in commenting on the first findings of the Working Group, strongly articulating the need for democracy and transparency in the decision-making process of how the Internet is administered, which should be based on multilateral, and intergovernmental action. Brazil thus established the ethical dimension of the debate, as underscored by many developing countries including India, China, Cuba and the African Group. 


The EU and others reiterated that transnational menaces, such as cybercrime and spam, needed concerted international action. India regretted that “little of substance” had emerged in the report since the Group was still grappling with the definition of Internet governance. Governments echoed the view that the final WGIG report should have a working definition of the term. Mr. Kummer acknowledged concerns of States but pointed out that the Group had “climbed the foothills; the north face of the Eiger lay ahead and the steep ascent would now begin”. He also informed participants that the Group was working to establish definitions of the criteria “open, inclusive and transparent”. 


Brazil recognized the regulatory challenge in balancing private rights and public policy and noted that the private sector did not always work in cooperation with governments and civil society. India urged the Group not to “shy away from a holistic assessment of the current architecture of Internet governance" and believed that no issue of Internet of governance processes should fall beyond the purview of the Working Group.


Russia said that whole regions were unprepared for the advent of the Internet, and needed to be ushered into this new era. The African Group called for more consideration of Africa's challenges, particularly those of least-developed countries (LDCs).


China, while advocating a "new world information order", stressed that governments should take the lead role. India deemed that public interest was best served by applying a "light regulatory hand". The US stressed that the domain-name system should be privately managed. The US upheld the role of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in this regard. India, on the other hand, decried the fact that a vital global resource should be in the hands of a "non-inclusive, opaque organization not accountable for its actions". Moreover India questioned the fact that all 13 root servers, were in the hands of developed countries.


Stakeholders Turn to Comment


Marilyn Cade of the Coordinating Committee of Business Interlocutors endorsed the observation in paragraph 31 that the term “governance” did not refer exclusively to “government activities” and praised the multi-stakeholder Group as having created a “new and welcome model for governments, international organizations and civil society.” 


Tracey Naughton of the Media Caucus on Internet Governance lashed out as “unjust that not a single practicing journalist” was part of the Group. The world of journalism “should have its rightful place at the table” to discuss Internet Governance, she said. She also added that Internet service providers should not be held liable for the content of messages, and that the installation of filtering systems must be an individual choice. 


ITU Role in Internet Governance Outlined


Houlin Zhao, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, said that the Internet could no longer be considered an academic trial or an educational network. Rather, it has become “the backbone of our new globalized economy and a basic platform for many public and government services”. Addressing the plenary session on Internet Governance, he underlined that “for such an important platform, there would be a need for multilateral and transparent cooperation.”


Mr Zhao said that there was a widespread myth that ITU had little to do with the Internet’s success. Indeed, it was many of ITU’s technical standards that created the underlying platform for the Internet. To support that evidence, he pointed to the new ITU broadband standards released over the last five years, which had brought Internet access to more than 100 million new users and contributed to the “Birth of Broadband”. 


Moreover, ITU has also played an increasing important policy role. “ITU is not only engaging the international community in important technical issues but also increasingly regulatory and policy considerations”, said Mr Zhao. “We are also proud that ITU has been widely called upon by industry — both service providers and equipment manufacturers — to develop the new standards that will form the basis of the ongoing convergence of the Internet with telephone, mobile and broadcast networks, otherwise known as Next Generation Networks or NGN” he added. 


Turning to ITU’s facilitation role, he said that there was unanimous agreement in the WSIS process that governments should play an appropriate role in Internet governance at both international and national levels. There is an emerging consensus that there is a need to improve the current international Internet coordination arrangements, he stated.


Internet governance must not be considered to be limited only to technical issues. “Therefore, a broader range of policy issues should be taken into consideration in addition to technical issues. People should also be aware of looking beyond “binary solutions” in order to find a new “third way” of collaboration where governments cooperate on the broad national and international policy frameworks for Internet governance, yet allowing the private sector to continue its activities where it excels in technical, businesses or operational expertise. 


He said that ITU “is extremely well positioned” and willing to work with others to consider the many technical and policy aspects of Internet governance issues. “We stand ready to contribute effectively wherever we can”, assured Mr Zhao.


Disability Caucus Focal Point


Hiroshi Kawamura, DAISY Consortium Representative for WSIS, told PrepCom-2 that people with disabilities are the poorest among the poor, particularly in developing countries. “Affordable ICTs need to be accessible and usable for individuals with disabilities to guarantee full participation in the community as active partners,” he said, “ICTs in many cases created new man-made barriers for persons with disabilities in developing countries in terms of affordability, accessibility and usability.” Mr Kawamura added that Promotion of low cost assistive technologies and accessibility standard development for mainstream ICTs are key to realizing ‘digital opportunities’ for persons with disabilities. On behalf of the Disability Caucus, and in view of the recent tsunami disaster, he proposed special financing mechanisms to be established for disaster recovery and preparedness development that is inclusive of persons with disabilities.


Financial Mechanisms


PrepCom-2 succeeded in reaching consensus on most sections of the chapter on Financial Mechanisms. These included:


  • Identification of areas where more attention to funding is needed

  • Prerequisites for equitable and universal accessibility to and better utilization of financial mechanisms

  • Providing affordable access to ICTs by reducing international Internet costs charged by backbone providers by supporting the creation and development of regional ICT backbones and Internet Exchange Points to reduce interconnection cost and broaden network access. To this end, ITU was asked continue the study of the question of the International Internet Connectivity

  • Establishment of a voluntary Digital Solidarity Fund

Some text remains in brackets and will be considered during PrepCom-3 in September.


Digital Solidarity Fund Approved


PrepCom-2 recognized that financing ICT development is a huge undertaking that requires multiple mutually supportive solutions. It is in this context that agreement on the Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) was brokered. The DSF represents an innovative financial mechanism of a voluntary nature open to interested stakeholders to be financed by voluntary contributions. Its aim is to transform the digital divide into digital opportunities by addressing specific and urgent needs at the local level and by seeking new voluntary sources of “solidarity” finance. The DSF will complement existing mechanisms for funding the Information Society which should continue to be fully utilized to fund the growth of ICT infrastructure and services.


The Fund is managed by a foundation with headquarters in Geneva who decides on the criteria for contributions and on the use of the funds. Currently, 60% of the resources of the Fund are earmarked for LDCs, 30% for developing countries and 10% for developed and transition economies. 


In addition to cash and in-kind contributions made by private companies, citizens and any other institutions, voluntary contributions can take the form of a 1% contribution on public ICT procurement contracts, either through a clause in public bids for ICT hardware, software and services for digital solidarity which stipulates that the winning bidder must make a contribution of at least one 1% of the amount of the transaction to the Digital Solidarity Fund; or through the donation by public authorities of an amount of at least 1% of their budgets earmarked for the purchase of ICT materials and services directly to the Digital Solidarity Fund. This 1% contribution gives the right to use the “Digital Solidarity” brand.


Tunis Format and Agenda


The agenda for the Summit in Tunisia passed unhindered. Chairman Janis Karklins assured the gathering that stakeholders would have as much a say as in the Geneva first phase but with the added innovation that WSIS will receive reports from stakeholders. Roundtables for Heads of States and panel discussions would be part of the agreed format.


Implementation and Follow-up — The Swiss Proposal


Marc Furrer, Head of the Swiss delegation, presented a proposal to hasten implementation and bolster the stocktaking exercise already underway. The proposal would streamline stocktaking by compiling it in a clear structure linked to the Action Plan.


Mr Furrer said that as the Tunis phase was supposed to shift gears and move from vision to concrete action, the Summit should avoid rephrasing the Geneva Action Plan in the operational part of the Tunis document, lest it result in second plan of action that could contradict the existing one. This exercise would analyse the Plan of Action and devise concrete projects or programmes. Stakeholders would have to delineate clearly what they would undertake to do. Switzerland stood ready to coordinate this work. 


Since ITU was willing to play a role in the follow-up, ITU and the WSIS executive secretariat could take the lead in drafting a paper on the substantive follow-up of WSIS; the paper should be ready in September and could give added value to the second phase in Tunis. 


ITU Secretary-General Yoshio Utsumi said this was more than simple stocktaking and secretariat activities; it would chart a future course and as such, was an important initiative. ITU could not do everything alone. Time constraints dictated that delegates should concentrate fully on the difficult and complex work ahead. He would need a more detailed mandate if States decided that ITU should start work on this. 


Intersessional Activities


The Chair presented a draft paper delineating activities in the intersessional period between PrepCom-2 and PrepCom-3 in a bid to arrive at a compromise solution, or "minimal common denominator of joint vision".


He recommended that chapter two (Financing Mechanisms), together with the compilation document containing comments thereof, would go directly to the next PrepCom. Similarly, the Political Chapeau, one of two parts comprising the Tunis Document, should follow suit. Both proposals passed by consensus.


Meanwhile the Group of Friends would continue to draft proposals for chapters one (implementation mechanisms) and four (The Way Ahead). Those proposals, along with written comments and proposals presented during the first reading on 21 February would be forwarded to the third PrepCom. PrepCom adopted the decision by consensus.


Finally, the report of the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) would be made available on 18 July, together with a compilation of all written comments of Governments and stakeholders received by mid-August for chapter three (Internet Governance) for consideration at PrepCom-3. The proposal according to which the Bureau in consultation with the regional group would take decisions on the steps needed to prepare the negotiation process on Internet Governance met with more resistance and consensus eluded the PrepCom.


The Chair offered a text where “negotiation process” would be changed to “proposals for action” to break the stalemate and appealed to their spirit of cooperation and "constructive ambiguity." Delegations could not arrive at a consensus so the Chair suspended PrepCom and invited all interested delegations to create an informal group to help narrow States’ positions on this contentious issue. It was finally decided to delete the text. As a result, PrepCom-3 will have before it the final report of WGIG and the compilation of the comments and proposals without proposed draft language for the chapter on Internet Governance.


Civil Society and Business Interlocutors Joint Statement 


Civil Society and business entities met in a joint plenary to suggest that the multi-stakeholder approach adopted during the Geneva phase should be the key component of implementation and follow-up mechanisms for the post-Tunis phase of WSIS. The statement stressed that Civil Society and business actors can engage effectively only if they are associated early on in the definition of these mechanisms. Therefore, they ask for the rapid establishment of a substantive dialogue at all levels allowing all stakeholders to address the issues between now and PrepCom-3.


Communication Professionals Take on MDGs 


The International Public Relations Association (IPRA) organized a roundtable discussion on ‘Communicating the MDGs: In Search of a Better World’. Tony Murdoch, Constellartis Consultants, moderated the discussion of how ICTs can link the Millennium Development Goals. He said professional communicators in the media, public relations, advertising and related sectors should put the MDGs and ICTs more centrally on their agendas and seize every opportunity for making contributions towards accelerating the targets. 


Alain Modoux, President of ORBICOM, said that the UN system unfortunately did not have an effective administrative system to implement its vision and the goals set out at global Summits. Tim Hingham, Director of Communication, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), had a more optimistic view and said that the MDGs were in fact a comprehensive outline to eradicate poverty with time-bound targets. Members of the audience supported him and said that UN Summits helped focus attention on pressing issues and roadmaps for all actors to push for solutions. In that vain, WSIS is a Summit of Solutions that is examining how Information and Communication technologies can empower people to achieve the development goals.



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Updated : 2005-02-28