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 NEWSROOM : SECOND PHASE, TUNIS : PREPCOM-3
 PrepCom-3 Highlights: 26-27 September 2005

 

Discussions move into top gear
With time now short, the drafting process begins in earnest


Internet governance discussions kicked off this morning with delegations getting down to the business of drafting text that will eventually become part of the outcome documents of November’s World Summit.

After a weekend devoted to informal consultations, delegations launched into the week with the first round of detailed proposals on non-status document DT/10. While Chairman Khan urged delegates not to reopen text already agreed in previous documents, he assured them that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

With double sessions of both Sub-Committees now planned for the coming three days, the meeting quickly knuckled down to examining the language of the document, prompting an early intervention from the Internet Society warning delegates not to politicize the governance issue or “change for change’s sake”.

As focus turned to the first paragraph of the document (paragraph 39) El Salvador called for a more direct link between Internet governance and development. Saudi Arabia pointed to the difference between an “equitable” and an “equal” distribution of resources, noting that while the former, as contained in the draft text, might be considered a value judgment, the latter would represent a real goal to aim for.

The room also saw plenty of discussion on the importance of the various Geneva Principles, particularly network security and stability. However, while some considered this paramount, others, including Brazil, Iran (Islamic Rep. of) and South Africa, insisted that no one principle should be allowed to dominate.

Drafting support
Generalized frustration over lack of progress prompted a question on when drafting groups, first mooted last week, would be set up. Chairman Khan reminded delegates that until detailed proposals began to be received, groups could not begin work.

Attention then moved to the wording of paragraph 43, with Uruguay asking that the contribution of civil society and the academic, scientific and technical communities be recognized separately; others objected, countering that no such separation was found in the Geneva Principles. Chairman Khan suggested Uruguay, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Iran (Islamic Rep. of) and others might get together to resolve the issue, and an unlucky few skipped their lunch break to draft a new text.

Building consensus step by step
Discussions progressed to one of the most delicate parts of the document — section 3a on management of critical Internet resources. Many Asian, African and Latin American delegations called for internalization of root server management; others emphasized the importance of national sovereignty regarding top-level domains, and the need for action to reinforce regional Internet registries (RIRs).

Chairman Khan concluded the morning session by setting up two drafting groups — one led by Uruguay on stakeholder roles, and another by Saudi Arabia on DT/10 section 3a.

Night sessions begin
As the day’s close saw delegates from Sub-Committee B wend their way home, Sub-Committee A reconvened to begin the first of the conference’s night sessions.

First up was a report from the two working groups, with Uruguay announcing success on building consensus on the role of stakeholders, and Saudi Arabia presenting a draft text that nonetheless contained many square brackets (indicating lack of agreement on the wording).

Promising to address the outstanding issues in this text during discussion of Part 5 of DT/10, Chairman Khan moved discussion on to paragraphs 49-55.

The focus during much of Monday evening was on issues such as spam, cybercrime, interconnection costs, Internet Exchange Points (IXPs), and the need for an enabling environment to promote investment and drive equipment costs down.

Promoting sound management, enabling access
Resisting general support for a more international approach, the US, Australia and others emphasized the need for national action on issues like cybercrime, spam and development of local infrastructure.

For its part, the UK asked that the concept of Internet access be extended beyond computers to include other access devices, and observed that today’s largely privatized environment also meant it was not enough to simply urge governments to invest: “We need to create business opportunities that will allow investment to happen,” the delegate said.

Delegations stressed the need to keep sight of development issues such as spam, which while an annoyance in the developed world, represents a major impediment to access for developing countries, whose low-bandwidth links quickly become clogged. Debate over interconnection costs prompted Chairman Khan to call on expert input to establish facts about price differentials between different countries.

The session’s final interventions were from civil society groups, with the African Caucus proposing a compulsory global fund to promote open source software, and the Gender Caucus reminding delegates of the need to recognize gender issues as part of ICT access, and incorporate appropriate language reflecting this in final texts.

Chairman Khan moved to create three new working groups, led by Norway (paragraphs 52-55), Canada (paragraphs 49-51) and Senegal/Ghana (paragraphs 56-61).

Meetings continue at gruelling pace
Worked speeded up with the help of new document DT/14, a comprehensive compilation of comments and input on DT/10.

While the three working groups continued their labours outside the room, Committee A embarked on an in-depth reading section 5 of DT/10 — potentially the most controversial section of the document.

While most delegations speaking early in the process, including Brazil, India and Iran (Islamic Rep. of), favoured what they called an evolutionary approach, there was little consensus on the issue of the establishment of a new advisory body or forum. Some, such as the EU, spoke out in support of using existing management frameworks. Iran (Islamic Rep. of), for its part, submitted a detailed proposal based on the following principles: rejection of a pre-eminent role for any single government; establishment of a multilateral, transparent and democratic multi-stakeholder forum; and the setting up of a global council to provide oversight, negotiate treaties and guidelines, and develop rules and procedures for dispute resolution.

There was broad support for this proposal, with a great many delegations signalling their approval, particularly those from the developing world. Delegations from the developed world, including Australia, the EU, Japan and the US, were more cautious, preferring to recognize the important role played by existing institutions. Singapore perhaps best characterized the compromise position, supporting the ideas expressed by Iran (Islamic Rep. of) but also the notion of “proportional governance” and more extensive consultation before creating any new body. Barbados expressed many delegations’ sentiments well when it noted that while improvement to the current situation is badly needed, Internet governance needs to be a “work in progress”.

A short break saw the EU come back with a clear proposal for a forum with multi-stakeholder involvement. Canada added its support, and there was general backing for the idea of a forum linked to the UN.

Chairman Khan decided to create another new drafting group, led by Egypt, on multilingualism and enabling environment, and heard quite positive results from the three drafting groups led by Norway, Canada and Senegal/Ghana. Canada and Norway were asked to continue to refine their outputs, while Saudi Arabia will continue to lead work on finalizing paragraph 3a.

The meeting plodded forward steadily, eventually adding a section 39c, and approving paragraphs 40, 41, 42, 43, 43bis, and 44.

However, with four working groups, led by Norway, Canada, Saudi Arabia and El Salvador (on paragraph 39 bis), continuing to work through the night on new text, delegates were optimistic of better progress when sessions resumed on Wednesday morning.

Implementation issues — negotiations begin in earnest
Chairman Lyndall Shope-Mafole opened the second week of negotiations in Sub-committee B with comments from observers.

The United Nations University noted that an inclusive and open information and knowledge society could only prosper with the open sharing of educational content.

Reiterating commitment to the WSIS process, an ITU delegate said the Union would be ready to provide advice to member states to ensure “that adequate measures aimed at disaster mitigation are taken on board when ICT projects are being implemented, be it for early warning, response, relief, and for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of networks.”

A pledge that matched the proposal was made by Pakistan on behalf of the Asian group, providing a new paragraph on the importance of ICT for disaster prevention and management, early warning, and emergency communication. The input, the delegate said, was based on the experiences during last year’s horrific tsunami. Such disasters should be seen as “major impediments to poverty reduction and development”.

Full steam ahead
Moving on from the point where work had stopped last week, delegations quickly ticked off one paragraph after another. Steering the body with dash of good humour, Chairman Shope-Mafole brokered compromises when disagreement threatened to stall the process. In order to ensure the rights of minorities and foreigners, Canada insisted in changing “citizen” into “people” so as not to exclude anyone from the benefits of ICTs. Cameroon suggested to not only commit to helping an anonymous set of “people”, but also highlighting exactly the ones in need of help.

With Sub-Committee B now also following a doubled schedule of daily meetings, pressure on negotiators is steadily rising. Smaller delegations in particular were beginning to find themselves stretched in terms of following proceedings in the main committee meeting and the various different drafting groups.

The second reading of the chapter on Implementation Mechanisms led to a lengthy debate, with one camp opting for more general terms on implementation without a specific timeline, with the intention of providing flexibility in devising national e-strategies, and another arguing for clear implementation mechanisms and proper deadlines as a pre-requisite for the establishment of development plans and poverty reduction strategies. “We have to develop a sense of urgency”, explained a delegate from Egypt.

Tunisia, host of the forthcoming Summit, proposed a compromise: The roadmap for implementation should contain a valid timeline while leaving individual states room to manoeuvre. The Chair urged governments to propose concrete dates as a means of meeting the commitments made at the Summit.

Venezuela’s plea for the reduction of technological dependency was supported by several countries, but was opposed by the US delegation, arguing that it was contradictory that those interested in ICT development would want to decrease their dependence on technology. The US made its position clear — technology transfer should take place only by mutual agreement. With no imminent solution in sight, Ms Shope-Mafole advanced the idea of an informal meeting between interested countries such as the US and Brazil to discuss the matter further.

Countries called for more succinct language, but progress stalled over paragraph 7, one of the most complex sections of the document that comprises of 23 bullet points on the implementation action lines.

Returning to the late evening session, Sub-Committee B went back to tackle the chapter on Implementation Mechanisms. Given the many sources that had contributed to the text, delegations had to face considerable redundancy. Attempting to expedite the process, the Chair set up an informal working group to streamline the text and merge subparagraphs. The United Kingdom, joined by the USA, New Zealand, South Africa, Nigeria, and Canada, agreed to lead the meeting that would work with subparagraphs on ICT for capacity building, training and education.

A long debate on the question of access to information was polarized, with the US insisting on the wording “free and equitable access” to information while Iran and Egypt advocated “open access” to public information. The forming of another working group ensued, led by Iraq with Chad, New Zealand, Malawi, USA and Egypt.

Iceland created a brief stir asking for a reference to Intellectual Property Rights, but work continued thereafter, with delegates deleting paragraphs that were either redundant or already covered by the Geneva declaration.

Finally, in their interventions at the end of the session, Civil Society urged delegates not to broaden the scope of the political document and to abide by the principle of full participation of all stakeholders.


Parallel events

Towards a platform for media reforms in the Arab States
Network for Development together with UNDP

This workshop examined the media environment in the Arab region, looking at issues like censorship as well as structural and legal obstacles to freedom of expression and the development of a free press.

A draft platform for media reforms included nine elements:

  • Promoting the right to print, publish, and own newspapers and media
  • Promoting the independence of official media organizations
  • Promoting the independence of journalists; ensuring journalists’ right to form unions
  • Promoting the role of judiciary and reducing penalties imposed on journalists
  • Promoting transparency in the state’s relationship with the media
  • Ensuring well-balanced development of the media
  • Ensuring good quality journalism and journalistic integrity
  • Regulating the relationship with Internet media

Freedom of Expression and the Information Society
Network for Development/UNDP

The year 2005, this meeting heard, was the most violent year ever for journalists, with assassinations, kidnappings, torture and arbitrary imprisonments. Panellists noted that the threat of terrorism has prompted the passing of new laws further restricting freedom of expression.

The Media Institute of Southern Africa presented the findings of a report by the Tunisia Monitoring Group (TMG) on freedom of expression in Tunisia, the host country of the second phase of WSIS. The findings and recommendations of the report generated heated debate among the participants, some of whom expressed concerns about the methodology of the study.

Financing the Information Society
The Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF)

“Action speaks louder than words”. So said the President of the Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF), Guy-Olivier Segond, who provided PrepCom-3 participants with an overview of the origins and purpose of the Digital Solidarity Fund. The fund seeks to fight poverty through an innovative approach to financing development, targeting principally smaller community-based projects that respect cultural diversity and local content, and help create new activities, new jobs, and new markets.

At the Tunis Summit, the DSF will showcase 111 projects from the African, Asian and Caribbean region. These projects demonstrate how money generated by the fund is helping extend the benefits of ICTs through applications like tele-education and tele-health.

Grassroots Voices – Film Screening
One World International Foundation

Ensuring that the voices of grassroots communities — those living below the poverty line — will be heard in the WSIS process will be essential to creating a truly inclusive Information Society. Following a compelling overview of the of issues that concern communities in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, such as water provision, sanitation, nutrition, maternal and child healthcare, and the promotion of gender equality, two knowledge community workers from India and Nepal shared their experience of using ICTs for development, showing how grassroots communities can benefit from capacity building and from the development of relevant content in local languages. The panel, chaired by Conchita Poncini of the International Federation of University Women (IFUW), noted that grassroots projects should combine the use of the Internet with traditional media, such as radio and television, to adequately address lack of resources and low levels of literacy.
 

 

 

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