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The Importance of Contributing to the ITU CWG-Internet Open Consultation by 1 August 2013

The Council Working Group on international Internet-related public policy issues (CWG-Internet) was established as a result of resolutions at the 2010 ITU Plenipotentiary (remember the footnote?) to discuss a wide range of Internet issues that had public policy implications. Some of the issues that the CWG-Internet has and is discussing include:

  • Internet governance principles
  • IP addressing issues, including IPv4 markets in the wake of the exhaustion of the IPv4 free pool
  • Spam

These are all issues that concern all stakeholder groups in the Internet ecosystem. And, indeed, these are all issues being discussed in varying levels of detail by all stakeholder groups. The difference with the CWG-Internet, however, is that both its documents and meetings are closed to all non-Member State representatives. Not even ITU Sector Members have access to the documentation. A large number of non-government stakeholders, as well as many ITU Member States, find this to be a way of working contrary to the Tunis Agenda and have attempted to find ways to enable non-Member State representatives to participate in the CWG-Internet's deliberations.

In 2012, the ITU Council agreed to hold open consultations for the CWG-Internet, but not go as far as opening the documents or meetings of the CWG-Internet to non-Member State representatives. Then, only a few weeks ago, the ITU Council 2013 had a long debate over whether it was appropriate to open the CWG-Internet to non-government stakeholders. The conclusion of that debate was they would have to wait until ITU Plenipotentiary 2014 in Busan, 20 October – 7 November 2014, to discuss any potential changes to the Guadalajara version of Resolution 102, which started the CWG.

In the meantime, however, the first ever open online consultation conducted by the CWG-Internet is about to close on 1 August 2013.

The CWG-Internet open consultation topics

Any stakeholder can submit responses to the three following topics that the CWG is seeking further information on:

  • Issue 1: Consultation on effectively countering and combatting spam.
    The Council Working Group on International Internet-Related Public Policy Issues invites all stakeholders to provide input on international public policy issues related to effectively countering and combatting spam.
  • Issue 2: Consultation on international public policy issues concerning IPv4 addresses.
    The Council Working Group on International Internet-Related Public Policy Issues invites all stakeholders to provide input on international public policy issues related to (a) unused legacy IPv4 addresses, and (b) inter-region transfers of IPv4 addresses.
  • Issue 3: Consultation on developmental aspects of the Internet.
    The Council Working Group on International Internet-Related Public Policy Issues invites all stakeholders to provide input on international public policy issues related to developmental aspects of the Internet.

Given the interest so many non-government stakeholders had in the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) and the Fifth World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum (WTPF-13), you'd probably expect the CWG-Internet consultation to be inundated with responses, yes? Well, actually, in reality, the answer is "no".

Since the open consultation opened in February this year, it has received exactly four responses. And not a single one of those four responses are from any of the Internet-related organizations that have pushed so hard to be able to participate in ITU's Internet-related activities. It's a little perplexing.

Why the lack of response to CWG-Internet's Online Consultation?

Having asked a number of people why their organizations aren't responding to the online consultation, I've heard two main responses:

  1. The information about the online consultation topics is very vague.
    Probably the worst offender here is Issue 3, which asks for input on international public policy issues related to "developmental aspects of the Internet." With a topic is so broad, people don't have a clue how to begin framing a response to it.
  2. There are so many Internet governance related processes underway, that organizations are losing the capacity to respond to all of the processes.
    In the first half of this year, we've had UNESCO's WSIS+10 review meeting, ITU's WTPF (plus its final Informal Experts Group meeting in February), the WSIS Forum, the formation of the CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC), two IGF preparatory meetings, an ICANN meeting, Regional Internet Registry meetings, and much, much more. The ever-expanding Internet governance calendar is growing at such a rate that it's not just developing country stakeholders that have trouble following it all. Even the best-resourced stakeholders are having difficulties fitting in all these consultations with their actual day-to-day work.

Why it's important that stakeholders do respond

Despite the very understandable reasons stakeholders haven't responded to the CWG-Internet consultation, it's vital that we do have a decent response rate to the consultation.

If we don't respond, then it gives the governments who have a "let's keep the CWG-Internet closed" stance a fantastic argument for keeping the status quo. After all, if the community shows no interest in interacting with the CWG-Internet even when the CWG-Internet has asked for submissions, what could possibly be achieved by opening up the CWG's meetings?

Instead, we need to help bolster the case for opening the CWG-Internet by showing that non-government stakeholders do have something very important to contribute to the governments' work on international public policy issues related to the Internet. By providing submissions to the online consultation, we can support the ongoing efforts of governments who have been trying to open the CWG-Internet.

A template to help stakeholders respond to the online consultation

To make it easy for stakeholders to respond to the online consultation in the short time that remains, below is a proposed structure for responses to CWG-Internet:

  1. Thank the CWG-Internet for seeking input from the larger community.
    Your organization understands that the members of the CWG-Internet are discussing a very wide range of international public policy issues related to the Internet. As it's unreasonable to expect that government representatives in the CWG-Internet are experts in all areas under discussion, your organization welcomes the CWG-Internet's recognition that it needs the input of subject matter experts in specific Internet-related fields.
  2. Explain what your organization is and why it can help the CWG-Internet with its work.
    Don't overdo the introduction to your organization, but do explain why you have expertise or interest in one or all of the three issues CWG-Internet is seeking input on. Do give links to, or append, any documents you have produced on the issues CWG-Internet is interested in.
  3. Note that, unfortunately, it's not possible to give specific advice to the CWG-Internet given the overly broad parameters of the consultation, but welcome the opportunity to respond to more specific questions from the CWG-Internet.
    Including this will help pro-"open the CWG" governments argue for the need to make CWG-Internet's documents available to non-government members, even if we can't get the CWG-Internet meetings opened. By offering to answer any specific questions the CWG-Internet has on the issues they have sent to open consultation, we can hopefully get a more meaningful and informed dialogue happening between governments in the CWG-Internet and the wider ecosystem of Internet governance stakeholders.
  4. Provide links to forums that are already discussing the issues CWG-Internet is interested in, and encourage them to engage with those forums.
    In the interests of "enhanced cooperation", take the time to direct governments to organizations and forums that are already discussing the issues that are the subject of the online consultation. If there's a page associated with the forum that explains how to participate, include a link to that, too.
  5. Thank the CWG-Internet again, and tell them you look forward to engaging with them in future to assist in their deliberations.
    If you're feeling really bold, you may want to encourage the CWG-Internet to consider more direct interaction with your organization and other non-government stakeholders in future, via more open CWG-Internet modalities.

By Sam Dickinson, Internet governance consultant & writer

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Why the lack of response to CWG-Internet's Online Consultation? By Anthony Rutkowski  –  Jul 22, 2013 6:03 am PDT

How about a third option - no one cares about the ITU Council Working Group.

In fact, most ITU Council Working Groups have virtually no participants and do nothing.  It is a problem common to the ITU in general.

Anthony, I can certainly understand your point By Sam Dickinson  –  Jul 22, 2013 4:09 pm PDT

Anthony, I can certainly understand your point of view. Many in the Internet technical community felt the same way at the beginning of the WSIS process.

While CWGs in general may not be the most well-attended of ITU meetings, the CWG-Internet's mere existence is significant. CWG-Internet exists because some Member States aren't happy with the current Internet governance framework. We can trace this back to the Tunis Agenda and its "enhanced cooperation" text and, almost a decade on, some governments are still promoting the notion that enhanced cooperation should happen in an purely intergovernmental context.

But in the end, if we allow "balzanization" of Internet governance discussions, we risk further "balkanization" of the actual Internet, too. If we are to achieve true enhanced cooperation in Internet governance, we need to ensure that Internet governance discussions - even those conducted in a closed, single stakeholder group setting, such as CWG-Internet - have access to information about the wide range of issues involved. Without this, we risk single-stakeholder-group discussions developing recommendations or opinions that may be at odds with the long-term health of the Internet.

errr...maybe my point is being missed By Anthony Rutkowski  –  Jul 22, 2013 5:14 pm PDT

Council Working Groups are often the way ITU Council's dispose of political matters that have no solutions.  It's "mere existence" in the real world is not significant.  With 193 Nation States of rather diverse proclivities and flavors, odds are that some are "not happy" about something.  Some of them also live in alternative universes where they believe that an intergovernmental UN organization like the ITU is relevant or useful today.  So what the CWG has simply confirmed is the reality today.  There is no participation because no one views the group as relevant.  The Boy Scouts aren't involved in Internet governance - whatever that is.  It is probably not going to be adverse to the Internet.  :-)

I assure you I'm not missing your By Sam Dickinson  –  Jul 22, 2013 11:24 pm PDT

I assure you I'm not missing your point, Anthony, but merely view the issue differently.

I understand why you may feel strongly the way you do, but I believe it's important to acknowledge that some governments aren't happy with the current Internet governance arrangements and try to do something to address their concerns and fears. Although such governments may currently feel that it's only in purely intergovernmental settings that they can be heard, I believe it's by actively engaging with these governments that we can encourage them to feel comfortable and empowered enough to participate in more multistakeholder-based forums.

I agree with you that it won't ever be possible for all 193 States to agree completely on any issue; however, I believe it is destructive, long-term, to dismiss the desire of governments - largely from developing countries which have borne the brunt of various neo-colonial processes imposed on them by developed states - to find a voice in Internet governance discussions. Ignoring the one venue such governments feel comfortable in - the CWG-Internet - risks deepening the divisions on Internet issues we saw come to the fore during WCIT.

...probably still missing the point By Anthony Rutkowski  –  Jul 23, 2013 5:09 am PDT

It seems rather demeaning to any country to suggest that the CWG-Internet is "the one venue such governments feel comfortable in." It also seems like a bit of a delusion to think that dialogue in that venue will substantially mitigate divisions on Internet issues in treaty conferences.  The reality is that the complexity of the issues, the venues, and the tactics - including the hundreds of other venues in the ITU (not to mention the thousands in other international fora) that are ongoing - do not make that Council working group particularly relevant.

I have been participating in ITU venues for the past 40 years; working there on Internet related matters for the past 30 some years; been a senior ITU official, been a representative of the U.S. government and many other entities, and written its principal published history.  With rare exceptions, Council CWGs are not where you want to spend your time unless you have nothing better to do.  This particular one - with Terms of Reference specified in the Annex to Council Res. 1336 - is basically an amusing description of an entity that does nothing more than exist.

At this point, it is also more time than I care to devote to the subject, so this is my last reply.

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