Global Forum on Internet Governance: Not everyone agrees on what is broken nor on what fixing might involve

By APCNews JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, 29 April 2004

A global forum on internet governance organised under the auspices of the United Nations Information and Communication Technologies Task Force (UNICTTF) was held at the UN Headquarters in New York, March 25-27, to bring together leading actors and all relevant stakeholders, including Member States, civil society and the private sector, interested in internet governance issues. APC was involved in planning the forum in its capacity as coordinator of the UNICTTF working group on ICT policy.

The meeting consisted of several parts, some public and some private. The first activity was a public forum which addressed the outcomes of the first phase of United Nations’ World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in relation to the issue of internet governance which emerged as the most contentious issue of WSIS, besides that of financing for ICT initiatives in developing countries.

The public meeting provided a space where various stake-holders were able to come together on reasonably equal footing to discuss:

- the implications of the internet governance debates in WSIS and a status-check on the current process by both the WSIS secretariat and the ITU

- a mapping of the internet governance landscape of issues, ie. ‘What is and isn’t internet governance’

- reports from various stake-holders, governments, UN agencies, and to a lesser extent, the private sector and civil society

Five breakout groups deepened discussion and analysis working from the basic principles outlined in the general discussions, and posed recommendations to the Forum. These recommendations, which vary in emphasis and perspective, will be compiled into a report, which will be fed into the WSIS Task Force on Internet Governance, under the patronage of the UN Secretary General.

APC’s role at the Sixth Meeting

APC was represented at the forum by executive director, Anriette Esterhuysen, who is a member of the UNICTTF, Karen Banks, APC’s advocacy and networking coordinator, Carlos Afonso from APC member in Brazil, RITS, Norbert Klein of APC member the Open Forum of Cambodia and Olinca Marino, vice-chairperson of APC’s Executive Board and from APC member LaNeta in Mexico.

Prior to the meeting, APC commissioned two background papers on internet governance to provide input for the event. The first by Carlos Afonso on the experience of internet governance in Brazil and the second by Norbert Klein on the experience of management of the adminstration of .kh –the country code domain for Cambodia- by the Cambodian government and the challenges this poses for grass-roots democratic participation and implementation.

During the meeting APC:

- chaired one and reported on another of the break-out sessions – ‘Transactions and content’ and ‘Under-addressed issues that could require collective governance’

- convened the UNICTTF working group on ICT Policy and Governance, and

- participated in the closed UNICTTF members meeting where the UNICTTF adopted its 2004 business plan.

APC convened and facilitated Working Group 1 on ICT Policy and Governance with a view to assessing the possibility of collective or bi-lateral collaboration on relevant initiatives. The working group was open to people outside of the UNICTTF membership and APC invited several initiatives to present their work, including the WSIS Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus –a grouping of organisations and individuals who have been debating the governance issue for several years now- and the Louder Voices initiative. There was also a presentation on trade regulation and ICTs.

Did the Global Forum succeed?

As a space for actors concerned with internet governance to speak out the event was a great success. As a forum for the kind of in-depth discussion of the issues needed to reach consensus on how to disaggregate the various areas of policy and regulation that is loosely grouped under ‘internet governance’ the Global Forum did not make great strides. It clearly acknowledged that there are fundamental concerns around the accountability and legitimacy of current internet governance structures, but at the same time the overall tone of the event was “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But not everyone agrees on what is broken, nor on what fixing should be involved.

However, doing anything beyond offering the most open and inclusive platform for addressing internet governance issues to date, in a one and a half day meeting, was probably unrealistic.

The challenges the Global Forum faced will now be faced by the working group. In a sense the dilemma lies in having to both expand, and shrink the scope of the issue, in such a way that leads to practical implement-able proposals that also address broader concerns. And it has to work in a way that is inclusive of different stakeholders (from the north and the south) and different perspectives, and actively tackles discontent rather than glosses over it.

One of the most significant outcomes of the WSIS is that it affirmed the fact that ICTs are integrally linked with broader social, political and economic processes. ICT matters to development, to people and countries that are effectively excluded from decision-making; it has to be approached from a variety of perspectives, from gender equality to human-capacity building, to accountable global governance.

This is a huge burden to add on to a process that also has to focus and refine the scope of internet governance, or at least to divide it into understandable and manageable clusters of administration, management, and governance. At the same time, unless the broader processes and concerns are not addressed by the proposals that the working group presents to the Tunis Summit, they are unlikely to be accepted.

Similarly, unless the various stakeholders that have expressed their interest in this area are given an opportunity to participate, from civil society, to developing country governments to the technicians that run the internet, the legitimacy the working group is likely to be questioned.

Civil society networking at the Global Forum

Civil society did not have an organised voice at the meeting, but many individuals from civil society were able to speak, including people from the WSIS civil society caucus. It is important for civil society groups to continue to be invited to participate and to shape the outcomes of the working group’s work. This was expressed very loudly and clearly at the Public Voice meeting that took place after the Forum.

EPIC (Electronic Privacy International Centre) took advantage of the UNICT TF to organize an independent meeting for civil society actors. The ‘Public Voices’ conference provided a space for US groups and international partners to reflect on WSIS and share plans around current activities and initiatives. APC renewed and formed relationships with several civil society organisations and we hope to see concrete activities emerge from this.

Additional information can be found here:

1) UNICTTF Global Forum:

2) UNICTTF official report on the meeting:

3) Papers commissioned by APC for the internet governance forum included:

“.br: ccTLD as an asset of the commons” – Carlos Afonso, RITS. This paper explores and challenges current ICANN management of country code top-level domains and presents Brazil as a case study.

“Internet Governance Perspectives from Cambodia” – Norbert Klein, Open Forum of Cambodia. Provides an overview of internet governance challenges in Cambodia.

4) ITU report to the Global forum:

Abstract: At the invitation of the ITU Secretary-General, a Workshop on Internet Governance1 was held at ITU Headquarters in Geneva from 26-27 February 2004. The Workshop was organized by the ITU Strategy and Policy Unit as part of the Secretary-General’s New Initiatives programme held since 1999, in line with ITU Council Decision 496. These New Initiatives workshops are intended to foster efficient and effective discussion among experts on specific topics. The overall objective of the Workshop was to contribute to the ITU’s process that will prepare its inputs and position vis-à-vis the United Nations working group to be established on Internet governance, resulting from the Declaration of Principles and Action Plan adopted on 12 December 2003, at the first phase of the World Summit on the Information Society.

5) Other general resources on the ITU WSIS site:

6) Online discussion forum on internet governance that preceded the Sixth Meeting:

7) The five breakout groups at the Sixth Meeting:

Group 1: Internet Infrastructure

Areas of Focus: underlying facilities and interconnection, domain names and IP addresses, technical standards, root server and zone file operations, network security

Group 2: Internet Infrastructure

Areas of Focus: underlying facilities and interconnection, domain names and IP addresses, technical standards, root server and zone file operations, network security

Group 3: Transactions and Content

Areas of Focus: e-commerce, e-signatures, e-contracting, trade in digital goods and services, consumer protection, intellectual property, speech, alternative dispute resolution, privacy and "information security".

Group 4: Transactions and Content

Areas of Focus: e-commerce, e-signatures, e-contracting, trade in digital goods and services, consumer protection, intellectual property, speech, alternative dispute resolution, privacy and "information security".

Group 5: Under-addressed Issues that could Require Collective Governance

Areas of Focus: Internet interconnection and backbone deployment, spam, network security, costs and financing, competition policy and restrictive business practices, consumer protection, cultural and linguistic diversity, taxation, jurisdiction and choice of law, universal access, Internet/ICT and development

Author: —- (APCNews)
Source: APCNews
Date: 04/29/2004
Location: JOHANNESBURG, South Africa
Category: Internet Governance