Internet governance: An opinion report on the UN working group leading the debate

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, 02 February 2005

The Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG): the beginning

An opinionative report on the first meeting of the Working Group on Internet Governance, November 23-25 2004, Geneva.

Carlos A. Afonso

Member of the WGIG, RITS Director of Planning, member of the Brazil Internet Steering Committee (CGIbr)

December 2004

Note: This text contains information from reports drafted by various participants in the WGIG meeting, including W. Kleirwachter, V Bertola and others. Responsibility for the opinions included in the text, however, is solely the author’s.


What is today referred to as “internet governance” goes far beyond the mandate of the entity created several years ago to globally administer internet addressing resources – IP addresses, domain names and data transport protocols. This entity, the Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers (ICANN) created in 1998 by the US Government as a non-profit civil society organisation based in California, took some time to recognise that its scope of governance needed to be extended, incorporating into its mandate issues crucial to the future of the internet.

In fact, ICANN and the Internet Society (ISOC), who have a very close relationship on certain issues, resisted the use of the concept of governance until recently, preferring to emphasise the idea of “coordination” between the different entities of the private sector. ISOC’s brochure that was distributed during WSIS (World Summit on the Information Society) in Geneva in December 2003 had as its title: “Developing the Potential of the Internet through Coordination, not Governance.”

However, one of the consensuses achieved during the WSIS in Geneva was that internet “coordination” or governance should have a more comprehensive character. Paragraphs 47 to 49 of the Declaration of Principles summarise this scope, and paragraph 50 states:

"International internet governance issues should be addressed in a coordinated manner. We ask the Secretary-General of the United Nations to set up a working group on Internet governance, in an open and inclusive process that ensures a mechanism for the full and active participation of governments, the private sector and civil society from both developing and developed countries, involving relevant intergovernmental and international organisations and forums, to investigate and make proposals for action, as appropriate, on governance of the Internet by 2005.”

The Plan of Action linked to the Declaration of Principles establishes four main objectives of the working group:

1.To develop a definition of internet governance.

2.To identify public policy issues relevant to internet governance.

3.To reach common understanding of the respective roles and responsibilities of existing governments, intergovernmental and international organisations and other forums, from the private sector as well as civil society from both developing and developed countries.

4.To prepare a report on the results of this activity, to be submitted for consideration and relevant action during the second phase of the WSIS, in Tunis in 2005.

The process of forming the Working Group (WG) was quite slow, but finally in October 2004, the UN Secretary General established the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG). The WGIG members were chosen from a list of names compiled by governments, civil entities, the private sector and international and multilateral agencies, with the final decision on who should participate being made by the UN. The complete list of selected names is at the end of this text (Appendix 1).

Establishment of the WGIG

The WG is presided over by Nitin Desai, Under-Secretary-General for Social and Economic Affairs of the UN, and Special Advisor to the Secretary General on the WSIS. The executive coordinator is Markus Kummer, whose role is to organise the WGIG establishment process.

Desai is seeking to characterise the WG as a group of “specialists”, not as representatives of governments or other interested parties. However, disassociating oneself from institutional representation is difficult, especially for government representatives.

On the other hand, the persons selected by other interest groups (private sector, civil society entities, academia) are connected with these groups and will seek wherever possible to express opinions that are in agreement with them(or are at least non-conflicting). To this end, the free flow of information amongst WG members and their interest groups is essential.

The Group is numerically balanced with regard to the various interest groups, but is seriously unbalanced in terms of gender (only 10% are women).

Position of the ITU

The work of the WGIG began on November 23. A total of 38 members were present, as well as observers from some multilateral organisations (in particular the ITU) – observers, but with the right to speak (!).

The meeting was opened with an objective speech by the ITU Secretary General, Yoshio Utsumi. To summarise Utsumi’s speech in a few words, the focus of the WG’s work should be to administer names, addresses and protocols – the rest, according to Utsumi, is fantasy. In other words, the WG should concentrate on discussing proposals for the worldwide management of the internet transport layer.

It is important to take into account the fact that the motivation for pro-ITU proposals comes from the fact that the telecommunications “oligarchy” (the traditional telephone companies) feel as scared by digital convergence (internet telephony, or voice over IP, rapid progress of connection alternatives via digital radio etc), as RIAA and MPAA feel desperate with the inexorable and rapid progress of file exchange via P2P systems (Overnet, BIT

Torrent, Kazaa etc.)

The pro-ITU strategy (or strategy in favour of a UN-linked intergovernmental organisation) seems to be: to join together at least two of the main internet service layers (the connection infrastructure and the data transport layer, that is transmission and addressing) under the control of the ITU (or the UN) to make our traffic more secure. Addressing means IP addresses, domain names (DNS) and data exchange protocols – the exact set of responsibilities for which ICANN was created.

The reaction of various members of the WGIG to Dr. Utsumi’s speech was decisive – internet governance goes way beyond what ICANN does today (names, addresses and protocols) and there is not yet a consistent proposal that covers all the aspects of governance. Issues ranging from the interconnection of backbones to the improper use of services, from global security of the system to freedom of access, amongst other things, should be considered and are outside of ICANN’s mandate. Moreover, for some of these issues there is no organisation (or coordinated set of organisations) that can guarantee adequate treatment of the issues.

Practically the whole morning was dedicated to members’ presentations. Despite the president’s appeal for members to present themselves succinctly, and emphasise their hopes for the WG’s work, many spent too much time describing their own virtues. This type of self-centredness is not going to contribute towards effective work by the WG.

The rest of the day was essentially dedicated to operational items, such as the agenda of meetings, work methods etc. There was an attempt by government representatives to allow the participation of one more delegate for each member of the WG, at the discretion of each delegate or interest group. If this was approved, there would be an imbalance between the current group and governments – as these have representation in Geneva, and can always figure on additional participants, while civil entities do not have this resource. However, the idea was temporarily set aside, and will be discussed again on the third day.

The contribution of Dr Qiheng Hu, Adviser to the Ministry of Industry and Information in China was notable. He stated that the work of the WG should be innovative, and should seek to add creative mechanisms to the existing structure. This statement left the impression that China is not proposing to substitute existing government institutions, but to improve the structure through adequate consultation in search of consensus.

There was agreement on the following points:

● The work of the WG will seek to use a combination of closed and open meetings, as well as collaboration via the internet. Closed and open lists will be created to facilitate internal work and dialogue with interest groups and the public in general.

● Face-to-face meetings will be, in principle: in February (before Prepcom, in Geneva); in April (possibly in New York or in Brazil); in May (an extraordinary meeting on the invitation of the Egyptian Government, in Cairo, still not confirmed); and in June (Geneva?) to close the final report.

● The work must begin with an adequate approach, possibly going beyond the more than 40 points presented in Brazil by Al Gazaleh, seeking to join some fundamental topics to become the WG’s priorities.

The Open Forum

On the 24th, the meeting will be open to the public (over 200 people, mostly from government missions to the UN in Geneva).

Initially, various government representatives expressed concern with regard to access to the WG meetings – some requested the possibility of being guaranteed free access like observers. Desai affirmed that the WG work will be as transparent as possible, but that access to the meetings would be the object of WG discussions the following day.

With regard to governance themes, the principal concerns expressed by the representatives of developping countries were related to security and improper use (spam, pornography, fraud etc.) as well as inequality in the sharing of interconnection costs (see more on the subject of interconnection below).

Also debated was the proposal expressed in the recent text by Houlin Zhao, Director of the ITU’s Telecommunications Standardisation Bureau, which proposes the introduction of a dual system of Ipv6 address distribution, in which each government will receive a stock of IP addresses and will be responsible for the national distribution of these addresses, while a similar structure, currently under ICANN, would distribute addresses from another IP address stock. Some governments support the idea in the name of national sovereignty, but there is strong criticism from the technical community, and from civil society. The debate was certainly not conclusive.

An important observation which was made at the open meeting refers to the attitude of ICANN members and affiliated organisations towards the interconnection issue. It is understood that ICANN cannot deal directly with this issue, as it is not within its mandate. Neither is it the ITU’s problem, as the subject is more closely related to interconnection cost-sharing in the so-called “internet transport layer”, and not to physical connections (referred to as the “infrastructure layer” in internet jargon).

An important introduction: in any internet connection, there is the cost of the physical connection to the internet (telephone connection, cable connection, connection between a service provider and a backbone, connection between the backbones of two countries etc.). This physical connection is normally made by one or more telecommunications companies. In general, there is in this case a cost-sharing agreement according to established rules, laws or practices. For example, in a satellite connection between one country and another, it is the rule that each country pays for the cost from “their side” of the physical connection (from country A to the satellite, the operator from country A pays, and from the satellite to country B it is the operator from country B who pays).

However, there is another cost component for which there are no norms or agreements: the cost of internet data packets at a set speed (expressed in kilobits, megabits or gigabits per second) –the so-called “internet transport layer”. In general, there is a “food chain”, where the strongest unilaterally covers the weakest, and at the top of this chain are the US telecommunications and internet backbone operators – including ex-WorldCom, now MCI, one of whose vice-presidents, Vinton Cerf, is ICANN’s president.

What justifies cost-sharing in the transport layer? The fact that any connection to the internet is bilateral – whether sending or receiving data traffic. In a connection between countries, users from either country can use services in either of the two countries (presupposing democratic regimes on both sides).

At the end of October, Vint Cerf published an article in which he acknowledged that the concept of internet governance makes sense, and that there is an extensive range of management and policy issues that go beyond ICANN’s mandate, and that need to be taken into account by the WGIG. He mentions some of these issues, but ignores the interconnection issue.

ISOC, closely connected to Vint Cerf and to the ICANN structure (from which it “earns” a basic source of income, management of the generic domain), stated in an open letter of November 1, 2004 to Markus Kummer:

"We urge WGIG to avoid any plans to create new organisations to control internet standards, to allocate domain names and IP addresses, set prices and policies for international internet connections, or to control what type of content and applications are delivered over the internet.”

ISOC’s message for the WGIG to ignore the interconnection issue, is clear.

Vint Cerf continues to repeat the argument that “what is working does not need to be fixed”, a metaphor to say that no-one from outside should dare to meddle in ICANN. The argument misses the mark – although some have the vision that the WGIG should only concentrate on the ICANN x UN issue (an argument supported by Mr. Utsumi) – the fact is that there are many relevant issues that are not being adequately covered (or are not within anyone’s portfolio) in ICANN’s “wagon”.

Repair of ICANN’s “wagon” is not being proposed, but a more advanced and far-reaching “means of transport” is being sought that will take into account the set of governance themes placed on the discussion table, in which ICANN’s “wagon” will continue playing its part. But, this will inevitably also require modifications to the “wagon”.

It is fundamental that ISOC’s main organisations, obviously as well as ICANN and related organisations, contribute effectively towards the careful examination of governance issues, cooperating with the WGIG in a frank and open manner.

The third day

On the last day of the WG meeting (I was not able to be there, as my return flight was booked for early afternoon), despite the opposition of a significant percentage of its members, Desai decided to allow observers to the WG’s closed meetings. The observers had to represent entities that were officially registered in the WSIS process, and they could not be from the press.

Vittorio Bertola insisted (correctly, in my opinion) that, in practice, the decision excluded those that could not be in Geneva (or in the cities where the WG’s next meetings will take place) and suggested that the meetings either be open (including “webcasting”, publication of the minutes etc.), or totally closed (in this case, only the WGIG members would participate).

The real problem, argued Bertola, is that the government members of the WG will not talk freely in open meetings, fearing the consequences if they say something that is not exactly the official line of their government. Bertola concluded that, if the meetings must be open to observers from government missions in Geneva, they must also be open for outside observers – thence the idea of using internet resources for participation, or at least for remote accompaniment.

An important result was the compilation of a first draft of the structure of the report to be produced by the WGIG, presented in Appendix 2 of this document.

Appendix 3 presents a first attempt to link all the subjects to be dealt with in the WGIG’s discussion on internet governance.

Rio, December 9, 2004

C.A. Afonso

Appendix 1: WGIG members

President:Nitin Desai

Executive Coordinator: Markus Kummer


●Abdullah Al-Darrab, Deputy Governor of Technical Affairs, ICT Commission, Saudi Arabia

●Carlos A. Afonso, Director of Planning and Strategy, RITS (Third Sector Information Network); member of Brazil Internet Steering Committee (CGIbr), Brazil

●Peng Hwa Ang, Dean, School of Communication, Nanyang University of Technology, Singapore

●Karen Banks, Director, GreenNet, Association for Progressive Communications (APC), England

●Faryel Beji, President and Executive Director, Tunisia Internet Agency

●Vittorio Bertola, member, ICANN “At Large” Advisory Committee, Italy

●José Alexandre Bicalho, member, Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGIbr); Adviser to the Board of Directors, National Telecommunications Agency (Anatel), Brazil

●Kangsik Cheon, Director of Operations, International Business Development, Netpia, South Korea

●Trevor Clarke, Permanent Representative of Barbados to the United Nations in Geneva

●Avri Doria, technical consultant, USA

●William Drake, Senior Associate, International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development; President, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, USA

●Raúl Echeberría, Executive Director, LACNIC, Uruguay

●Dev Erriah, Chairman, ICT Commission, Mauritius

●Baher Esmat, Telecommunications Planning Manager, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, Egypt

●Mark Esseboom, Director of Strategy and International Affairs, Directorate General for Posts and Telecommunications, Ministry of Economic Affairs, Holland

●Juan Fernandez, Coordinator, Commission of Electronic Commerce, Cuba

●Ayesha Hassan, Senior Policy Manager for E-business, IT and Telecommunications, International Chamber of Commerce, France

●Qiheng Hu, Adviser, Science and Technology Commission, Ministry of Industry and Information; ex vice-president, Academy of Science, China

●Willy Jensen, Director, Post and Telecommunications Commission, Norway

●Wolfgang Kleinwächter, Professor, International Communications Policy and Regulation, University of Aarhus, Denmark

●Jovan Kurbalija, Director, DiploFoundation, Geneva

●Iosif Charles Legrand, Researcher, California Institute of Technology, USA; Researcher, CERN, Geneva

●Donald MacLean, Director, MacLean Consulting, Canada

●Allen Miller, Executive Director, World Information Technology and Services Alliance, USA

●Juan Carlos Solines Moreno, Executive Director, Gobierno Digital, Ecuador

●Jacqueline A. Morris, Consultant, Port of Spain

●Olivier Nana Nzépa, Coordinator, Africa Civil Society, Cameroon

●Alejandro Pisanty, Director, Academic Computing Services, Universidad Autonoma de Mexico; Member of ICANN’s council

●Khalilullah Qazi, Permanent Mission of Pakistan to the United Nations in Geneva

●Rajashekar Ramaraj, Administrative Director, Sify Limited, India

●Masaaki Sakamaki, Director, Computer Communications Division, Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Japan

●Joseph Sarr, President, NICT Commission, Dakar Regional Council, Senegal

●Peimann Seadat, Permanent Mission of Iran to the United Nations in Geneva

●Charles Sha’ban, IT Manager, Talal Abu- Ghazaleh International, Jordan

●Lyndall Shope-Mafole, President, National Presidential Commission on the Information Society and Development, South Africa

●Waudo Siganga, President, Computer Society, Kenya

●Mikhail Vladimirovich Yakushev, Director, Department of Legal Support, Ministry of Information Technology and Communications, Russian Federation

●Peter Zangl, Deputy Director General, Information Society Directorate General , European Commission, Brussels

●Jean-Paul Zens, Director, Department of Media and Telecommunications, Ministry of State, Luxemburg.

Appendix 2: Preliminary draft outline of a structure

Preliminary draft outline of a structure –

elements for consultation [1]

0 Introduction (Background, Mandate, Methodology)

1 Working definitions: Internet and Internet governance

2 Evolution of the Internet

(a) Early R&D Phase, 1969 – 1990

(b) Commercialization, internationalization and convergence, 1990 –

© Globalization and the Internet

3 Current situation

© Functions and actors

(d) Internet governance mechanisms

4 Inventory of Public Policy Issues and Priorities [2]

(a) equitable distribution of resources

(b) access for all

© stable and secure functioning of the Internet

(d) multilingualism and content

(e) other issues for consideration

5 Future developments and scenarios

(a) technological

(b) policy/regulatory

6 "Proposals for action, as appropriate"

(a) functions and actors

(b) Internet governance mechanisms

(i) formal institutional arrangements

(ii) non-formal arrangements

© possible options

(d) capacity bulding

1 This preliminary draft outline reflects the discussions of the WGIG at its first meeting. It has been accepted as a basis for future work, but it is understood that this outline will evolve in the course of the work of WGIG.

2 Categories (a) – (d) reflect agreed language as in para 48 of the Declaration of Principles. These categories will constitute the initial framework for the identification of public policy issues.

Appendix 3: Inventory of Public Policy Issues and Priorities

Inventory of Public Policy Issues and Priorities

Equitable Distribution of Resources

• Administration of Internet names and IP addresses

• Administration of root server system

• Telecommunications infrastructure, broadband access, convergence with NGN

• Dispute resolution

• Affordable & universal access

• Internet leased line costs

• Peering and interconnection

• Competition policy, liberalization, privatization, regulations

• National policies & regulations

Access for All

• Telecommunications infrastructure, broadband access, convergence with NGN

• Affordable & universal access

• Social dimensions and inclusion

• Internet leased line costs

• Peering and interconnection

• Competition policy, liberalization, privatization, regulations

• Consumer, user protection, privacy

• VoIP

• Spectrum policy

• Education, human capacity building

• Multilingualization of Internet naming systems, content

• National infrastructure development

• Developmental aspects

• Spam

• Cybersecurity, cybercrime

Stable and Secure Functioning of the Internet

• Telecommunications infrastructure, broadband access

• Administration of Internet names and IP addresses

• Administration of root server system

• Dispute resolution

• Technical standards

• Technical peering and interconnection

• Spam

• Cybersecurity, cybercrime

• Competition policy, liberalization, privatization, regulations

• Security of network and information systems

• Electronic authentication

• Critical infrastructure protection

Multilingualism and Content

• Multilingualization of Internet naming systems

• Cultural and linguistic diversity

• Unlawful content & access protection

• National policies, regulations

• Intellectual property rights

Other Issues for Consideration

• Applicable jurisdiction, cross border coordination

• E-commerce

• Freedom of information and media

• Privacy

• Open-source and free software

This report by Carlos Afonso was translated from its original version in Portuguese into English by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC).

Author: —- (Carlos Afonso)
Source: APCNews
Date: 02/03/2005
Location: RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil
Category: Internet Governance