Guest Blog: Bill Graham (ISOC) Comments on Multi-stakeholder Internet Model


As mentioned in my blog last week, the Internet Society (ISOC) has posted a petition to maintain the multi-stakeholder model for Internet governance. The following is a guest blog by Bill Graham, who leads ISOC’s Strategic Engagement. Last week, Bill attended a UN-convened open consultation on enhanced cooperation on international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet.

- Byron


By Bill Graham, Strategic Global Engagement, the Internet Society

The UN Under-Secretary-General, Sha Zukang, convened “open consultations on the process towards enhanced cooperation on international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet” in New York on December 14, 2010.  I requested and received permission to speak as an NGO on behalf of the Internet Society (ISOC) as well as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) (at the request of the IAB).  I  believe there is a public interest in being able to share some of the positions taken, so I am pleased to provide my observations on CIRA’s blog.  All written contributions to the consultation, and the text of most of the speeches, along with a webcast, and the program are to be posted to the DESA web.

Of the 25 formal presenters, 14 were governments, 10 were business or civil society organizations, and one was an intergovernmental organization (ITU). Several other governments and civil society organizations spoke during the open discussion.  My estimate is that a small majority of governments spoke in favour of any mechanism for enhanced cooperation being multi-stakeholder, although several were strongly of the view that enhanced cooperation is strictly meant to be intergovernmental.  Of course all business and civil society speakers were in favour of a multi-stakeholder model.

In the most coherent expression of the governments-only view, Brazil spoke for India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) as a group, presenting their plan for “a new world order“, in this case in the form of a new intergovernmental entity to deal with international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet.  It would have governments deal with issues such as:  stability, interoperability, network neutrality, human rights the balance between security, privacy, openness, and maintaining a development focus.  Brazil went on to say that there has been progress toward internationalization of ICANN, but it is still dependent on one government.  In their opinion, that contravenes UN practice and principles of multilateralism.  They said there is a need for an intergovernmental platform formally established under the UN to discuss critical Internet resources and Internet governance.   That said, IBSA reaffirms commitment to the Internet as a global facility based on the full participation of all stakeholders, in line with their roles and responsibilities, and denied that their proposal is an attempt to have the UN take over the Internet.

On the other side, IETF/ISOC, the European Commission, International Chamber of Commerce, ICANN, the NRO, the United Kingdom, the European Telecommunication Network Operators’ Association, Finland, Tech America, the Internet Governance Caucus, Italy, Serbia, the American Bar Association, the World Federation of Engineering Organizations and others spoke about the benefits of the multi-stakeholder model.  Many examples of post-WSIS enhanced cooperation were offered and, in general, a pretty good case was made that enhanced cooperation is alive and well in the Internet world.  The Internet Society made the point that it is not enough for the inter-governmental organizations to invite stakeholders to work in forums of their creation; it is also necessary for the IGOs to recognize there are many other forums within the existing Internet organizations where governments and IGOs need to go to cooperate.

After the formal presentations completed, USG Sha opened the floor for discussion.  Milton Mueller, of Syracuse University, expressed concern about the IBSA proposal, which will fragment cooperation, not enhance it.  He said a purely intergovernmental platform means that governments do not take seriously their interaction with other stakeholders.  Nor would all governments agree to such a forum.  He went on to remind the group that governments have no trans-national authority over the Internet.  Public policy is the sovereign right of states within their national borders, but there is no international sovereignty over the Internet, which negates the position of several governments.  He posed a question to governments: Why not embrace this challenge rather than running away from it?

John Curran (ARIN) and others questioned how the idea of a government-only enhanced cooperation process could possibly be considered, given the WSIS Tunis Agenda’s insistence that “The international management of the Internet should be multilateral, transparent and democratic, with the full involvement of governments, the private sector, civil society and international organizations.”  IGC pointed out that there is still a very long way to go before all stakeholders deal with each other in a constructive manner; thus work needs to be continued to enhance cooperation among all the stakeholders.

China took a new tack by saying that the existing Internet organizations have done a very good job of enhancing cooperation but that doesn’t mean that the UN Secretary-General (UNSG) doesn’t need to start a governmental process toward enhanced cooperation.  They criticized the UNSG for not having started the process he was asked by WSIS to start by first quarter 2006, and said that governments need a private place to discuss how to deal with Internet-related public policy issues. They concluded by saying that the meeting’s purpose was to help the UNSG do his job starting the process, and so the meeting doesn’t need to reach consensus.

And in the Chair’s concluding remarks, that was the point he made rather strongly when talking about the way forward.  He said the point of the meeting was to act upon the resolution passed by member states at the WSIS.  If anyone does not like it, he said they have to go back to WSIS or the Economic and Social Council, and get the resolution overturned.  The UN Secretariat will act on the resolution that is current.

As to whether there would be a process on enhanced cooperation, he said that’s no longer for discussion.  On the other hand, Sha said all should agree “we” have existing institutions like ITU, ICANN, CSTD, ECOSOC, and they’ve all played their respective roles.  He said there’s no question the IGF role is recognized, and will be extended for five years.  Those existing mechanisms should continue, including UN institutions like CSTD.  But he said none has created new overarching groups; he admitted CSTD has established a working group, but said that’s not frightening because it is just a working group: let them work.  He noted the working group is to take into account the views of all stakeholders.  CSTD is a governmental group, he said, and its working group is also governmental, but it can’t do its job without taking into account the views of others.  Then in an interesting aside, he mused that the world has changed.  When he was in government he said he used to shout at Civil Society that they are not accountable to anyone.  But he admitted he was wrong – they are the source of ideas, and have experience in the field, so the UN should benefit from their experiences.  No one says don’t consult them, he continued; they should be consulted and make recommendations.

And so it ended.  The conclusion is that there has now been a multi-stakeholder consultation, and there will not be more on this topic.  The Under-Secretary-General (Sha) will go away and write a report for next June-July’s ECOSOC meeting as requested, with recommendations that will take into account the views expressed at the December 14 meeting.  My bet, if I was to make one, is that the recommendation will be to create an intergovernmental working group on enhanced cooperation, possibly with occasional consultation meetings for other stakeholders.

It seems to me that some member states are successfully getting the UN system to back away from progress made toward multi-stakeholder engagement since the WSIS.  UN bodies also increased the number and frequency of largely ritualistic consultations with the non-governmental organizations, which has the effect of stretching our and other organizations’ resources and ability to deal with them.  Whether that is a deliberate tactic, or just an accident arising from lack of coordination, is hard to say. I do think, however, those of interested in the health of the Internet and the Internet ecosystem need to consider carefully where we will participate in the next year, focusing more strategically on meetings and mechanisms where we believe we can have a real impact.

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