The ITU's WTPF held as scheduled from 14 to 16 May in Geneva with good attendance, but perhaps less than expected. The day before took place the two sessions of Strategic Dialogue: Building Out Broadband and Broadband Driving Development. The first session explored whether access to broadband is a basic need, public utility, fundamental right, or privilege and the second session examined the benefits of broadband for accelerating economic and social development and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
In the Opening session of WTPF, the Secretary-General of ITU, Dr. Touré urged delegates to focus their discussions on the possibilities of improving global connectivity and he addressed head-on criticism of ITU/UN efforts to assume control of Internet governance policy, jokingly, on the absence of a war over who should govern the Internet since we are all involved in it, and therefore did not need to call the "blue helmets" of the United Nations to enforce peace – He illustrated this putting in his head a real blue helmet –. If you don´t believe me, see the picture!
The central message by Mr. Fadi Chehade, President and CEO of ICANN, was that ICANN was not a “US fortress,” but an entity committed to engagement of multiple stakeholders across the globe. He termed this a “new season” for cooperation throughout the Internet community. Mr. Robert Kahn, co-founder of the Internet, proposed that the “digital object” would become an essential element to be managed and that the “digital object identifier” would serve as a primary means by which one accesses information.
The six draft Opinions (see a previous post), which were the end-product of negotiations that had taken place during the meeting of a multi-stakeholder Informal Experts Group (IEG), established to prepare the Report of Secretary General, were easily approved in order to maintain a ‘spirit of compromise and consensus’ at the meeting, and there was little appetite to re-open the text of the six Draft Opinions. Nevertheless some delegations expressed their dissatisfaction to act as mere ratifying IEG previous work.
But attempts by governments of Brazil and Russia to heighten the prominence of governments and the ITU itself in Internet governance still clashed with traditional defenders of the multistakeholder model, a proposal of a new draft Opinion from Brazil to assign the International Telecommunication Union a facilitating role “to ensure meaningful government participation” in the internet governance processes, was widely discussed.
A majority of countries, including the United States and many European States, pointed to lack of time for discussion, but also to a procedural issue: the six prepared opinions had been discussed by the Informal Expert Group over quite some time, and Brazil’s addition, supported by opinions from Russia and India, were filed late in the process. With no compromise possible, countries in the end fought about where the controversial issues should be discussed further.
The Russian delegation declared it a matter of the ITU Council Working Group (CWG) on Internet Related Public Policy Issues (open to Member States only), while the US and EU delegations recommended to tackle it also (or especially) at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), United Nations Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), or other multi-stakeholder internet governance fora.
The good news for private sector and civil society – and also for Internet World - was a statement by ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Touré urging an opening up of the CWG. He said that he proposed that the next Council meeting would be in June.
It seems that ITU and most of its Member States have been aware of the need of ITU to increase its transparency and openness to society. Let´s see how this issue will continue…