WCIT WATCH: Just Taking the Temperature? - A Late Night Resolution on the Internet

8:13pm | 12 December 2012 | by Jochai Ben-Avie, English

In the closing minutes of today’s evening plenary of the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), a new resolution to “foster the enabling environment for the greater growth of the Internet” was discussed. This resolution appears to be the compromise that was at the heart of the Chairman’s draft, namely that all references to the internet would be cut out of the actual text of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) on the condition that this resolution passed instead.

Play by play
The Chairman of the Conference stated that he “wanted to have the feel of the room on who will accept the draft resolution. If you can use the big board, please. To have the resolution included.” He then paused as plates were raised in favor of the resolution. Next, he stated “I want the feel of the room, who is against this resolution.” During the pause, an ostensibly different set of plates were raised. He then declared that “[t]he majority is with having the resolution in.”

The Chair then began to move to the next topic, the Preamble and the proposed addition of text on human rights obligations, but first recognized Spain. Spain proceeded to ask: “[a]s a point of order, I would like you to clarify whether the temperature you were taking was simply a taking of the temperature. Has it now been interpreted as a vote and had we known that it was a vote, we might very well have acted differently.” “No,” the chair replied, “it was not a vote, and I was clear about it.”

Yet, the above text demonstrates he was not clear. Determining the existence of a majority necessarily entails a determination as to the percentage of a group that supports a proposal - that is, a vote. It certainly cannot be considered a consensus. Moreover, the Chair did not give an opportunity for member states to abstain, nor did he announce the results of “the vote.” This is likely to spark a significant procedural debate when the WCIT delegates reconvene tomorrow morning.

The text of the resolution in DT/51-E rev 1 reads:

To foster an enabling environment for the greater growth of the Internet

The World Conference of International Telecommunication (Dubai, 2012), recognizing

a) the WSIS Outcome Documents including Geneva (2003) and Tunis Phases (2005);

b) that the Internet is a central element of the infrastructure of the Information Society, has evolved from a research and academic facility into a global facility available to the public.;

c) the importance of Broadband capacity to facilitate the delivery of a broader range of services and applications, promote investment and provide Internet access at affordable to both existing and new users.;

d) the valuable contribution of all stakeholder groups in their respective roles as recognized in paragraph 35 of the Tunis Agenda to the evolution, functioning and development of the Internet.;

e) that, as stated in the WSIS outcomes, all governments should have an equal role and responsibility for international Internet governance and for ensuring the stability, security and continuity of the existing Internet and its future development and of the future internet, and that the need for development of public policy by governments I consultation with all stakeholders is also recognized,;

f) Resolutions 101, 102, and 133 of the 2010 Plenipotentiary Conference.,

invites Member States

1 to elaborate on their respective position on international Internet-related technical, development and public policy issues within the mandate of the ITU at various ITU fora including, inter alia, the World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum, the Broadband Commission and ITU-T and ITU-¬D Study Groups.;

2 to engage with all their stakeholders in this regard.,

resolves to instruct the Secretary-General

1 to continue to take the necessary steps for ITU to play an active and constructive role in the multi-stakeholder model of the Internet as expressed in § 35 of the Tunis Agenda;

2 to support the participation of Member States and all other stakeholders, as applicable, in the activities of the ITU in this regard.

From the live captioning it appears that this text was modified somewhat to include more language about instructions to the Secretary General as well as language about broadband development following an intervention by the Secretary General. It further appears that the Chair did not bring each line of the resolution -- particularly the latter half -- up for discussion.

So what does this mean?
As a result of this muddled process, there is now a resolution that expands the ITU’s role with regards to internet governance. The added language “resolving to instruct the Secretary-General to continue to take the necessary steps for ITU to play an active and constructive role” in internet governance is particularly concerning. While it is our understanding that the resolutions made at the WCIT are non-binding, the Secretary-General might treat them as binding, which effectively creates a dangerous mandate for the ITU to continue to hold discussions about internet policy into the future.

Further, although minor in scale compared to the impact that defining internet in the ITRs and giving control of it to member states, as Russia proposed, this resolution problematically opens the door to further debate over internet policymaking within ITU fora, and away from multi-stakeholder bodies. As Access has made clear, the ITU is government-centric, lacks transparency, excludes key stakeholders including civil society, and fails to promote a multi-stakeholder approach to internet governance that was embraced by the world's governments at the 2005 World Summit on Information Society (WSIS). And in a similar vain as this resolution’s recognition of the WSIS Outcome Documents and Tunis Agenda before it, future ITU documents will undoubtedly cite to this resolution as approving the ITU as a forum for discussing internet governance and justifying a further expansion of its role.

Additionally, provision e is problematic in that it gives governments primacy in the development of internet-related public policy, which is contrary to Paragraph 35 of the Tunis Agenda – a provision cited twice in this resolution. Provision e’s wording could also be read to give preference to discussing internet policy in UN fora, because these are the only institutions that explicitly give “all governments... an equal role and responsibility...”

Provision a of the resolution further invites Member States to discuss internet policy issues in other ITU fora. While this provision is caveated to only refer to internet-related issues that are within the ITU’s mandate, which lessens the impact somewhat, Access does not believe that the ITU is an appropriate institution to discuss internet policy.

As we noted in today’s WCIT WATCH Day 10 Roundup, from a procedural perspective, the temperature taking could be a sign that efforts to reach consensus are crumbling. With so many issues at an impasse and threats by the UAE to disrupt the course of the meeting if others don’t compromise, further “temperature taking” may be the way forward.

The deadline for adopting new ITRs is approaching rapidly. In order to have the treaty ready for the signing ceremony on Friday evening, the treaty text must be completed very soon, so that the editorial committee can do its work midday on Thursday, to allow for translation and editorial changes, as well as to get approval from capitals for sign on and reservations.

Be sure to check out the Access blog for more WCIT WATCH updates. For more analysis and information visit Access’ ITU Resource Center.

Matt Friedman contributed to this post.