I -Two Opposing Positions Dominate Discussion
The Second Preparatory meeting of the WSIS Review process was held on October 20-22 2015 at the UN headquarters in New York. (1) The co-facilitators, Lana Zaki Nusseiben, UAE Ambassador to the UN, and Janis Mazeiks, Ambassador to the UN from Latvia, told those attending the meetings that the statements submitted over the course of the preparation will be the basis for the outcome document to be agreed to at the High Level meeting scheduled for December 15 and 16 at the NY UN headquarters.
The controversy over the model for Internet governance continued to dominate the WSIS 10 Review meetings.
The controversy appears in various forms and under various guises. Essentially it can be summarized as the contention between a number of developing nations and other nations with a group of developed nations who hold a different position over how decisions about Internet related public policy should be made.
II – Developing Nations want Participation on Equal Footing
The developing nations and others who support their viewpoint agree that there is a problem with the decision making process for the global Internet. They explain that they want to be able to participate on an equal footing with all other states in decisions about global Internet development. This is sometimes referred to as “enhanced cooperation”, though the term has been a confusing one to apply in practice.
The G77 + China statement to the WSIS Review meeting on July 1 2015 outlines this problem.
The statement explains (2):
“It is unfortunate that the mandate of the Tunis Agenda has been implemented selectively to suit the narrow interests of a few influential players in the multi stakeholder community.
It is critical that this review process commit steps to fulfill the yet unfulfilled mandate of Para 69 of the Tunis Agenda on Enhanced Cooperation.
The Tunis Agenda called for Governments to, on an equal footing with each other, carry out their roles and responsibilities on international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet.
However, ten years later, tangible progress on this specific mandate of Enhanced Cooperation which would allow developing nations with important ideas to contribute to Internet policy, has been blocked. It is imperative that this important issue be resolved, so that all nations have an equal say in the public policy affecting the Internet.”
III – Some Developed Nations want Multi-Stakeholder Model for Decision-Making
On the other side of the controversy are certain Western governments and their supporters who are advocating what they call a multi-stakeholder form as the governance model for decisions made about the Internet. Who are stakeholders is subject to varying interpretations. But essentially it means the nations advocating this form do not want any multilateral decision making over Internet issues or policy.
IV – Pattern During Meetings
As the meeting got underway on October 20, the pattern that would prevail through the final meeting in the Second Preparatory Phase became clear. The developing nations are represented by the South African Ambassador as spokesperson for the G77 + China. He would make a statement relevant to the topic raised by the co-facilitators for that session. A small set of Western nations would respond with their critique of what was presented and their opposing perspective. Though the focus of the Second Preparatory Phase was allegedly how to spread the Internet to the developing nations, there was little concern expressed by the bloc of nations promoting the multi-stakeholder form as a governing principle to hear what the developing nations saw as needed for their further development or what problems they hoped to solve. Nor was there concern by the co-facilitators or the bloc of Western nations that as in the First Preparatory Phase of meetings, participation by developing nations in the ongoing preparations was low, considering that there are 193 member nations who are members of the UNGA and 133 of them are part of the G77+China group .(3)
Among the nations representing the Western bloc and their supporters were the US, the EU, the UK, and supporters of their position included Australia, the Netherlands, Japan, Canada, Switzerland, Latvia, Poland and others.
Among the nations presenting and supporting the G77+ China presentation of “participation on an equal footing” were South Africa, who presented the position of the G77 + China on the issues under discussion, Liberia, Ecuador, Cuba, Mexico, Algeria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Russia and China and others.
Some nations, notably Brazil, and India were present through much of the Second Preparatory Process, but their views appeared to support one side in some issues and another side in other issues. A few others came at least to some of the discussions but only participated in a limited way.
A difficulty for those watching the discussion on the webtv transmission was that there was no English translation of the Spanish, Arabic, or French statements so it was not possible for English speaking remote listeners to follow the discussion when speakers were not English speaking. Its not clear how widespread this problem was with the webtv version of the broadcast into other languages, as there appeared to be translation into Russian functioning for the transmissions.
The two co-facilitators welcomed the different speakers. But they did little to identify points that needed clarification or to recognize differences in a way that could help clarify the issues or explore the underlying confusions and controversies.
For example, terms like “stakeholder” were used with diverse interpretations by those promoting it as the ideal form of Internet governance, yet these diverse interpretations were not acknowledged so there could be a common agreement about what was being discussed. For some the term “stakeholder” referred to governments, civil society activists, and corporations. Others included members of academic institutions or technical organizations in the stakeholder category. Some included government, others saw governments as a separate category.
V – Who is Excluded by the Multi-Stakeholder Model?
That citizens, netizens, and the public in general are excluded from any right to participate under the multi-stakeholder model was never considered in the discussions. The issue briefly raised by some developing nations noted that many governments have constitutional obligations to provide for the well being and the security of their nation’s citizens, but this issue was dismissed by others.
Those promoting the multi-stakeholder governance model pointed to the yearly meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) which rotates its meetings to different locations around the world, as an example of multi-stakeholderism. The G77+China and others pointed out that there is too little representation of developing nations or participation by those from developing nations at the forum for it to be a demonstration of their ability to participate in decision making via that venue. Moreover, the IGF is a place for presentations and discussions, not a decision making body, so using it as a functioning example of a participatory decision making institution is not appropriate or accurate. Similarly, the IGF is not open to all to participate but only to those fitting certain narrow categories. Also, it is actually only available to those who can afford the cost of travel to often distant locations. If the IGF met in NY or Geneva, then at least those nations with delegations at the UN would have more of an ability to attend.
VI – The Role of the Co-Facilitators in the Controversy?
Despite the controversy over the nature of the IGF and its relevance to the obligation of the UN General Assembly to do a 10 year review of the WSIS + 10 achievements and shortcomings, the co-facilitators announced that they will travel to attend the next IGF Meeting to take place in Joao Pessoa, Brazil from November 10 to November 13, 2015. The co-facilitators intend to hold consultations with “stakeholders” in Brazil.
Instead of the co-facilitators taking an impartial position in the controversy over whether there is a need for more participation for developing nations in decisions regarding the public policy over the global Internet versus the Western bloc position that the stakeholders of the IGF should be part of the decision making process of the global Internet, the co-facilitators have given the appearance of favoring the Western bloc position by the plan to go to the IGF for “consultations”. The co-facilitators have judged such a trip and plan worth the time it will take despite the fact that they frequently remind the UNGA member nations that there is a very limited time frame for the GA Member nations to participate in the Review. Meanwhile there have been some reports on twitter that the co-facilitators have been carrying on a limited number of information sessions among other UNGA member nations that have not yet been part of the WSIS+10 Review process at the UN demonstrating there is a need felt among member nations at the UN to understand better the issues involved in the WSIS 10 Year Review. (4)
The resolution regarding the meetings that were to take place at the UN as part of the WSIS 10 year review set out that “relevant stakeholders” would be included in the discussions at the UN. Who may qualify as a “stakeholder” is a severely limited category restricted to NGO’s, private sector, and certain technical or academic participants who are already or were registered with certain UN conferences or related organizations.(5) From these limited categories somehow a handful of people are chosen to speak or to be part of a panel and the participation is token at best. Those nations advocating the multi-stakeholder model have made no effort to discuss the issues with the general body of stakeholders registered for the meetings held at UN Headquarters to solicit their views. Multi-stakeholderism, instead appears to function as a means for those advocating it to have an excuse to exclude the majority of member nations of the UN, the citizens and netizens of those nations, and even the vast majority of those who are considered as stakeholders from the discussions and decision making processes.
VII – Is there an Inclusive Model for Internet Governance and Decision Making?
The enhanced cooperation model referred to by the G77 + China is one which calls for all nations to be included in the decisions that relate to Internet development and its future. There are models for how that was carried out by processes developed by the research and technical community which included members from an ever evolving number of participants from around the world. Building a model for Internet governance based on the lessons learned from how the Internet was developed and lessons learned since would be a means to determine how to meet the demand for broad based participation in the decisions that will affect many nations and people. But such lessons will not be learned by focusing on a flawed model which excludes most of the nations and peoples of the world from the ability to participate in the decisions that will make possible the realization of the WSIS vision of a people-centered, inclusive, and development-oriented Information Society.(6)
1) Ronda Hauben, First Preparatory Meeting of United Nations WSIS 10 Year Review Reveals Problems, August 1, 2015, netizenblog
2) G77 Statement July 1 2015
“INTERVENTION ON BEHALF OF THE GROUP OF 77 AND CHINA BY THE REPRESENTATIVE OF SOUTH AFRICA AT THE FIRST PREPARATORY MEETING FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OVERALL REVIEW OF THE IMPLEMENTATION OF THE OUTCOMES OF THE WORLD SUMMIT ON THE INFORMATION SOCIETY (WSIS) (New York, 1 July 2015)”
3) There were only a small number of developing nations participating for substantial parts of the meetings of the Preparatory Phase for the WSIS + 10 Review, though other nations came for a short while to join the discussion at varying times.
4) Some tweets of Co-facilitator presentations to UN members
LatviaUN_NY @LatviaUN_NY 14h14 hours ago
#WSIS10 Cofacilitators @LatviaUN_NY and @UAEMissionToUN brief CELAC members on the review process and the road ahead
Singapore Mission UN @SingaporeUN
Co-facilitators of #WSIS10 Perm Reps of @UAEMissionToUN and @LatviaUN_NY brief the Forum of #smallstates #FOSS
5) Following is the list for who can be accredited to the High Level UN WSIS 10 Year Review December Meetings as relevant stakeholders.
“Relevant stakeholders, include civil society, private sector and academia, from the following categories:
* Non-governmental organizations in consultative status with the Economic and Social Council
* Organizations accredited to the World Summit on the Information Society held in Geneva (2003) and Tunis (2005)
* Organizations accredited to the WSIS Forum held from 2011 to 2015
* Organizations with observer status with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
* Attendees of the UNESCO WSIS+10 – ICT4D Conference or the UNESCO WSIS – Connecting the Dots Conference
* Organizations accredited to the Financing for Development (FFD) process
* Organizations accredited to the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit 2015
* Organizations already accredited to the WSIS+10 process (July and October meetings)
Government bodies and intergovernmental organizations register through standard UN protocol arrangements.”
6) See for example:
Michael Hauben and Ronda Hauben, “Netizens: On the History and Impact of Usenet and the Internet”, posted online in 1994 and published in print edition 1996. http://www.columbia.edu/~hauben/netbook/
Ronda Hauben, “International and Scientific Origins of the Internet
and the Emergence of the Netizens”, Talk Presened at PPF in Tunis, November 2005