Nº 5 2013 > World Telecommunication and ICT Policy Forum
Opinions to guide Internet public policy
The Fifth World Telecommunication and Information and Communication Technology Policy Forum (WTPF‑13), held in Geneva from 14 to 16 May 2013, adopted six non-binding Opinions covering some of the most fundamental issues of Internet governance today. The Opinions are on:
- Promoting Internet exchange points (IXPs) as a long-term solution to advance connectivity.
- Fostering an enabling environment for the greater growth and development of broadband connectivity.
- Supporting capacity building for the deployment of IPv6.
- Supporting IPv6 adoption and transition from IPv4.
- Supporting multistakeholderism in Internet governance.
- Supporting operationalizing the enhanced cooperation process.
WTPF‑13 attracted more than 900 participants from 126 Member States, including 33 ministers and eight deputy ministers, as well as ambassadors, several heads of regulatory agencies, 49 Sector Members, five United Nations entities, and 37 members of the public. The entire event was webcast, enabling more than 3000 people to participate remotely. For three days running, these participants from around the world focused on the wording of the six draft Opinions that were up for discussion. Endorsed through multistakeholder consensus, these Opinions should help expand connectivity and improve broadband access for all.
Setting the scene
Established in 1994 by the Kyoto Plenipotentiary Conference, WTPF provides a platform where ITU Member States and Sector Members can discuss and exchange views and information on policy and regulatory challenges posed to governments and industry by rapid technological change. The Policy Forum does not produce prescriptive regulatory outcomes, but prepares reports and adopts Opinions by consensus for consideration by Member States, Sector Members and relevant ITU meetings.
Topics for each Policy Forum are chosen by ITU members. WTPF‑13 focused on international Internet-related public policy matters, a theme chosen by the Plenipotentiary Conference in Guadalajara (Mexico) in 2010. Specifically, the ITU Council in 2011 decided that WTPF‑13 would discuss all the matters raised in three Plenipotentiary Resolutions revised by the Guadalajara Conference: 101 on “Internet Protocol (IP)-based networks”; 102 on “ITU’s role with regard to international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and the management of Internet resources, including domain names and addresses”; and 133 on the “Roles of administrations of Member States in the management of internationalized (multilingual) domain names”.
To prepare WTPF‑13, ITU Secretary-General Dr Hamadoun I. Touré convened an Informal Experts Group (IEG). With the approval of ITU Council 2012, membership of IEG was opened to all stakeholders. The job of the group was to coordinate contributions from ITU Member States and Sector Members and to develop draft Opinions.
IEG met three times under the Chairmanship of Petko Kantchev (Bulgaria) — on 5 June and 8–10 October 2012 and on 6–8 February 2013. More than 180 experts participated in IEG’s work and around 75 contributions were received from government and private industry.
As is current practice, the Secretary-General’s Report was the sole working document of the Policy Forum, and was essentially based on these contributions and comments of members of the IEG. Annexed to the Secretary-General’s Report were the six draft Opinions developed by IEG and forwarded to WTPF‑13 for further discussion.
ITU’s role is to act as a facilitator so that bridges can be built between its members, and compromises brokered where necessary. The Policy Forum was yet another opportunity for ITU to strengthen that bridge-building role, and leverage its unique position as a place where Member States and Sector Members can come together in a neutral setting to discuss the most important issues of the day.
Ivo Ivanovski, Minister of Information Society and Administration of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, was elected Chairman of WTPF‑13. Six Vice-Chairmen were also elected: Magdalena Gaj (Poland); Rashid Ismailov (Russian Federation); Rowland Espinosa Howell (Costa Rica); Majed M. Almazyed (Saudi Arabia); Blaise Louembé (Gabon); and Rabindra N. Jha (India).
WTPF‑13 opened with addresses from: Dr Touré; Doris Leuthard, Switzerland’s Minister for the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications; Fadi Chehadé, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); and Dr Robert E. Kahn, Chairman, CEO and President of the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (CNRI), and co-founder of the Internet.
Dr Touré noted that the timing of WTPF‑13 coincided with “a tipping point between the Internet as a vital enabler of social and economic progress in the industrialized world, and the Internet as a valuable global resource and a basic commodity of human life everywhere”. He underlined the importance of bringing the remaining 4.5 billion people online, and giving them access to the world’s greatest library, the world’s most active marketplace, and the world’s most extensive social gatherings. “This is something we must all work hard to change because it is clearly a matter of social and economic justice and fairness,” he stressed.
Wearing a UN peacekeeper’s helmet, Dr Touré reiterated that ITU and the United Nations are not trying to take control of the Internet. He recalled that such fears had been expressed in the run-up to the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT‑12), held in Dubai, in December 2012 — and during the conference itself. “We are not taking over the Internet”, he said. “The Internet is doing just fine!”
Dr Touré acknowledged that how (or even if) the Internet should be governed is a thorny subject. Individual companies now have greater control than many nation States over private data, what we are exposed to, and what we are sold. “Should we really be encouraging an anonymous free-for-all in the online world, when we expect completely different standards in the real world — particularly when it comes to those who commit crimes or abuse their privileges? Do we really want the free circulation of horrific images on social networks — openly visible to children — when we would never allow the same images to be broadcast on daytime television?” he asked. He called on all participants to “recognize the value of the Internet as a global resource, basic commodity and valuable international platform for exchange and learning”.
Ms Leuthard recognized that “Internet issues have a far-reaching impact on our daily life — on citizens, businesses, domestic and foreign trade, administrations, schools, universities, education, police, and governmental authorities, to mention but a few examples”. Addressing Internet-related issues, therefore, means involving all components of society, and she commended ITU for organizing the Policy Forum with a multistakeholder perspective.
Recalling the responsibility of governments in protecting the rights of citizens and consumers, she called for enhanced cooperation as described in the Tunis Agenda for the Information Society, endorsed by world leaders in 2005.
Mr Chehadé delivered a strong message of cooperation throughout the Internet community, announcing it as a new season. “No one organization, no one country, no one person can manage the Internet — we must do this together. And it is our unity that will make this a very strong Internet that is secure and stable for everybody,” he said.
Dr Kahn took stock of where we are today in terms of the Internet’s development and shared his vision of the future Internet as a global resource that will continue to evolve and bring value to the world. He focused on two main areas: managing information on the Internet and achieving interoperability between different types of information systems. He explained that originally the Internet was about achieving interoperability of computer networks and the machines connected to them for the purpose of communicating information. Packets were the basic communication entities and each packet had a unique Internet Protocol (IP) address.
“While I expect packet communications and the use of IP addresses to continue to be an essential part of the Internet in the future, I see a new kind of entity, the digital object, becoming an essential element to be managed,” Dr Kahn commented, adding that digital objects, along with their associated metadata which allow for effective searching, are fully compatible with cloud computing and the Internet of Things.
“WTPF is unique among ITU events in providing an open and informal cross-sectoral platform for government, industry and civil society to get together to forge a common vision around the issues that affect all stakeholders,” said Mr Ivanovski, explaining that the Policy Forum would give participants a chance to voice their opinions on significant topics for the future development of the Internet.
After the Secretary-General’s Report was presented, its themes were taken up in a succession of high-level statements by Member States and Sector Members. The Forum set up three working groups, each dealing with two Opinions, and elected Chairmen and Vice-Chairmen (see box).
Opinions 1–4 were finalized and endorsed ahead of time, while Opinions 5 and 6 required more discussion, particularly on the role of government in Internet governance. Stakeholders did not contest the necessity of including government, but there was lively debate on the extent of governmental roles and responsibilities. The bottom line, they argued, is to strike a balance between mitigating risks and maximizing the undoubted opportunities provided by an open Internet.
The Working Group Chairmen presented the results of their work to the Plenary for approval. Following presentation of the report of Working Group 3, many delegates urged that the role of governments should continue to be discussed, in various forums, in an open, transparent and multistakeholder manner.
All six Opinions — essentially, non-binding recommendations to guide Internet public policy — were unanimously adopted by WTPF‑13. They represent important progress towards defining an efficient Internet governance system to manage the incredible global resource that the Internet has now become.
“I am delighted that we achieved the consensus we were looking for… Delegations have had their differences — but the positive spirit of engagement was remarkable,” commented Dr Touré at the end of the Policy Forum. He also expressed delight that so many of the Informal Experts Group members had been able to participate in the discussions. “Indeed, the success we have achieved is in large part due to a very thorough and participative preparatory process; the IEG did a great job and I would like to thank Petko Kantchev again for his dedication and leadership.”
Minister Ivo Ivanovski observed that, with WTPF‑13 coming hot on the heels of the difficult discussions in Dubai at WCIT‑12 in December 2012 during the revision of the International Telecommunication Regulations treaty, it was all the more remarkable to have witnessed such a constructive spirit of cooperation and consensus. "Representatives from governments, the private sector and civil society worked side by side, understanding what was at stake and fully focused on our common goal — nothing less than the responsibility to ensure safe and affordable access for everyone to the future Internet,” he said.
Presenting Mr Ivanovski with the ITU silver Medal and certificate for his “exceptional contribution”, Dr Touré complimented him on keeping calm, displaying his good humour and deploying his fine diplomatic skills throughout the Policy Forum.
WTPF‑13 demonstrated the value of multilateral discussions, said Dr Touré, concluding that “Much can be achieved through bilateral meetings, but only multilateral meetings can help decide global policy for global resources.”