Civil society proposal to open participation in the ITU’s Council Working Group on Internet-related Public Policy Issues

by Anja Kovacs

The Internet Democracy Project has worked with a global coalition of civil society organisations in requesting the ITU to open up its Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues. If you or your organisation would like to sign up to the statement, or if you would like to see the current list of signatories to the statement, you can do so here. The full text of the statement is below.

We acknowledge the outcome of the World Telecommunication Policy Forum, which resulted in the adoption of six opinions that may begin to address some important goals to foster an environment that facilitates and encourages the usage of ICTs, in particular the opinions that focus on enabling environment for greater growth and development of broadband connectivity; supporting capacity building for deployment of IPv6; supporting the multi-stakeholder approach in Internet Governance and operationalizing processes for enhanced cooperation.

We commend the steps taken by the ITU to show more openness and inclusiveness in the WTPF process through the Informal Experts Group. We believe that the multistakeholder nature of the IEG meetings and the willingness of all stakeholders to work together, contributed to bringing about the credible texts that were forwarded to the WTPF.

Nevertheless, more steps need to be taken to meet the goal of an open, transparent, and multistakeholder debate, both in terms of openness and of establishing a clear and transparent process for participation.

We believe that as a next step towards greater multistakeholder participation in the ITU the IEG model should be carried forward into the ITU’s work more generally. As such we welcome the commitment by ITU Secretary-General Hamadoun Touré to propose that the Council Working Group on International Internet-Related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet) be open to all stakeholders in the [same] format” as the IEG. We encourage him to carry out his commitment and for Member States to give ample consideration to this important step and to the advantages it would lend to the work of CWG-Internet.

Opening up CWG-Internet is supported by many Member States of the ITU. We note the contribution of the United States of America (C13/69‑E), which proposes modifications to Council Resolutions 1336 and 1344, to open CWG-Internet, enabling participation by all stakeholders, conducting meetings and deliberations in an open, transparent, and inclusive manner, and ensuring that documents are freely accessible. We also note the contributions of Sweden (C13/70‑E and C13/71‑E), which propose making all documentation available in relation to CWG-Internet and Plenipotentiary 2014.

We support and encourage these proposals for opening CWG-Internet (which, we argue, should extend also to other ITU bodies that consider Internet-related public policy issues), to achieve open, transparent, and multistakeholder processes. However, we firmly believe that the ITU should continue to coordinate its work with that of relevant multistakeholder Internet governance bodies rather than attempt to duplicate their functions.

But opening doors for more stakeholders to attend meetings is not sufficient. Multistakeholderism has been used with a variety of meanings, sometimes only referring to a very limited kind of openness and consultation. If the goal is to achieve an open, inclusive and participatory debate, some processes should be improved to maximize a meaningful civil society participation.

In that sense, we observe that the modalities of participation and contribution in the IEG and WTPF were not clear, and should be improved upon.

  • Civil society was invited to join late in the process just before the final IEG meeting. Therefore, contributions from members of the IEG with a civil society background were limited to the final IEG meeting. Additionally, because of the late notice, only a few members from civil society were able to join, and in fact only one person was able to attend in person. In part, this was a result of the absence of financial means to support participation by civil society recognizing that civil society in these contexts has no external means of financial support.
  • Information docs from IEG members who were not members of the ITU were not considered for debate at the WTPF as they should have been in a truly inclusive process.
  • Members of civil society who did not join the IEG (for the above mentioned reasons) were not able to even submit information documents for the meeting. Amongst the documents that could not be submitted was a statement endorsed by 39 civil society groups and individuals from all regions at http://​best​bits​.net/​w​t​p​f​-​2013/.
  • It was not clear that only IEG members would have participation rights at the WTPF, otherwise others may have joined.

Had these modalities been clearer we could have anticipated more participation from all stakeholders around the world.

In order to improve multistakeholder participation we recommend:

  • Outlining clear procedures for inviting stakeholders to Council Working Groups, at least 90 days prior to the relevant meeting dates.
  • Issuing clear procedures for all the stakeholders to submit official documents for consideration.
  • Establishing mechanisms for remote participation, allowing not only remote participants to follow the debate, but also to request the floor.

But even improving multistakeholder processes within its structure, we would like to recall that the ITU should continue to coordinate its work with that of relevant multistakeholder Internet governance bodies, taking advantage of those bodies’ expertise and not attempting to duplicate their functions. These bodies include those devoted to technical issues (such as ICANN, the IETF and the RIRs) and those dealing primarily with non-technical issues (such as the Internet Governance Forum).

For all these processes, civil society can be a valuable and important stakeholder in its own right, and we stand willing and able to participate.