WSIS Working Group on Internet Governance set up
  Civil Society well represented, US Government not a member
  13 November 2004. After long consultations, the WSIS Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) has finally been set up. UN secretary-general Kofi Annan on 11 November announced the 40 members of the group that has to develop a report and recommendations on public-policy-related internet governance issues fore the second WSIS summit next year. It will be chaired by Nitin Desai, Kofi Annan's special advisor for the WSIS.

The working group had become necessary because at the first WSIS in December 2004, governments were not able to agree on a consensus for internet governance. A number of developing countries had asked for more inclusion of governments and international organizations in internet-related regulatory processes, while the United States and the EU among others were in favour of the private-sector led ICANN model. The compromise then was "to agree not to agree" and shift the discussion to a working group.

Open and inclusive process, fair balance of stakeholders

The mandate from the summit as spelled out in the WSIS action plan was for the

"Secretary General of the United Nations to set up a working group on Internet governance, in an open and inclusive process that ensures a mechanism for the full and active participation of governments, the private sector and civil society from both developing and developed countries, involving relevant intergovernmental and international organizations and forums (.)".

The Swiss coordinator of the WGIG, Markus Kummer, took this task really serious. He organized a number of informal consultations, asked for official nominations of WGIG members from all constituencies, and discussed heavily with many parties behind the scenes.

The list now adopted by Kofi Annan mostly reflects this approach. As Wolfgang Kleinwächter, a member of the group and active in the WSIS civil society Internet Governance caucus, put it, "it is very close to the Onethird-Onethird-Onethird-North-South Proposal, Jeanette (Hofmann) made on behalf of the Caucus in Geneva in  September".

Civil Society groups involved in the WSIS, led by the Internet Governance Caucus, had consulted widely over the summer and submitted a common list of nominations to Kummer. Almost all of the nominees made it to the WGIG, and even two members of the backup list of "connectors" - suggested links between the WGIG members and wider civil society - were nominated by Kofi Annan. The other two thirds of the WGIG are more or less equally distributed between governments and the private sector, also reflecting an equal balance between Northern and Southern members.

Big players missing? USA and ITU out, ICANN in

The list of government representatives on the WGIG includes the major players from WSIS phase one. Russia, China, Japan, Brazil, South Africa, Egypt and Iran are all in, as are the European Union both through the EU Commission and the current Dutch presidency. The important private sector entities like the International Chamber of Commerce are also represented, as many of the civil society groups like the ICANN At Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) or the Association for Progressive Communications (APC).

But two of the major players are missing: Neither representatives of the US government nor the international organizations (most important here: ITU) are members of the WGIG. This is somehow surprising, as the battle over internet governance at WSIS was often framed as a conflict between the US-licensed ICANN and the UN intergovernmental organization ITU (even among civil society groups).

The US government had already made clear last year that it is not interested in any change of the current system. Right before the summit in 2003, it extended the Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Commerce and ICANN until 2006. As the second WSIS will take place in 2005, this was a clear signal saying "we do not care about the WSIS outcomes". Markus Kummer, who had selected the list for Kofi Annan, now told reporters that "the US government feels well represented".

As "internet governance" embraces more than just the ICANN-led domain system, there will of course be possibilities for the WGIG to make recommendations that can not be blocked by the US government. And the International Chamber of Commerce has traditional good ties to Washington, so there will for sure be some channels back and forth. It still will be a challenge to the WGIG to develop recommendations that are acceptable to the US government in the official negotiations leading to the second WSIS summit.

The ITU is not represented in the WGIG as are none of the other relevant international organizations like WIPO or UNESCO. International organizations will join as "observers". But it is unclear so far if they will be allowed to participate in the closed "members only" meetings. ICANN itself is represented through one of its directors, Alejandro Pisanty. It is expected that the developing countries who had demanded an intergovernmental mechanism for internet governance during the first phase of WSIS will argue in support of ITU. Less clear is if the ITU bureaucracy itself is really interested in taking over internet governance. After the first WSIS in 2003, the staff and directors did not seem too excited about having to deal with these complicated multi-layer, multi-issue policy processes forever.

Issues to be discussed

The first task of the WGIG will be to define what "internet governance" means on a global level. A narrow definition would only include international public policy issues related to the core internet resources like the TCP and IP protocols and the domain name system, therefore confining it to the network layers. A wider understanding, though, is more likely. It would also include the application-layers, therefore dealing with illegal content, cybercrime, spam, security and other problems. Statements by Kummer pointed into this direction.

Irritating to many WSIS civil society activists is the fact that Intellectual Property does not seem to be on the table of the WGIG. Neither was it raised by Markus Kummer when he told reporters about the scope of the issues, nor is any of the members an outspoken expert or policy person in this field.

But in the end it will be the working group itself who has to adopt a definition. The secretariat has circulated a questionnaire to get a first sense of the members' priorities and understandings. It is adopted from the OSI network layer model and includes infrastructure, transport, applications and content layers. The discussion in the civil society Internet Governance Caucus currently is moving away from this model, as too many important issues are ranging across different layers.

The context

Many of the issues the WGIG will have to deal with are also discussed and regulated in other forums. The Council of Europe is busy marketing its "Convention on Cybercrime", the WIPO recently adopted a new "development agenda", the IETF and other groups are still developing and improving the technical specifications for the internet, and interconnection fees and related aspects of internet governance are also dealt with in the WSIS Task Force on Financing Mechanisms (TFFM).

The WGIG has to deal with two challenges here: First of all, it has to make sure its findings are more or less linked to the developments going on in other arenas. The civil society networks developed in the first phase of WSIS are currently providing and extending these links for the activists. The WGIG as a whole has to do this through official channels, otherwise its outcomes will be irrelevant.

Secondly, the open and inclusive multi-stakeholder approach of the WGIG can and has to be promoted as a model for these other processes. Indeed, this can be the biggest historical impact of the WGIG. The discussions over substance will not be over after the second WSIS summit, as the internet and its use are constantly changing anyway. But the open and inclusive multi-stakeholder approach towards global policy debates can and will be a model for global governance processes far beyond the WSIS.


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