29 September 2005. While the last Preparation Conference to the WSIS has only one day left to produce real results that could be presented at the Tunis Summit in November, an agreement on future mechanisms for the regulation of the Internet is still far from reach. Frontlines are drawn between a status quo position and the establishment of a new UN oversight body for Internet regulations. It is a battle between an isolated, but determined United States government and the developing world, in which the European Union tries to mediate.
Though chapters one, two and four of the operational part of the Tunis documents, which focus on implementation, financing and follow-up, are still worked at until midnight, chapter three about 'Internet Governance' is currently at the core of the ongoing debate at PrepCom 3. Highly controversial is the question about the future role of ICANN, the organisation which controls the Domain Name System (DNS) and is under the direct influence of the US Department of Commerce. The United States have always made clear that they are not willing to hand over full control over the DNS root zone file to a UN body. In the U.S. "Principles on the Internet's Domain Name and Addressing System" this reads "The United States will continue to provide oversight so that ICANN maintains its focus and meets its core technical mission". In fact it means "Leave it as it is. We won't accept constraints of our control options over the Internet".
EU tries to mediate
Positions however sharpened yesterday, as the EU under the British presidency handed in a proposal, which - though based on existing institutions like ICANN - describes an approach by which "provision for a global allocation system of IP number blocks" as well as "procedures for changing the root zone file, specifically for the insertion of new top level domains in the root system and changes of ccTLD managers" are provided by a "new public-private co-operation model" with has a strong focus on the involvement of international governments. The leader of the US delegation, Ambassador David Gross, strongly objected to the EU's proposal which he regarded to be "highly inappropriate". The mean version was told by another high-level delegate: "The US did not even ignore the EU proposal".
The EU proposal had been the outcome of heavy discussions among EU member states and was indeed an attempt to mediate between developing countries under the aegis of Iran, Brazil and India, and the US on the other side. This attempt has obviously failed. According to an anonymous delegate, that may be because for a real attempt to mediate the proposal of the EU is too detailed, too government-centred ("too French", as we heard here) and obviously not coordinated with the US delegation. Especially the latter might have given additional rise to this strong US reaction.
Along with this unsuccessful "oversight" proposal, the EU also introduced the already widely discussed notion of a Global Internet Governance Forum, an idea that had originated in the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG). This would "address multidimensional and interrelated public policy issues, through the exchange and sharing of information and good practices" in order to "strengthen the global multi-stakeholder cooperation within Internet Governance". Chairman Masood Khan in Subcommittee A this morning gave delegations the opportunity to comment on the suggested texts. The proposals from Iran reflecting the position of development countries and the EU's proposal seem to be the most relevant. The block of developing countries (namely India, China, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia) unanimously declared they would support the Iranian proposal, but at the same time found the EU one quite interesting. From the other side, only Norway and Singapore said that they support the US views, but still found the EU proposal interesting as a starting point. Some observers assume several points of the EU proposal to be "bargaining chips", which are indeed meant be dropped in exchange for the US moving at least a bit. In order to achieve a compilation of an initial text which can be negotiated furthermore in a drafting group, Ambassador Khan has announced an informal meeting with the EU and the Southern block to elaborate this particular issue.
Proposals by Civil Society and Canada
The proposal by civil society's Internet Governance Caucus, which was handed in to the Chair yesterday, also suggests not to create a new oversight organization but calls on the US government to hand over "its pre-eminent role of stewardship in relation to ICANN" and to enter "into an adequate host-country agreement for ICANN". Such a 'released' ICANN then would have to ensure that it establishes "clear, transparent rules and procedures" and "full and equal multi-stakeholder participation on its Board and throughout its organizational structure by the community of Internet users, private sector and governments".
Meanwhile, Canada has proposed more specific wording on the forum function. It makes explicit reference to the open WGIG consultations as a model for multi-stakeholder participation and it also extensively references online consultations and archival. Both the European and the Canadian proposal see such a forum detached from any oversight function, which is in accordance with the position of civil society. The Canadian proposal, which is more lightweight and flexible, much more reflects the position of the civil society groups than the government-leaning approach of the EU. This was also communicated to the EU in a meeting the Internet Governance Caucus had organized today. The next few hours will probably see a convergence between the EU and the Canadian proposal, depending on who can gather enough critical mass of Southern governments behind them. Canada has refined its proposal a few times over the course of the day.
Civil society and the private sector are definitely influential here, and the EU and Canada are both open to their input, especially with regards to the "forum" idea. The US has already signalled it would not reject this. However, observer voices doubt that Civil Society can have a real impact on the final negotiations around the "oversight" question. This is regarded the governments' game, a hardly fought battleground in which they probably will not have the willingness or patience to take into account yet more views. Therefore, it is of crucial importance that Civil Society representatives manage to insert at least some clear text in the paragraph dealing with the forum function that ensures that such a forum works like the open WGIG consultations, and not like the WSIS PrepCom.
The drafting groups here in the last few days have again handled the participation of stakeholders very restrictive. Sometimes observers could stay, sometimes they were kicked out, and sometimes they could not even make their accepted statements in the beginning. The private sector yesterday evening associated itself with the strong statement of protest by civil society from the morning. The representative of the International Chamber of Commerce, Ayesha Hassan, openly questioned the support of business for the summit outcomes under these conditions.