13 November 2005. The preparatory meeting for the WSIS summit has re-convened today. Governments are trying to find more common ground, especially on the most contested issue of Internet governance. Conditions for working here are not really good, though.
Internet Governance oversight
The PrepCom started, after some organizational business, with the meeting of Subcommittee A on Internet governance. Chairman Khan tried to summarize the different proposals from ICANN oversight under two main camps. This in turn annoyed a couple of governments, and some of them literally accused him of not listening. This framing of the debate also badly fits into the recent US press campaign that aims at framing the debate as a conflict between the US government as the freedom-loving custodian of the Internet on one side and the rest of the world wanting to have tight UN (meaning intergovernmental) control over the network. The European Union has desperately tried to make clear its approach toward a "new cooperation model" is different that the UN-takeover many developing countries including India, Brazil and South Africa are pushing for. The subcommittee has now split into several sub-groups. A group chaired by Canada will try to find "common ground" among all proposals from the different stakeholders. Other issues are still open, too.
A group chaired by Singapore is trying to fix the still contested paragraphs 61 and 66 on cybersecurity and cybercrime. During the September PrepCom negotiations, paragraph 61 on cybercrime got stuck in a discussion between the US and Iran. The US government want to delete any reference to new mechanisms. Their goal is to have the Council of Europe's Cybercrime Convention as the only tool, have all governments join it, and instead focus on cooperation of law enforcement agencies. Iran and others want to keep the option of developing regional cybercrime frameworks different than the Council of Europe Convention. Russia also was opposing the Convention, but could apparently live with "noting" instead of praising it. Civil society has for years been arguing against the convention because of its overly broad mandate, its lack of dual criminality provisions, and its free speech infringements with the additional protocol on harmful content. Related to this, paragraph 66 on cyber-security and the need for international cooperation and exchange of best practices also is still in brackets.
Update: The group has finished its work, and governments agreed on mentioning the Cybercrime Convention, but only as one possible regional model. The text was just adopted in the subcommittee that has re-convened at 18:00.
Another drafting group chaired by Ghana is meeting right now to discuss interconnection fees. The ITU has a tradition of using part of the international telephone costs to fund telephone providers (meaning: government-run PTTs) in developing countries through a politically negotiated interconnection charging agreement. A number of developing countries have asked for applying this idea to the Internet, because the PTTs are losing revenues as people more and more switch to the Internet using email instead of phone calls or voice over IP telephony. The ITU has been working on this issue in an specialized working group for a couple of years, but could not reach an agreement. It is not easy to solve, as there are no real "international" interconnection costs on the Internet. Many large providers have global networks, and the interconnection fees occur more between the private network owners than between countries. Still, the concerns of developing countries are understandable. The current draft of the summit documents includes a paragraph "encouraging relevant parties to commercially negotiate reduced interconnection costs". Bangladesh and others want to make sure this does not just apply to least developed countries.
The other issues: A mess, as are working conditions
The other three parts of the Tunis documents are still a mess with too many square brackets. Subcommittee B that deals with these is meeting right now. We were not able to enter the plenary meeting hall. The room is too small for the many people who already have arrived here. Civil society was promised to get a number of observer seats, but these were already taken when most of the key activists arrived. The room temperature is around 35 degrees Celsius, and even the governments' delegates are squeezed in their few chairs. The whole conference center is also very noisy, and people are setting up their stands for the ICT4ALL exhibition, including hammering and other disturbance. Not a good start for coming up with a compromise. Many people are still jetlagged, and the working conditions will not ease people's minds.
The good news is: The whole summit area has Internet connectivity. There is a wireless network that is slow, but free (as in Beer and as in Freedom). And it is not filtered here, because it is configured as a sub-network of the ITU.
But that is basically the only good news. Many people have found their Internet filtered in the hotels, and ports to external SMTP servers were blocked, so people could not send mails. The websites of Reporters without Borders and others are not accessible, as are some WSIS-related sites like http://www.wsisblogs.org/.
Security is extremely tight in Tunis these days. Policemen are in sight every 100 meters, there are at least two roadblocks on the way to the KRAM conference center, and even in the hotel lobbies there is security personnel everywhere. And a very bad news: Though the negotiations are scheduled to go on until late in the night, the only food stand in the whole summit area has already run out of sandwiches at 17:00.