15 November 2005. The PrepCom negotiations today have led to important steps forward an agreement. While governments are still struggling about the question of who gets political oversight over the technical core of the Internet, there is consensus now on the establishment of an "Internet Governance Forum".
Internet Governance Forum
The Internet Governance negotiations got into rough seas yesterday, when the United States government tried to open another battleground, obviously in an attempt to distract from the core issues. As had already become clear during PrepCom3 in September, most governments agreed on the establishment of an "Internet Governance Forum". This forum had been suggested by the UN Working Group on Internet Governance in June, and the idea had originated in civil society over a year ago. The main function would be to ensure an open and inclusive discussion on existing and emerging Internet governance issues that ensures participation of all stakeholders. The United States now suggested having it hosted by the Internet Society (ISOC), which formally is an NGO including large parts of the technical community, but in the last few years has been mostly taken over by the private sector. This was unacceptable to many governments, of course, as to civil society. It still took almost a day to convince the US that this forum, especially if decided by a UN world summit, has to be somehow located in the United Nations context. The agreement taken today is asking the UN secretary general to come up with a proposal for the structure and working procedures of the Forum next year. The subcommittee also agreed that the Forum has to be set up ""in an open and inclusive process", and they changed the world "multilateral" into "multistakeholder", which both ensures that civil society and all interested parties can participate.
Internet Governance Oversight
The core question around which the whole summit process has been highly politicized in the recent weeks - who should control the core internet resources - is also closer to agreement. After heavy clashes across the Atlantic via the press and other means (including the direct exchange of a lot of "harsh words", as a European diplomat told us), the mood is softening again. The EU has acknowledged that its September proposal for a "new cooperation model" could be misunderstood as too government-centric. But lengthy consultations have made clear the EU more envisages a statement on the level of principles around which the political oversight should be developed, not a direct new institutional design. But information has also leaked to us that the US government deliberately chose a more offensive interpretation, in order to create pressure on the Europeans.
A drafting group chaired by Canada has been meeting since Sunday and has now almost reached consensus. They most likely will agree that there is a
"need for governments, on an equal footing, to carry out their roles and responsibilities in international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet, but not in the day-to-day technical operation or arrangements."
They still are struggling around the exact wording, and it is unclear if the EU formulation for a "new cooperation model" will be included. If it is, it will be a small step away from the unilateral US oversight, as "new" in diplomatic speak clearly means a rejection of the existing structure.
Further negotiations during summit - civil society statement being prepared
The summit will open tomorrow morning, but negotiations will be going on until Friday, according to several diplomats. The structure for Implementation and follow-up to WSIS was agreed upon today (more details on this here tomorrow), but the political part of the summit documents still has a number of bracketed text in minor issues.
Civil society in its first plenary meeting during the extended PrepCom this afternoon has agreed to draft a statement with its critical view on the summit outcomes. It will probably be short and concise, referring to the very comprehensive and visionary Alternative Geneva Summit Declaration, and laying out steps forward for the NGO networks that have evolved over the last four years. Stay tuned.