Internet Governance Takes a Turn

In an action which the White House will probably call an another example of "Old Europe" in action, the EU has broken ranks with the US over Internet governance.

With the September issue of the CSB out the door yesterday (on the last day that I could legitimately call it a September issue), I can finally get back into blogging. The issue, which focused on the Massachusetts decision to mandate archiving using the OpenDocument Format, was a bear to write, requiring many interviews and much research. Due to the continuing unfolding of events, I also had to delay finalizing and sending it for a week. As a matter of fact, events are continuing to unfold. I’ll cover these at the News Portal, where I’ll set up a subtopic that will aggregate Massachusetts OpenDocument news stories, and I’ll also write about these ongoing development in this blog.


But there have been some other big news stories this week that I have neglected, and one of them relates to the ongoing discussions in the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) commissioned under the UN sponsored World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). The WSIS process began includes holding several preparatory meetings intended to set the stage for the second WSIS global meeting, which will be held in Tunis, Tunisia, in November of this year. The latest and last of these meetings was held in Geneva from the 19th to the 30th of this month, and is reported to have been quite a roller coaster. You can read about earlier events by clicking on the “WSIS/Internet Governance” subcategory archival links on the left-hand side of this blog page and of the News Portal page.


Now, on to this week’s news from the WGIG meeting.


If you have been following this story over the long term, you will recall that the last news was that the WGIG had succeeded in coming up with …four proposals, due to inability to achieve consensus around any single proposal. Not surprisingly, this laid the foundation for contention the next time those involved convened, since agreement on a single proposal is needed prior to the Tunis meeting in order for the effort to prove fruitful.


And contentious it was. Much to the shock of the US, the EU decided towards the end of the meeting to break ranks with the US, and presented a surprise proposal that would subject aspects of the Internet to a new global body. Until now, the EU had been supporting the US, which has been taking a firm stand on retaining supervision over ICANN. Third world countries have been lobbying for a more neutral form of governance.


The UK/EU proposal includes a set of “guiding principles” for any action to be taken. They are mainly (the first and last especially) reassuring (from a technical standpoint):

– it should not replace existing mechanisms or institutions, but should build on the existing structures of Internet Governance, with a special emphasis on the complementarity between all the actors involved in this process, including governments, the private sector, civil society and international organisations each of them in its field of competence;
– this new public-private co-operation model should contribute to the sustainable stability and robustness of the Internet by addressing appropriately public policy issues related to key elements of Internet Governance;
-the role of governments in the new cooperation model should be mainly focused on principle issues of public policy, excluding any involvement in the day-to-day operations;
-the importance of respecting the architectural principles of the Internet, including the interoperability, openness and the end-to-end principle.

The proposal then outlines the following Essential Tasks to be performed:



a. Provision for a global allocation system of IP number blocks, which is equitable and efficient;
b. 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;
c. Establishment of contingency plans to ensure the continuity of crucial DNS functions;
d. Establishment of an arbitration and dispute resolution mechanism based on international law in case of disputes;
e. Rules applicable to DNS system.

Finally, the proposal calls for the creation of a new Forum for the purpose of accomplishing the listed tasks. However, it suggests that the Forum should exist for a “predefined period” rather than have a perpetual charter, and also that, “It should work with existing institutions or organisations and not try to dominate issues already dealt with elsewhere. It should not perform oversight tasks.”





An official press release was released yesterday that covers all of the topics covered at the preparatory meeting. The section of the press release that relates to Internet Governance reads as follows:




Breakthrough on Internet governance

The PrepCom-3 Internet governance debate centered around the report of the multi-stakeholder Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) set up following the Geneva Phase of WSIS to investigate and make proposals on the future governance of the Internet. The group’s final report released in Geneva on 18 July, along with comments on the report by all stakeholders, served as a source of inspiration for discussions over the two-week period.

After a slow start characterized by strongly polarized positions, the pace picked up substantially in Week 2 following the release of a draft document by the Chair, which saw delegates knuckle down to the task of brokering agreement and drafting new text on issues ranging from spam and cybercrime to interconnection costs and — most crucially — management of critical Internet resources such as the domain name and IP addressing systems.

While many delegations from the developing world had been vocal on the urgent need for new management and oversight mechanisms to better reflect the global nature of the Internet, others, led by the US, had presented a relatively united front generally supportive of the status quo.

That scenario changed, however, two days before the end of PrepCom, when the UK delegation, speaking on behalf of the European Union, tabled a new proposal that marked a clear departure from its earlier position.

The proposal outlined a new framework for international cooperation that would see the creation of a new, multi-stakeholder forum to develop public policy, and — most significantly — international government involvement in allocation of IP addressing blocks and procedures for changing the root zone file to provide for insertion of new top-level domain names and changes of country-code top level domain name (ccTLDs) managers.

Other countries added their suggestions, and with eight proposals now tabled, informal consultations will continue to be held from now until the back-to-back meeting in Tunis.

There have been many short articles written on this week’s events (one of which I’ve posted at the Standards News Portal), as well as some more detailed summaries, one of which was posted in English by the German Heinrich-Boll Foundation, and provides a good sense of the horse trading that’s been going on in Geneva, as well as detail on a Canadian proposal. Another writeup at the same site posted the following day provides perspective on how the meetings ended “in disarray,” and what is likely to happen next.





Watch the WGIG Compilation of Comments page and the Standards News Portal page for further details as they become available.