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Internet Governance 2 December 2014

Observations from ISOC Chapter Fellows on the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference

Sally Shipman Wentworth
By Sally Shipman WentworthVice President of Global Policy Development

(Photo credit: veni markovski, cc by-nc)

For the ITU Plenipotentiary, the Internet Society launched a new Fellowship program to support individuals from several ISOC Chapter Members to participate in the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference. Our goal was to encourage Chapter Member engagement with their national delegations and to advance the principles of the Internet Society community – to preserve an open, reliable and secure Internet. We were delighted with the level of interest from the community and by the quality of applications that we received. Clearly, this is an area of interest for our Chapters and an opportunity to develop policy relationships around the world.

We were honored to have the following Chapter members participate:

Each of these individuals showed tremendous dedication to the process, to the issues and to the ISOC mission. I, personally, am grateful for the opportunity to work more closely with these individuals as well as a large number of ISOC members who participated at the meeting in Busan.

Following the Plenipotentiary Conference, weasked our Chapter Fellows to share their impressions and observations of the Conference and of the program. We have captured some of their views below.

What was your overall impression of PP-14?

Anupam: I landed in Busan when people were settling down for election results and preparing for a hectic week ahead. However, one common apprehension was the WCIT fallout in Dubai, which knowingly or unknowingly, all involved did not want to happen for PP-14 and were ready to go an extra mile to avoid. It created a scenario wherein PP-14 saw some amazing workmanship between countries to negotiate and agree to a compromise much earlier than expected. I think a fabulous job was also done by the host country, Korea, wherein they involved themselves heavily in all the discussions to see there were no difficult situations created.

Avri: It was an eye opener, and I was impressed by the spirit of PP-14. Many people take their country’s needs seriously and attempt to represent those needs to the best of their understanding. It appeared to be a successful meeting. Not only did the Member States give the Secretary General the gift he asked for — a peaceful consensus-based set of final acts — but they did nothing injurious to the Internet.

Yrjö: Over the last three Plenipots, ITU has, step-by-step, come closer to recognizing the realities of the Internet, even in its official documents. My overall impression was that the ITU is making steady progress in this area, and hopefully this progress will continue.

Grigori: It was an exciting opportunity to attend and I was anxious to hear the discussions, learn more about the processes, and understand how to use this knowledge in our national strategy. At PP-14, there was no sharp atmosphere as we had seen in December 2012 during WCIT in Dubai. Most problems were resolved through consensus; there was no extraordinary voting procedure. All radical proposals were mitigated, sometimes – rejected. Fortunately, there were no serious issues for the Internet and its future during Plenipot.

What was the biggest surprise?

Avri: I was somewhat astonished by the lack of understanding many of the delegates had about the Internet, how it is architected and what is actually possible now or within the next decade. Some of the proposals and solutions expressed displayed confusion on what was currently possible on the Internet. This is one of the roles that was filled by ISOC staff. In the most gentle of ways, they often managed to impart information where information was desperately missing. I watched the ISOC representatives work their magic with fascination and great respect.

Interesting observations on the processes?

Yrjö: The Ad Hoc Working Group on Internet-related Issues spent over forty hours of arduous negotiations discussing proposals from Member States on IP address registries and allocation mechanisms, including proposals to revise the intergovernmental “mechanism” for membership in the ITU’s Council Working Group on International Internet Public Policy. Ultimately Member States determined that the group should remain closed to only Member States discussion with a means to conduct public consultations for expert input but not participation. There was another proposal that raised concerns that it was an attempt to “re-engineer the Internet.” However this proposal met with strong opposition and with little support so it was not adopted.

Over the long hours of the Ad Hoc drafting exercise, one could not help thinking, why do we need to have this quadrennial battle? It is puzzling why some countries, that on the practical level cooperate smoothly with “relevant organizations,” deem it necessary to present proposals that they know are both politically and technically incorrect.

How do you look back on your PP-14 experience?

Anupam: This program benefitted me immensely. It gave me an opportunity to participate in ITU, allowed me to understand the functioning of ITU through the wisdom of very learned fellow members of the ISOC community and also presented an opportunity to work with the government stakeholders. Being a participant in the ITU process for the first time, the volume of documents floating around with their versions and revisions required help and I think one of the most helpful documents was the matrix created by Internet Society on various resolutions.

How can this Chapter Fellows programme be improved?

Grigori: It seems a very effective tactic to invite ISOC members to participate, especially to ITU Plenipot conferences. It should be guided by the following criteria, in addition to existing criteria:

  1. Does the Chapter’s country play a strong role in the ITU either at the global or regional level?
  2. Is this Chapter representative technically qualified enough to participate in the debate on the resolutions pertaining to the Internet?
  3. Can this representative act as an adviser for its Member State delegation?

From ISOC’s perspective, we were very happy to have our Chapter Members working with us in Busan, and we deeply appreciate their support and important regional perspectives. The Fellows program is another example of our commitment to encourage and empower Chapter members to engage in local discussions on policy matters that are shaping the future of the Internet.

Thank you Anupam, Avri, Yrjö, and Grigori for your most welcomed participation.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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