Q2/2019 - International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
At the annual plenary meeting of the ITU Council, the governing body of the ITU in the interval between the four-yearly Plenipotentiary Conferences (ITU-PP), a number of decisions were taken in June 2019 which also deal with Internet Governance. This applies in particular to the two resolutions on the activities of the ITU Council Working Groups on WSIS (CWG WSIS&SDG) and on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet), and the resolution regarding the role of the Dedicated Group on Identifying Internet-related Public Policy Issues (DC). Above all the resolution on the role of the Dedicated Group includes content that has the potential to rekindle the conflict between ICANN and the ITU, which has been dormant for the recent years. Especially after the IANA transition in 2016, the relationship between the two institutions has eased considerably – ICANN was admitted to the ITU-D as a sector member in June 2019. However, this relaxation does not mean that some ITU member states have given up their ambitions to transform the ITU into a kind of Internet UN.
The Dedicated Group on Identifying Internet-related Public Policy Issues is a subgroup of the ITU Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet). In the CWG-Internet, a conflict has been smouldering for years over the implementation of the Dedicated Group’s relatively vaguely formulated mandate. Some ITU members, such as Saudi Arabia and Russia, have repeatedly tried to use the CWG Internet to initiate processes aimed at extending the ITU's responsibility for the Internet. This includes both the management of critical Internet resources (domain names and IP addresses) and the issue of cyber security. However, those proposals have not yet found a majority. The last ITU General Assembly in Dubai in October 2018 did not lead to an extension of the ITU mandate either. In this respect, it is somewhat surprising that the ITU Council adopted Resolution 1305 on 20 June 2018 to revive the "Dedicated Group on Identifying Internet related Public Policy Issues". ITU Council Resolution 1305 calls on ITU member states to recognise that the ITU has a broad mandate to address Internet-related issues. It refers to ITU resolutions passed between 2006 and 2009, when the tension between ITU and ICANN was at its peak. Reference is also made to all controversial paragraphs of the WSIS Tunis Agenda, including paragraph 69 on enhanced cooperation. The ITU Secretary General is asked to facilitate – within the framework of the existing budget – the successful work of the Dedicated Group. The list to be processed by the DC as described in Annex 1 of ITU Council Resolution 1305 contains 13 topics and covers almost all contentious Internet governance issues:
- Multilingualization of the Internet Including Internationalized (multilingual) Domain Names,
- International Internet Connectivity
- International public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and the management of Internet resources, including domain names and addresses
- The security, safety, continuity, sustainability, and robustness of the Internet
- Combating Cybercrime
- Dealing effectively with spam
- Issues pertaining to the use and misuse of the Internet
- Availability, affordability, reliability, and quality of service, especially in the developing world
- Contributing to capacity building for Internet governance in developing countries
- Developmental aspects of the Internet
- Respect for privacy and the protection of personal information and data
- Protecting children and young people from abuse and exploitation
The consequences of this resolution for the future role of the ITU in the global discussion on the Internet remain difficult to assess. But the resolution contains considerable potential for political conflict.
Resolution 1336 (20 June 2019) on the CWG Internet is essentially a continuation of the existing mandate. The long-standing problem of non-state actor participation in the meetings of the CWG-Internet has not really been solved. At least, however, new rules were determined that specify the procedures for non-state actors to bring in their opinion on the topics discussed in the CWG-Internet. According to these rules, the CWG is obliged to conduct online and offline consultations with all stakeholders, to enable remote participation and to transcribe the discussion. "Relevant input" from these consultations is made available to the CWG’s closed meeting. No procedure has been defined, however, to determine what the CWG-Internet regards as "relevant input" and how to deal with this input. In recent years, the CWG has not even been able to agree on an issue to put up for open consultation.
Resolution 1332 (20 June 2019) on the role of the ITU in implementing the WSIS decisions and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (CWG-WSIS&SDG) is also essentially a continuation of the existing mandate. It further strengthens the interconnection of WSIS and the SDGs. In this respect, ITU shall assume a leading role through the formats it has developed, such as the annual WSIS Forum, the award of the WSIS Prize, the expansion of the WSIS database (WSIS Stocktaking and WSIS Measurement), the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD), the WSIS&SDG matrix or the WSIS Trust Fund. Especially developing countries are to be integrated to a greater extent into the corresponding WSIS and SDG activities, including the "Connect 2030" initiative. The CWG WSIS&SDG is requested to prepare a comprehensive status report by 2022, i.e. by the next ITU General Assembly.
The ITU Council also adopted the task schedule to be implemented by the next ITU Plenipotentiary Conference, which will be held in Bucharest in autumn 2022.
- Important is the resolution to organise the 6th World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum (WTPF) in Geneva in 2021. The ITU WTPF forums are high-level political platforms that adopt so-called "opinions", which have considerable influence on the decisions taken by the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference. They take place at irregular intervals. The 5th WTPF was held in Geneva in 2013 and dealt with "international Internet-related public policy matters". It led to fierce international controversies, particularly with regard to the relationship between ICANN and ITU and the general role of the UN in the field of Internet governance. The 6th WTPF in 2021 will be held under the theme "Policies for mobilizing new and emerging telecommunication and ICT services for sustainable development". The topics to be discussed at the forum will include artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, 5G, big data and OTT.
- Other important ITU conferences in the coming years are the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC, Addis Ababa, 2021) and the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA, Hyderabad, 2020). The discussion about holding a review conference dealing with the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) adopted at the failed WCIT conference in Dubai in 2012 was postponed again. The Expert Group (EC-ITR) established to deal with the issue shall meet once a year and submit a report with recommendations for further action to the next ITU Plenipotentiary Conference.
The 3rd ITU AI for Good Global Summit took place in Geneva from 28 to 31 May 2019. The four-day conference on artificial intelligence covered a wide range of technical, political, legal and economic topics. Platinum sponsor and strategic partner of the ITU event was Microsoft. The conference launched a new initiative called "AI-Commons". This initiative is intended to promote the exchange of experience, data, knowledge and approaches to the development and use of artificial intelligence. A particular focus shall be on the communication between developers, investors, users in general and users of artificial intelligence. ITU has been trying to establish itself as the leading UN organisation in the field of artificial intelligence since 2017. The fourth "AI for Good Global Summit" will be held in Geneva from 4 to 8 May 2020.
The WSIS Forum organised by ITU took place for the tenth time in 20193]. Over the years, it has become increasingly similar to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The WSIS Forum featured about 300 workshops and was attended by 2,000 participants from more than 120 countries, including many ministers and secretaries of state, mainly from developing countries.
- Originally conceived as an event to discuss how to implement the WSIS action lines, the WSIS Forum of today covers almost all Internet topics. Procedures and structures are also largely copied from the IGF. This includes the preparation process with a call for proposals and public consultations as well as remote participation and the transcription of the discussion. New in 2019 is that additional WSIS forums shall be held in the five UN regions, an approach that copies the NRI initiative of the IGF (national and regional IGFs). ITU can draw on the five regional UN development commissions for this. For 2019/2020, UNESCAP (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) has been appointed chair of the new WSIS UN Regional Commissions Committee. ITU also uses its chairmanship of the UNGIS (United Nations Group on the Information Society) to generally strengthen the UN's role in dealing with Internet issues.
- The WSIS Forum is now also mentioned and supported in general documents of the UN (UNCTAD Resolution, Geneva, May 2019) and the G20 (G20 Digital Ministers Meeting, Tsukuba, June 2019). ITU is already planning well into the 2020s with the Forum. In 2020, the WSIS Forum shall be linked to a high-level intergovernmental conference to mark the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the Tunis Agenda. In 2021, the 6th World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF), which will be organised by ITU, is planned to be held back to back to the WSIS Forum in Geneva. The main sponsors of the WSIS Forum are the governments of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia.