Q1/2020 -International Telecommunication Union (ITU)
ITU Council and Expert Groups (CWG-Internet, CWG WSIS&SDG, EG-ITR, EG-WTPF), Geneva, 5 – 12 February 2020
The first series of meetings of the ITU Council Working Groups and Expert Groups took place in Geneva from 3 to 14 February 2020 The meetings of the Council Working Groups (CWGs) on the Internet and the WSIS&SDG and of the Expert Groups (EGs) on the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs) and the World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF) were particularly relevant with regard to Internet Governance.
The 14th meeting of the CWG-Internet focused on the implementation of the ITU Resolutions 101, 102, 133, 180 and 206, which deal with Internet-related issues such as domain names and IP addresses. The discussion was based on a report by the ITU Secretary General.
The meeting, which is open only to government representatives, was preceded by an online consultation process and an “open consultation” with non-governmental stakeholders on “International Internet-Related Public Policy Issues on Harnessing New and Emerging Telecommunications/ICTs for Sustainable Development”. César Martinez, Vice Chair of the CWG-Internet, chaired the consultations and rated the stakeholder input as very valuable. Following up on his appreciation, members of the CWG-Internet suggested to link the multistakeholder consultation process more closely with government negotiations. The 9th consultation process is planned to take place between July and September 2020 under the headline “Expanding Internet Connectivity” .
A proposal by Russia to draw up a roadmap for the development of instruments for state regulation of the Internet and new technological developments in the field of telecommunications was discussed controversially. It suggests that the CWG-Internet should organise the exchange of relevant laws between member states and initiate feasibility studies regarding regulations for issues such as liability, privacy and information security. No consensus was reached on that proposal. Some members felt that the proposal was not covered by the limited mandate of the CWG-Internet. Others conceded that the issue of Internet governance should be on the agenda of the Working Group. The idea of an organised exchange of national laws relevant to the Internet was supported.
The “Dedicated Group on Identifying Internet related Public Policy issues”, a sub-group of the CWG-Internet, is also involved in the discussion of regulatory issues. In June 2019, the ITU Council gave this Dedicated Group a mandate in Resolution 1305 to develop appropriate proposals, including for regulating the management of critical Internet resources (the so-called “ICANN issues”). However, the group has not yet become active. A report of the “Dedicated Group” was not available at the 14th session of the CWG-Internet. The group is not mentioned either in the final report by the chairman of the CWG-Internet, Majed Al-Mazyed from Saudi Arabia .
The implementation of the above-mentioned ITU Resolutions 101, 102, 133, 180 and 206 takes place mainly in the ITU-T Study Groups. They deal with a wide range of topics. Since August 2019, the ITU Study Groups have revised or newly adopted 132 recommendations. Usually these are technical specifications. Those actively dealt with, mainly include SG12 (Quality of Services/QoS and Quality of Experiences/QoE), SG13 (5G), SG16 (Video over IP Networks and Video Surveillance Systems), SG17 (Security and Identity Management) and SG20 (Internet of Things and Smart Cities).
SG16 and SG20 in particular deal with technical issues with significant policy implications. In SG16, for example, standards for face recognition in video surveillance are negotiated. SG20 deals with identifiers for the Internet of Things and Smart Cities. In total, more than 40 individual topics are on the agenda of SG20, which was only founded in 2017. In the “United for Smart Sustainable Cities” (UFSSC) project for example, more than 100 cities are involved. Among other things, they develop “Key Performance Indicators for Smart Sustainable Cities”. Pilot cities are Riyadh, Valencia, Moscow, Ålesund (Norway), Dubai and Pully (Switzerland). A new pilot study has been started that looks into a decentralised identification mechanism for the Internet of Things (Technical Report on Feasibility of Decentralised Identifiers/DIDs in IoT).
Regarding the politically controversial issues of IP addresses and domain names discussed in the past, a positive tendency towards a more relaxed multi-stakeholder cooperation of the ITU with other bodies is becoming apparent. Only a few years ago, any reference to ICANN in an ITU document caused a major political controversy. That situation has eased. The ITU Secretary-General's report makes explicit positive mention of the cooperation with ICANN, but also with IEEE, IETF, W3C, ISOC, RIPE NCC, IGF, Diplo Foundation and other institutions. Regarding the issues of IP addresses and domain names, the current focus of ITU is mainly on “capacity building” in developing countries, in the context of which it also uses its resources from the development sector (ITU-D and BDT). Tthe topic of “New IP”, however, could develop into a new area of conflict. It was China brought into the discussion of the Telecommunication Standardization Advisory Group (TSAG), the umbrella organization of the ITU-T Study Groups, by China in September 2019.
The 35th Meeting of the CWG-WSIS&SDG was held in Geneva on 6 and 7 February, chaired by its Russian head, Prof. Dr. Vladimir Minkin. In his opening speech, ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao emphasised the close relation between the WISIS goals and the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDGs). The Director of the ITU Telecommunication Development Bureau, the American Doreen Bogdan-Martin, also made reference to the “Decade of Action”, which was adopted by the UN in January 2020 and aims at the implementation of the SDGs.
The ITU is responsible for implementing three lines of action of the Geneva “WSIS Plan of Action” of 2003. De facto, however, over the years ITU has developed into the actual “guardian” of the WSIS process in the UN system; it has been involved with a large number of different actions and initiatives. As to the implementation and review of the WSIS decisions, formally the UN Commission on Science and Technology Development (UNCSTD) remains responsible. However, it appears that the ITU-CWG-WSIS&SDG has de facto assumed this role.
The CWG WSIS&SDG received reports from the UNCSTD, the 15th IGF (Berlin) and the 2nd Committee of the UN General Assembly, which adopts the annual UN resolution on ICT for Development. ITU activities include, in addition to the measures to implement the WSIS action lines C2, C5 and C6, the annual WSIS Forum, the presentation of the annual WSIS prize, the organisation of the annual World Telecommunication & Information Society Day, the annual WSIS Stocktaking and the collection of statistical data on the development of the information society (Measuring ICT for Development). ITU is also co-chair of the UN Group on the Information Society (UNGIS) and it also contributes the WSIS component to the UN High Level Political Forum, which is held annually at ministerial level in New York under the auspices of ECOSOC as part of the SDGs. At the February session of the CWG-WSIS&SDG, in addition to updates on the ITU roadmap for C2, C5 and CG, a report on ITU activities related to WSIS+15 was presented. ITU has already started considerations for preparing the WSIS Review Conference planned for 2025 (WSIS+20).
The second meeting of the Expert Group for the evaluation of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITR) ended, like the first meeting in 2019, without yielding any result. There are still two opposing positions. On the one hand, states such as Russia or Saudi Arabia advocate a new round of ITR negotiations with the aim of reviewing and possibly renewing the ITRs agreed in 2012. On the other hand, the Western states generally reject such new negotiations. They argue that in a time of rapidly changing technologies, a new treaty is irrelevant from the outset. Moreover, they say that there is no chance of a consensus after the experiences made at the failed World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai in 2012. The ITRs adopted in Dubai in 2012, which were to replace the ITRs of 1988, were signed by only half of the ITU member states, including all Western states. However, the fact that so many states did not sign has not led to any negative developments in that area. Therefore, new negotiations, which would also include the risk of triggering new political controversies on the regulation of the Internet, are completely unnecessary. New ITRs are a contract that nobody needs, so the general opinion .
The second meeting of the Informal Experts Group (IEG-WTPF-21) to prepare the 6th World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF) took place in Geneva on 10 and 11 February 2020. The overarching theme of the 6th WTPF, which is planned by ITU for 2021, will be “Policies for mobilizing new and emerging telecommunications/ICTs for sustainable development”.
The overarching theme of the 6th WTPF is grouped into five separate them
- Artificial Intelligence
- Internet of Things
- Big Data;
The Forum is not expected to draw up binding treaties or recommendations. However, as with previous WPTFs (which have been organised by the ITU at irregular intervals since 1994), so-called “non-binding Opinions” shall be negotiated in a consensus procedure at the 6th WTPF. These “Opinions” are then to be “considered” by the Member States in future intergovernmental negotiations of the ITU, e.g. at the next ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Bucharest in 2022.
According to the WTPF work plan the presentation of a third draft by the ITU Secretary General with first draft texts for the "Opinions" is scheduled for early April 2020. A consolidated text for the "Opinions" shall then be prepared in an open consultation process and be available by September 2020, at the 3rd meeting of the Informal Expert Group. A 4th meeting is planned for February 2021. The final report by the ITU Secretary-General to the WTPF is expected for 15 March 2021. The 6th WTPF will take place in Geneva in mid-May 2021, back-to-back with the ITU WSIS Forum.
The IEG-WTPF-21 is composed of over 100 experts, including some 30 representatives of non-governmental institutions such as ISOC, ICANN, APNIC, RIPE NCC, APC, Facebook and Orange. Germany is represented by Matthias Löhrl from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi).
5th Meeting of the Telecommunication Standardization Advisory Group (TSAG), Geneva, 10 – 14 February 2020
The 5th meeting of the Telecommunication Standardization Advisory Group (TSAG) took place in Geneva from 10 to 14 February 2020. The TSAG is the umbrella organisation of the ITU Study Groups and the highest body of the ITU-T in the periods between the World Telecommunication Standardization Assemblies (WTSAs), which take place every four years. The next WTSA is scheduled for November 2020 in Hyderabad.
Besides the draft report by the TSAG to the WTSA, there were also the reports of three “Focus Groups” on the topics “Quantum Information Technology for Networks (FG-QIT4N)”, “Environmental Efficiency for Artificial Intelligence and other Emerging Technologies (FG-AI4EE)” and “Technologies for Network 2030 (FG-NET2030) and "new IP”.
IThe reports on “Network 2030” and “New IP” in particular contain politically explosive material.
In a working paper for the 4th TSAG meeting in September 2019, Huawei Technologies, China Mobile, China Unicom and the Chinese Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) had introduced the idea of a new Internet protocol that goes beyond TCP/IP. Huawei further refined this idea in February 2020 and presented a white paper on “Internet 2030: Towards a New Internet for the Year 2030 and Beyond”. The white paper argues that in the coming decade the boundaries between “real” and “digital” will become so blurred by a “smart city infrastructure” with “Augmented and Virtual Reality” (AR/VR applications) that the existing Internet protocols will no longer be able to meet the new requirements. Therefore, a new Internet protocol has to be developed that goes beyond TCP/IP and IPv6.
In a statement RIPE NCC opposed the proposal for a “New IP”. The proposal contradicted the traditional “open and bottom-up approach” for the development of Internet protocols and would duplicate and counteract the work of the IETF. The debate about “New IP” and “Internet Beyond 2030” has now become a new public political controversy.
WSIS Forum & AI for Good Summit, Geneva
The ITU announced on 12 March 2020 that due to the coronavirus crisis two major ITU conferences planned for the second quarter of 2020 were going to be postponed. The WSIS Forum, scheduled for 1 - 4 April 2020, has been postponed to 31 August - 4 September 2020. This also affects the High-Level Meeting WSIS+15, which was planned as part of the WSIS Forum. The ITU AI for Good Global Summit has been postponed from May 2020 to 21-25 September 2020. Both conferences will be held in Geneva.