ITU Steps Closer to Internet Governance, Though Multistakeholderism Will Guide Policy

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By James Lim

Nov. 4 — The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) concluded working-level negotiations Nov. 4 with the adoption of amendments to four Internet-related resolutions at its quadrennial plenipotentiary conference in Busan, South Korea.

The approved changes will be made final at plenary sessions held until Nov. 7.

The 193-member United Nations institution accepted the U.S. government's proposal for inclusion of all stakeholders in its future Internet-related decisions and policy actions. The newly amended resolutions will increase the ITU's involvement in the Internet's global development and the transition of Internet governance toward participation by all stakeholders. The documents under discussion were:

•  Resolution 101 on Internet Protocol-based networks;

•  Resolution 102 on the ITU's role with regard to international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and the management of Internet resources including domain names and addresses;

•  Resolution 133 on the role of administrations of member states in the management of internationalized multilingual domain names; and

•  Resolution 180 on facilitating the transition from IPv4 to IPv6.

Finished documents are not immediately available and the circumstances of the agreement on proposed changes are not known.

Musab Abdulla, an official of Bahrain's Telecommunication Regulatory Authority, who chaired the Working Group of the Plenary during the Busan conference, said, “This is a very carefully negotiated and delicately balanced package.”

Julie Zoller, senior deputy coordinator of the Office of International Communications and Information Policy at the U.S. Department of State, said, “The revisions to these four resolutions, which are the result of a positive environment of compromise, appropriately update these documents and will help guide us over the next four years.”

U.S. Positions Reportedly Carry the Day

The outlook for the agreement was uncertain in the early part of the conference because of opposition from a number of member states to the U.S. delegation's insistence on multistakeholderism as the global standard for Internet governance.

Iran, which was among the opponents of the U.S.-led approach, summarized the surprisingly amicable tone of the agreement at the conclusion of the working group activity.

“It is time to move on from resolutions to real action, and the real action is to work together, collaboratively and cooperatively, under a multistakeholder approach in order to implement these very important decisions,” said Kavous Arasteh, senior adviser to Iran's Ministry of Information and Communications Technology.

Referring to the March 14 U.S. announcement of its intention to transition its current supervisory role over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' performance of key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community, Arasteh said, “With respect to the accountability of ICANN, with which we have established very good relations, having all groups involved in dealing with the Internet is a very positive point.”

Russia, which previously made a vigorous counter-argument to the U.S. delegation's proposed multistakeholder model, said through a member of its delegation, “There was a very serious amount of work that was completed.”

Decision 11

Separate from the four policy resolutions, ITU's Decision 11 on the operation of the ITU Council's seven functional working groups has been revised in line with the U.S. proposal to incorporate multistakeholder principles into decision-making on Internet governance.

The Australian delegation, which led the discussion on Decision 11, reported that a new section inserted into its text would mandate the ITU Council to “promote and enhance equitable geographic distribution and gender balance,” as proposed by the U.S. delegation to expand representation in the ITU's decision-making body to all stakeholders across regional and gender lines.

Russia and other opponents had criticized the U.S. proposal on Decision 11 for favoring “well-resourced” developed countries at the expense of developing countries, when it comes to making decisions on Internet governance.

“The revisions to Decision 11 do represent a compromise between various regional positions and individual member state proposals,” according to a briefing from Australia.

`Connect 2020' Resolution

The ITU also approved a new resolution proposed by South Korea, the host country of the plenipotentiary conference, to implement the “Connect 2020” agenda of the Busan Declaration, which was adopted Oct. 19 at the ministerial meeting opening the conference.

The resolution tasks ITU with “global telecommunication/ICT goals and targets” for the Busan Declaration's vision of “an information society empowered by the interconnected world, where telecommunications/ICTs enable and accelerate socially, economically and environmentally sustainable growth and development for everyone.”

The “Connect 2020” resolution will become a cornerstone of the ITU's new Strategic Plan 2016-2019, which is expected to be approved toward the end of the plenipotentiary conference.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Lim in Seoul at correspondents@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Thomas O'Toole at totoole@bna.com