Paul Wilson, APNIC Director General, recently attended the sixth meeting of the UN ICT Task Force, as an invited Internet specialist. The meeting, held last month in New York (March 2004), was addressed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and attracted the participation of many experts in Internet and ICT related matters. It was a key event in the preparation for the WSIS Phase II Summit, due to be held in Tunisia in late 2005.
The sixth meeting of the UN ICT Task Force was an expert forum for discussing Internet governance issues, prior to the establishment of a special working group on this topic as called for by WSIS Phase I. According to the meeting website, the workshop provided an 'opportunity for relevant stakeholders to engage in an open discussion of all aspects of this range of issues'.
This was not a negotiating meeting, so it was largely devoid of the intense political wrangling that was seen at WSIS sessions in 2003. However, its outputs will affect future negotiations and the issues raised are indicative of what is considered most important for later resolution. Just as importantly, the issues which were not raised should be indicative of the least important areas. Given the ample opportunities and intention that all issues should be raised and considered, it will be harder for those which did not arise in New York to find traction in later debates.
As a meeting of the UN ICT Task Force, the event did have a focus on Task Force matters, and in particular on the role of this group in issues of Internet 'governance'. The meeting's breakout sessions were convened to consider specific aspects of governance, yet the moderation process tended to focus as much on Task Force actions as on the issues themselves.
In addition to members of the UN ICT Task Force, many invited experts and stakeholder representatives attended, including a good number from the Internet community and administrative organisations. Organisations represented included IETF, ISOC, IAB, RIRs, ICANN, MINC, CENTR, W3C, and companies such as IBM, Sun, and VeriSign. Individual experts and keynote speakers included Internet founders Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn, and several key UN and country officials. Other groups not directly associated with Internet issues, but active during WSIS processes, included ICC, WIPO, WITSA, and numerous UN bodies.
What was the agenda?
In typical UN style, the agenda was coarsely structured, with general sessions incorporating a few presentations, followed by a series of 'interventions' (formal statements) by meeting participants on behalf of their countries or organisations.
Day 1 of the meeting was spent on 'scene setting' in the morning, followed by breakout sessions on specific governance issues. These were organised under the headings 'Internet infrastructure' (defined as physical infrastructure, domain names and IP addresses, standards, root servers, and security), 'transactions and content' (defined as including e-commerce, consumer protection, content regulation, speech, and privacy), and 'other issues' (those not covered elsewhere). Interestingly, five separate breakout groups were created, with numbers 1 and 2 covering infrastructure (with exactly the same brief), 3 and 4 covering content (likewise), and 5 covering 'the rest'.
Results from the breakout groups were remarkably consistent considering the diversity of participation. Infrastructure issues raised included international settlements, Internet exchange points, ccTLD management, IP address management, root server issues, and human resource development. Priorities included active facilitation of infrastructure growth and access, maintaining minimal, light-handed regulation, evolution of the ICANN structure, strengthening of a multi-stakeholder approach, and human resource development (especially to assist in infrastructure management, address management, and related issues). The transactions and topics included a wide range of business and consumer issues including intellectual property, e-commerce, signatures, privacy, freedom of expression, user protection, and spam. Group 5, the 'catch all' group, covered capacity building, multilingual issues, spam, and the need for policy research and coordination.
The more detailed outcomes of the breakout sessions, along with other results of the meeting, can be found on the Task Force website:
It is notable that while ICANN was raised in many discussions, as the subject of both criticism and support, there was no discussion of specific alternatives to it or to the ICANN model. Specific statements tended to agree that 'ICANN is working' and while changes may be needed, they should result from continuous evolution rather than other (presumably revolutionary) means.
What was achieved?
Such meetings as this rarely produce specific actions or detailed positions. Rather, the outputs tend to come in the form of consensus on issues that need to be raised and further discussed during future meetings. While this may seem unproductive, it can be critical in identifying the highest priorities for discussion, as well as the lowest (those issues needing little or no consideration in future).
For APNIC, the lack of focus on IP addressing matters was an interesting outcome, as was the lack of discussion of specific replacements for the ICANN model. Can we interpret this as an acceptance of these fundamental models, albeit with a need to continue improvement and evolution? Possibly not, but on the other hand, it makes little sense for those who do propose fundamental changes to play their cards so closely, and reveal nothing of their specific intentions or proposals.
If it isn't broken, don't fix it
This cliché of the engineering world was often repeated during the meeting, not only by technical experts themselves, but by other stakeholders and by meeting officials. We also heard statements that 'ICANN is working', though generally qualified with the need for continued evolution of the ICANN model.
WSIS itself produced very strong words on the need for multi-stakeholder approaches, incorporating the interests of governments, NGOs, civil society, and the private sector. While this general principle is hard to fault, many concerns exist about how it will be implemented.
The New York meeting produced some useful clarity in terms of continuing and improving the current model and strengthening such features as cross-sector information flow, liaison mechanisms, and support for participation by developing countries. The focus seems to have shifted away from either a wholesale relocation of governance functions, or creation of entirely new bodies, as a means to introduce more stakeholders.
Think globally, but act nationally
While the meeting did not produce a definition of Internet governance, it did clarify a distinction between governance issues relating to operation of the Internet itself and those relating to uses of the Internet. It also attempted to delineate issues that are clearly national in scope (or able to be dealt with nationally) from those which require international action or coordination.
The principle of 'subsidiarity' was cited, under which problems should be dealt with at a point closest to their source. In the context of an intergovernmental meeting, this of course means that countries should deal with their own problems wherever possible. While this may seem obvious, it has not been spelt out in some previous discussions.
Human resource development (HRD)
While WSIS, in its extremely broad scope, did not distinguish clearly between HRD that relates to the usage of ICTs and that which relates to the creation and proliferation of ICTs, many feel that this is a critical distinction in any discussions about the benefits of ICTs. New York produced some statements regarding the critical nature of HRD pertaining to ICT and particularly Internet infrastructures. This principle has been well known and recognised in the Internet community for many years, as we can see through the training activities of ISOC, the RIRs, and others. Additional international support for such activities will be welcomed by all concerned.
ccTLD and root server issues
It was certainly clear in New York that ccTLD management continues to be seen as the Internet administration issue which is most related to national sovereignty. Once again, strong statements were made to this effect, and questions were raised as to the viability of a system where this sovereignty right is effectively granted by a single country.
While ICANN itself continues to grapple with this issue, an interesting proposal was made that an international treaty approach may be used, guaranteeing each country's right to appear in the root zone of the DNS. Such an instrument, implemented in the simplest workable form, may provide the assurance required, without risking a fundamental disruption of the critical root server system; however, that was by no means an agreed outcome of the meeting.
Regarding root servers, the status and location of root servers was raised, prompting the expected response that over 50 percent of root servers are now located outside of the USA. While valid to a degree, this response does not address the fundamental issue of control, which will no doubt arise again through the WSIS process.
During breakout session 1, on Internet infrastructure, there was a brief discussion of the perceived IP address shortage and detriment caused to the network through the common use of Network Address Translation (NAT). On the first matter, the current rates of IPv4 consumption and supply were clarified, along with the role of IPv6 in addressing both long-term supply issues and a future return to ubiquitous end-to-end connectivity. On the second, it was recognised clearly that NAT, as an operational practice, arises from many factors, but not from any policy requirement. Therefore, HRD, rather than policy, was identified as the appropriate approach to solving such problems, and the discussion produced yet another endorsement of the importance of training to the effective development of Internet infrastructures.
IPv6 was discussed a number of times, but not as a key topic of the meeting, nor as a key output. It seems well recognised these days that IPv6 is an available technology whose widespread deployment will be catalysed around the world by many factors. National policy approaches to IPv6 may be helpful in the same way as to any industrial development matter, and may be undertaken at the choice of governments and other agencies. International issues such as IPv6 standards development and address deployment were not specifically raised, so it appears to be assumed that these are not issues of concern, and that they will continue to be well served by existing systems.
Working group composition and secretariat
As a veritable who's who of the Internet community, it seems that this meeting should have played a role in identifying participants for the proposed working group on Internet governance. However the composition of the working group is still unknown, as is the exact process by which that composition will be determined. The only specific development so far announced is the establishment of an independent secretariat which will support the group, to be hosted in Geneva by the Swiss Government.
As many other organisations have no doubt done, the RIRs have formally approached the UN Secretary General (in the name of the NRO) offering assistance and requesting participation in the group. This request has been well received, but may only be accepted if sufficient support can be demonstrated.
The next global event on the WSIS calendar appears to be the first PrepCom of the second phase, to be held in Tunis in June 2004. It is expected that the Working Group on Internet Governance will be established before that meeting, but the timeline is not yet known.
Those who are interested in the WSIS processes can find fairly comprehensive documentation on the official website and on numerous independent websites which have been established across the community. In particular, the WSIS-online website hosts discussions involving any interested parties and it has been important so far in attracting contributions and positions from a wider group than can physically attend meetings.
In the interests of the Internet community of the Asia Pacific, APNIC will continue its participation in WSIS, both in its own right and as a member of the NRO. Contributions from APNIC members and the wider community are welcome, as we navigate a path through this new set of challenges.
The WSIS web site is at: