5.2.1. Preparations

The first action taken by the UN Secretary-General towards the establishment of the IGF was the appointment of Markus Kummer, formerly of the WGIG Secretariat, to head its interim Secretariat. In January 2006, Kummer established an IGF Web site and wrote an open letter to stakeholder representatives from WSIS, inviting them to attend an open consultation session in Geneva in February and requesting them to submit written contributions as inputs into the consultations.[1]

In response to this request, nineteen contributors from civil society and the private sector provided written submissions.[2] In the interim, Kummer also posted a questionnaire to the IGF Web site which provided the opportunity for comments to be provided in a more structured form.[3] The questionnaire received a limited response, being completed by seven governments (including Australia, but neither the United States nor the EU), three individuals, twelve civil society and private sector organisations, and the ITU.[4]

5.2.1.1. Submissions

Since respondents prepared their submissions to these first two requests for contributions in isolation, without the opportunity to engage with each other’s views, the submissions showed little development from the positions that the stakeholders had taken at WSIS, and indeed some largely repeated their responses to the proposal for the formation of a forum in the WGIG report.

It is not necessary to go into each of them here, but a brief overview will be given, focusing on three key procedural issues: the role of the IGF, its structure, and its processes. The substantive public policy issues that some submissions also addressed will not be outlined here.

Taking first the role of the IGF, what would prove to be a recurrent division can already be seen between those preferring a restrictive interpretation of its mandate, which downplayed or refuted its capacity to make policy recommendations, and those who took an expansive view of its mandate, who saw that capacity as the forum’s raison d’etre.

The former group largely consisted of those who had opposed the establishment of the IGF at first; the technical community (such as Nominet which stated, “[i]t should not be a decision-making body”),[5] the private sector (such as the CCBI and ICC which stressed “the IGF will not have decision-making powers”),[6] and OECD governments (such as Canada which wrote that “the IGF is to provide a platform for policy discussion, not for the development of policy”).[7]

The latter camp was dominated by civil society (such as the APC which saw the IGF producing “[s]pecific recommendations where there is sufficient consensus”),[8] and developing country governments (such as Azerbaijan, which wrote that the Forum should produce “recommendations that ... are not legally binding but could be a very good source for policy-making and decision-making”).[9]

Moving to the IGF’s structure, there was widespread agreement that the “effective and cost-efficient bureau” referred to in the Tunis Agenda should have a narrow mandate limited to setting the agenda for plenary meetings, subject to bottom–up consultation[10] (though some civil society stakeholders would have assigned it a more substantial role).[11] The need for a separate lightweight Secretariat was also accepted by many.

Beyond that however, the first camp referred to above (for convenience, “Forum doves”)[12] were more likely to de-emphasise structure, as illustrated by the statement that “Australia does not support the IGF establishing a range of sub-groups or subcommittees,”[13] and ISOC’s claim that it was important to “[l]imit Forum-related organizational structures.”[14]

A more substantial structure tended to be supported by those in the second group referred to above (“Forum hawks,” let us call them). For example, Saudi Arabia recommended the formation of “virtual working groups” which would coordinate online,[15] and the Internet Governance Project fleshed this idea out with a comprehensive proposal to structure the IGF rather along the lines of the IETF. [16]

Turning finally to the IGF’s processes, the divide already observed continued along much the same lines, between Forum doves who viewed the IGF as principally a meeting (as for example Canada which did “not envisage the establishment of ongoing work programs for the IGF”),[17] and Forum hawks who viewed it as “a process, punctuated by an annual meeting”,[18] and who were concerned with how it might arrive at the recommendations that it was to make pursuant to its mandate.

Perhaps the extreme position from the Forum doves came from the ITU, which suggested in its response to the questionnaire that “the WSIS rules of procedures themselves could be considered as the starting point for the IGF processes and procedures”[19]—referring to the same rules that had notoriously consigned civil society to the sidelines during WSIS.

As for the hawks, Vittorio Bertola, a member of the CS-IGC (though not writing in that capacity), drew upon the model of the IETF in suggesting that working groups of the IGF should develop their recommendations on a rough consensus basis, before presenting these to the plenary body as policy proposals for adoption.[20] The APC largely agreed, and suggested that it should then fall to the Chair to rule on the existence of rough consensus within the plenary meeting.[21]

5.2.1.2. Open consultations

The first open consultations on the establishment of the IGF were held in Geneva on 16 and 17 February 2006, and were chaired by Nitin Desai.[22] Around 300 attended, including approximately 40 governments, along with those who observed the proceedings remotely via webcast. The proceedings were simultaneously translated into the official UN languages, with the webcast being available in English and French.

The consultations were not structured as an interactive discussion, but rather a moderated round table event at which most interventions were read from prepared statements, many of which were also tabled as documents and later made available from the IGF Web site.[23] In consequence, there was little opportunity for consensus-building, and in many cases the participants’ views expressed in response to the questionnaire or the WGIG report were simply reiterated.

Even so, there was enough common ground between participants that Desai was able to declare the existence of a broad consensus that the IGF should be an annual event of about four days, open to representatives of all stakeholder groups, with a focus on about three themes.

Beyond this, the areas of difference largely reflected those that had been seen in the earlier written submissions as outlined above—that is, in respect of the three key procedural issues of the role of the IGF, its structure, and its processes—with further disagreement about the substantive issues that should form the agenda for the IGF’s first meeting. These will be briefly dealt with in turn.

On the role of the IGF, there had been no progression from the views expressed in response to the initial call for contributions and the questionnaire. From the Forum doves, the CCBI reiterated that “[t]he Tunis Agenda is clear that the IGF does not have decision-making or policy-making authority,” and the NRO emphasised that the “IGF must be a multi-stakeholder forum without decision-making attributions.”[24] Again, the hawks insisted otherwise, with El Salvador expressing hope “that the Internet Governance Forum will come up with recommendations built on consensus on specific issues,” and Brazil even characterising its first meeting as “an excellent opportunity to initiate negotiations on a framework treaty to deal with international Internet public policy issues.”[25]

On the structure of the IGF, although a broad consensus was declared on need for a lightweight multi-stakeholder bureau, which respondents also variously described as a “Programmatic Committee,”[26] “Programme Committee”[27] or “steering group,”[28] there was no consensus on what its size, composition or mandate should be. Desai therefore held this issue over for further written input by 28 February. Twelve responses were received, including five from governments.[29]

Most of these respondents, from across both camps and all stakeholder groups, recommended a body of between ten and twenty-five members. The proposal that deviated most sharply from this was that of the Group of 77 and China (the G77).[30] Their proposal was for not one but three bureaus, much as there had been at WSIS,[31] which would have a combined total of forty members—half of those to be governmental.[32]

Moving on the third and final procedural issue, the IGF’s processes, the February consultations more clearly illustrated a difference of approach between the Forum doves and hawks on an issue that has not already been traversed in discussion of the written submissions: that of online participation.

Almost all stakeholders from both camps expressed general support for the use of online working methods; for example, the CCBI arguing that the IGF should “[u]tilize online tools to make it more inclusive with no stakeholder group excluded from the discussions,” and Canada noting that “[b]y building a significant online presence, the IGF can also facilitate ongoing discussion between its physical meetings.”[33]

However some Forum doves were less enthused of the idea of using online tools for intersessional work. ISOC said, “It is unrealistic to expect all stakeholders to be able to participate in multiple-layered list-based exchanges on a realtime basis. Many stakeholders do not have the resources or time to spend managing or participating in ongoing discussions.”[34] Australia echoed this concern, saying:

A key concern is the actual human resources such processes would require on an ongoing basis if all stakeholders are to participate in them in a meaningful way. ... We tend to see, in contrast, a focused annual meeting as a more resource efficient and effective means of proceeding. As such, we do not see online processes being mandated from above as an integral part of the IGF, but rather being encouraged as bottom–up initiatives.[35]

The final area of difference between stakeholder representatives attending the February consultations was as to the substantive issues that ought to be included on the agenda of the IGF’s first meeting. This question too was held over by Desai, pending the receipt of written submissions which he invited stakeholders to provide by 31 March.[36]

In the meantime, a short synthesis by the Secretariat of the written contributions and discussions to date produced a list of the ten most frequently mentioned public policy issues, and claimed to identify an emerging consensus that the activities of the IGF should have an overall development orientation, with an overarching priority of capacity building to enable meaningful participation in global Internet policy development.[37]

A somewhat different picture was painted by the submissions on substantive issues that were eventually received and posted on the IGF Web site. Contrary to the report of the Secretariat that capacity building was the issue addressed most frequently, if equal weight was given to each issue nominated, then as the chart below illustrates, the issues nominated most often were:

Together these amounted to almost half of the total, as against the development issues of capacity building, the digital divide, multilingualism and interconnection costs and connectivity, which constituted around a third.

Figure 5-1. Substantive issues for the IGF

A second round of consultations was held, also in Geneva, on 19 May 2006, immediately preceding the first meeting of the Advisory Group.[39] The IGF’s Web site described the purpose of these consultations as to “focus on the substantive preperation [sic] of the inaugural meeting of the IGF.” As before, further written contributions were also solicited in advance of the meeting, though as only two respondents (David Allen and John Mathiason, both academics) saw fit to provide them, these do not call for separate treatment here. The consultations were also once again translated and webcast.

The interventions at the May consultations were broadly congruent with those that had been made in February, so detailed analysis of them is unnecessary. However if anything, a strengthening of the views expressed then could be discerned three months later. One notable respect in which this was so is that the broad agreement that development should be made an overarching priority for the IGF’s substantive agenda was now more clearly in evidence.

5.2.1.3. Secretariat

The Secretariat of the IGF was formally established by the UN Secretary-General in March 2006.[40] In contrast to the Secretariat of WGIG in which Markus Kummer managed a staff of up to ten, he was initially assisted in the IGF Secretariat by a sole consultant, and an intern from the host nation.[41] As Chair of the Advisory Group, Nitin Desai also worked very closely with the Secretariat and often referred to himself as a member of it.[42]

The Secretariat was not funded by the United Nations, but relied upon voluntary donations to a trust fund. Its early donors included the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation which contributed CHF 500 000 (on the proviso that the Secretariat was to be based in Geneva), ICANN which gave US$200 000, and Nominet which donated €15 000.[43] Each host nation was also a major donor, covering all the costs it incurred in hosting an IGF meeting.

As might perhaps be expected from a Secretariat with such limited resources, its services to stakeholders were much more limited than those of the WSIS Secretariat. For example, the IGF’s official Web site was very rudimentary, and it was difficult to obtain a response to enquiries and requests directed to the Secretariat. The transparency of the Secretariat’s activities was also very limited, as first and most clearly exemplified by the process by which the Advisory Group was appointed.

5.2.1.4. Advisory Group

The bureau referred to in the Tunis Agenda, and the multi-stakeholder group referred to following the February consultations, eventually became the Advisory Group, also known as the Multi-stakeholder Advisory Group (MAG). It was announced on the IGF’s Web site in March that it was to be established as a group of “about forty” members, and—although not openly stated—half of those forty were to be government representatives, with the balance to be divided, not necessarily equally, between civil society and private sector positions.[44]

The written submission of the G77 and China on the multi-stakeholder group, which had proposed almost exactly this structure, had been sent under cover of a letter expressing the groups’ hope that Desai would “give the requisite weight to this input.”[45] Evidently that is what he did, since a group of forty members was far larger than any other stakeholder had suggested would be appropriate.

A call for nominations for membership of the Advisory Group was made on 16 March 2006 with a deadline of 18 April. Nominations were not acknowledged by the IGF Secretariat, and the first that unsuccessful nominees heard of the outcomes of their nominations was the Secretariat’s announcement of the successful candidates on 17 May.[46] The forty-six originally listed as successful included the Chair, Nitin Desai, and forty representatives of stakeholder groups, with fairly even geographical distribution. In addition a regional coordinator was appointed from each of the five WSIS regions, and initially five special advisors personally appointed by the Chair, who have been referred to in their own right as the Special Advisory Group (SAG).[47]

Intergovernmental organisations, not being otherwise represented in the Advisory Group, were invited to participate as observers; however in practice they exercised much the same speaking rights as other delegates.[48]

The non-governmental positions on the Advisory Group were dominated by those with a connection to the Internet naming and numbering regime, including five current or former board members and one staff member of ICANN, one of the IGF’s major sponsors.[49] Even so, the technical community was not recognised as a distinct stakeholder group, as ICANN had requested most recently at the February consultations. Rather, in referring to “civil society, including the academic and technical communities,” the Secretariat treated these communities as part of civil society.[50]

The greatest discontent at this decision came from broader civil society, as it left room for only a relatively small number of stakeholders from civil society outside the technical community to be appointed to the Advisory Group. In particular, the CS-IGC had put forward fifteen nominees for appointment, of which only three were selected by the Secretary-General.[51]

The Advisory Group met twice in Geneva before the inaugural IGF meeting in Athens, first following the May open consultations, and again following another open consultation meeting in September. Advisory Group members attended these meetings at their own expense, save that the Swiss government offered in February to reimburse the travel expenses of members from developing countries.

Meetings of the Advisory Group were closed, and no reports or minutes of them were released during the preparations for Athens. The Advisory Group also operated an electronic mailing list, but this too was closed, and not publicly archived.[52] Consequently, the detail of the operations of the Advisory Group ahead of the first IGF meeting were known only to its members.

What is known is that the Advisory Group possessed little formal authority; for the most part operating as a forum for discussion akin to the open consultations, at which those in attendance expressed and debated their views, but without the object of taking formal decisions. Instead, the views expressed on the issues discussed were summarised by the Chair in a report to the UN Secretary-General, on the basis of which the Secretary-General made a formal decision in due course.[53] What few decisions the Advisory Group did make on its own behalf on matters such as as the selection of panelists for the plenary sessions were made by rough consensus as declared by the Chair.[54]

Notes

[1]

See http://www.intgovforum.org/inv_letter.htm.

[2]

See http://www.intgovforum.org/contributionsg.htm.

[3]

See http://www.intgovforum.org/questionnaire.htm.

[4]

See http://www.intgovforum.org/contributions_questionnaire_responses.htm.

[5]

Nominet, Questionnaire on the Convening the Internet Governance Forum (2006), 1

[6]

CCBI & ICC, CCBI/ICC Questions and Further Input on the Internet Governance Forum (2006), 2

[7]

Government of Canada, Questionnaire on the Convening the Internet Governance Forum (2006), 1

[8]

APC, Questionnaire on the Convening the Internet Governance Forum (2006), 1

[9]

Government of Azerbaijan, Proposed Answers to the Questionnaire on the Convening the Internet Governance Forum (2006), 1

[10]

For example, Government of Canada, Questionnaire on the Convening the Internet Governance Forum (2006), 3; Government of Azerbaijan, Proposed Answers to the Questionnaire on the Convening the Internet Governance Forum (2006) , 2; CCBI & ICC, CCBI/ICC Questions and Further Input on the Internet Governance Forum (2006), 5–6; IGP, Building an Internet Governance Forum (2006) , 5

[11]

IGP, Building an Internet Governance Forum (2006); MMWG, Internet Governance Forum Input Statement (2006)

[12]

From the Internet Governance Project’s summary of a forum held by the Oxford Internet Institute on 1 September, found at http://www.internetgovernance.org/events.html.

[13]

Government of Australia, Response to Questionnaire on Internet Governance Forum (2006), 1

[14]

ISOC, The Internet Society’s contribution on the formation of the Internet Governance Forum (2006), 2

[15]

Government of Saudi Arabia, Response to Questionnaire on Convening the Internet Governance Forum (2006), 2

[16]

It recommended a twelve-person bureau containing five representatives of governments, and two each from the private sector, civil society and the academic and technical communities, plus a chair. This proposed IGF Bureau would elect a chair for the Forum at large and set the agenda for its plenary sessions, driven by proposals of IGF working groups. It would also approve the formation of such working groups, and exercise oversight of the Secretariat: IGP, Building an Internet Governance Forum (2006), 5. Compare also MMWG, Internet Governance Forum Input Statement (2006) , 3.

[17]

Government of Canada, Questionnaire on the Convening the Internet Governance Forum (2006), 5

[18]

APC, Questionnaire on the Convening the Internet Governance Forum (2006), 2

[19]

ITU, Preliminary Response to the Questionnaire on the Convening of the Internet Governance Forum (2006)

[20]

Bertola, Vittorio, An Implementation Proposal for the Internet Governance Forum (2006), 2; and see also, from another CS-IGC member, Doria, Avri, The IETF as a Model for the IGF (2006) .

[21]

APC, Questionnaire on the Convening the Internet Governance Forum (2006), 1–2, 8

[22]

See http://intgovforum.org/meeting.htm.

[23]

See http://www.intgovforum.org/contributions_interventions_1CIGF.htm. Except where one of these papers is cited, the source for this section of the thesis is the transcript of the meeting found at http://www.intgovforum.org/meeting.htm.

[24]

NRO, Input on the Internet Governance Forum (2006)

[25]

Government of Brazil, Discurso IGF Meeting Fev 2006 (2006), 2

[26]

NRO, Input on the Internet Governance Forum (2006)

[27]

MMWG, Internet Governance Forum Input Statement (2006)

[28]

Bertola, Vittorio, An Implementation Proposal for the Internet Governance Forum (2006), 3

[29]

See http://www.intgovforum.org/contributions_MSG.htm.

[30]

Despite the name, the G77 at the time represented 133 developing country governments.

[31]

That is, a Governmental Bureau, Civil Society Bureau and the CCBI for the private sector.

[32]

G77, G77 & China Paper on the Proposed Internet Governance Forum (2006), 2–3

[33]

Government of Canada, Canadian Statement, IGF Consultations Feb 16 2006 (2006), 2

[34]

ISOC, ISOC Statement, Internet Governance Forum Meeting 17 February 2006 (2006), 2

[35]

Government of Australia, Second Intervention by the Government of Australia (2006), 2–3

[36]

See http://www.intgovforum.org/contributions_sa.htm.

[37]

IGF Secretariat, The Substantive Agenda of the First Meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (2006)

[38]

Submissions were excluded from analysis if they nominated more than three issues (even if these were grouped into clusters), unless three primary issues could be discerned. Also excluded were submissions listed on the IGF Web site together with those on substantive issues, but which were actually on other topics. This excluded six respondents: the Group of 77 and China, African Civil Society, the Association for Progressive Communications, the German Foundation for Law and Informatics, David Allen and John Mathiason (these latter two actually being submissions for the May consultations), along with additional submissions of the ICC/CCBI and North American Consumer Project on Electronic Commerce (NACPEC). Further details of the method used to produce the chart are on file with the author.

[39]

See http://www.intgovforum.org/contributions_18May.htm for copies of interventions from three stakeholders and http://www.intgovforum.org/meeting.htm for the full transcript.

[40]

United Nations Office of the Secretary-General, Preparations Begin for Internet Governance Forum (2006)

[41]

As at 2008 they have been joined by another intern and two more part-time consultants.

[42]

See for example the first passage cited at Section 6.3.1.3.

[43]

See http://www.intgovforum.org/funding.htm.

[44]

Mueller, Milton, The Forum MAG: Who Are These People? (2006)

[45]

G77, G77 & China Paper on the Proposed Internet Governance Forum (2006), 1

[46]

United Nations Office of the Secretary-General, Secretary-General Establishes Advisory Group to Assist Him in Convening Internet Governance Forum (2006)

[47]

In May 2006 the number rose to forty-seven when an additional regional coordinator was appointed for an unspecified African sub-region. As of February 2008 there were twelve special advisors: six appointed by each of the now two co-chairs.

[48]

IGF Secretariat, Advisory Group Discussion 30 January to 3 February 2008 (2008), 2

[49]

Mueller, Milton, The Forum MAG: Who Are These People? (2006)

[50]

United Nations Office of the Secretary-General, Secretary-General Establishes Advisory Group to Assist Him in Convening Internet Governance Forum (2006)

[51]

See the CS-IGC’s contribution to the post-Athens consultation session at Section 5.2.3.2.

[52]

This remains the case, although in February 2008, following considerable criticism of the Advisory Group’s transparency, consideration was given to opening the mailing list archives. As this was resisted by certain stakeholders, no changes were made: IGF Secretariat, Advisory Group Discussion 30 January to 3 February 2008 (2008), 9.

[53]

See Section 6.3.1.3.

[54]

IGF Secretariat, Advisory Group Discussion 6 December 2007 to 15 January 2008 (2008), 2