May is typically the month when marathons start in Geneva. Not only the annual Geneva Marathon, but also the beginning of a long run of Internet governance events: CSTD, MAG, IGF, WSIS … there is no shortage of acronyms when it comes to processes and events related to the governance of the Internet.
Last week (4-8 May 2015), the first of these meetings took place – the 18th Session of the CSTD.
What is the CSTD?
It stands for the Commission on Science and Technology for Development and it is a subsidiary body of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
Raúl Echeberría (read his CSTD blog post), Constance Bommelaer and ourselves participated in this process with other stakeholders for the main reason that it is the CSTD that is tasked with tracking progress on the implementation and future of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) ( read more on WSIS). Note that non-governments were solely invited to observe the discussions and were not able to fully participate.
The CSTD is a key process for WSIS and it has undertaken important work on deliberating on various key Internet governance issues, including the mandate of WSIS regarding enhanced cooperation and improvements to the Internet Governance Forum.
2015 is particularly important in this regard as we celebrate the 10-year anniversary of WSIS (last held in Tunis, 2005), with a process leading to a UN High Level event in December in New York. This year’s CSTD meeting officially kicked off this process that will slowly take us to this ‘big’ Internet governance event.
Discussions And Challenges
While one part of the discussions focused on the interplay between ICTs and development (especially relevant as this year will see the adoption of new “ Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs), the other part focused more on WSIS and Internet governance.
As was to be expected, this latter item generated the most heated discussions.
Although not phrased in such a direct fashion, the question of the role of governments in Internet governance structures was prevalent in the negotiations.
This geopolitical divide is not something new for those who follow Internet governance discussions: to caricature things, some countries are generally happy with the way the Internet works in a bottom-up, decentralized and open manner, whereas others consider that Internet governance should operate within very strict intergovernmental confines.
This traditional tension created challenges in making progress and addressing substantial WSIS-related issues during the CSTD week.
One challenge came up in deciding in what fashion the Report “Implementing WSIS Outcomes: A Ten Year Review” would be made available to the UN General Assembly. The issue became contentious because some countries felt that the Report did not adequately address some of their particular regional and national issues, including but not limited to development and public policy issues. It was finally agreed that the report would be submitted to the UNGA alongside the various contributions made during the week of the CSTD meetings.
Another challenge came during the negotiations over the WSIS Resolution. The views and proposal submitted by Member States sat at opposing ends and this made resolution by Friday night a difficult task. Eventually, it was agreed to set aside days of substantial discussions and to revert back to last year’s version, with updated dates.
The Marathon Continues…
Despite these dynamics, it is important to acknowledge that a few countries are emerging that seem to position themselves as the ‘middle man’. They call for a clearer role for governments in Internet governance while recognizing the value of multistakeholder cooperation. By addressing issues in a constructive way and trying to seek consensus, countries such as Mexico are becoming essential voices, seeking to reconcile priorities of developing countries with an appreciation for the open, inclusive and decentralized way by which the Internet has evolved. We should remember that if the mandate of the IGF gets renewed this year, Mexico has already expressed an interest in hosting the 11th edition.
As we move towards the 2015 December review and beyond, the Internet Society will work closely with the countries that can make a difference in these processes.
Stay tuned for more updates on Internet Governance later in May and please visit our Internet Governance timeline to learn about the upcoming events!
Photo credit: CC BY-SA-2.0 image from UNCTAD on Flickr.