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Internet governance in November 2014: A bubbling cauldron

Published on 03 December 2014
Updated on 05 April 2024

A webinar digest: Geneva Briefing on Internet Governance (2 December 2014)

November has been a busy month for Internet governance (IG). Aptly described as a bubbling cauldron – a vivid metaphor which highlights the heated discussions which took place in this eventful period – these IG policy developments and events have a broader impact on the political space.

Leading the monthly Geneva Briefing on Internet Governance, Dr Jovan Kurbalija highlighted the six major policy developments in November:

  1. The ITU Plenipotentiary Conference (27 October – 7 November, Busan, Korea), with the aim of updating the ITU’s resolutions and electing its new leadership. The main outcome was that no unexpected developments took place. There was almost a tacit deal for the current dynamics to continue without any major attempt to change them.
  2. USA-China free trade in ICT: The agreement on the elimination of duties on ICT products – made during a recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Beijing – has signalled a breakthrough in trade talks. This will bring new dynamics to the WTO and we can expect the WTO Information Technology Agreement (1996) to be updated in order to broaden free trade in the ICT field. In the global economic relations, this decision is considered to be another step towards creating a global ‘duopoly’ with China (Asia) focusing on hardware production and the USA on software industry (Silicon Valley). Geneva will likely play a prominent role in these negotiations. Quoting a press briefing, US Trade Representative Michael Froman said: ‘Since that time, the United States and China have been working to close our differences but without a breakthrough sufficient to resume the plurilateral negotiations in Geneva. That finally changed here last night.’
  3. Major breakthrough for Net neutrality (NN): While this is an existing topic, President Obama has signalled a push towards stronger NN regulations, which many see as running counter to the wishes of the telecom industry. He went as far as proposing the reclassification of Internet communications. One of the main questions is if reclassification takes place in the USA, will other regions have to follow suit? As with any other development related to NN, we can expect  further friction to emerge; the ITU is expected to be a major player. In Europe, the discussion in Switzerland is moving closer to the old Norwegian model of self-regulation, in the absence of which regulators should step in. The European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association (ETNO) has issued a few statements to influence the European Commission to act more in favour of its not-so-NN-friendly arguments. ETNO has also added a new argument related to security, stating that the European Union should provide security protection.
  4. European Parliament (EP) and Google: The EP has called on regulators to ‘break up’ Google. The good news for Google is that the EP cannot force regulators to initiate anti-monopoly proceedings. This will have political significance: while Google is expected to boost its Brussels lobbying, the European Commission will be under significant pressure.
  5. Updates to the NETmundial Initiative (NMI): The NETmundial meeting, held in Sao Paolo, Brazil, last April, was followed by a proposal by ICANN, CGI.br, and the World Economic Forum (WEF) to initiate the NMI to carry forward and implement the NETmundial conclusions. The proposal triggered a wave of concerns, especially with regard to its architecture which favours a top-down model, as opposed to the main ethos of bottom-up, inclusive models supported by many IG stakeholders. In a strong statement, the Internet Society (ISOC) announced it would distance itself from the NMI. Civil society, including DiploFoundation, has agreed to provide support, with however quite a few caveats. While it is still unclear how the NMI will develop and function, given that its aims are to fill in the gaps of dealing with orphan issues and helping developing countries participate in the IG process, proposals are being put forward to help improve the initiative. At the same time, the WEF deputy director indicated quite clearly that the NMI was only one of many IG initiatives.
  6. IANA transition: ICANN’s Cross Community Working Group (CCWG) has just published its draft transition proposal. The group proposes a number of elements for the transition of the IANA functions; the proposal is open for comments. In essence, the group is proposing that what has been working well in the past should be preserved.

Dr Kurbalija also went through the major policy events in November:

  • World Internet Conference (19-21 November) was the first major event on IG held in China. The underlying message was that the conference signalled China’s future role in the global IG arena. China is a big player, and boasts a vibrant online community; it therefore wants to play a bigger role.
  • Geneva Internet Conference (17-19 November). The main approach was to delve into the details of the IG process. There are many ideological tensions between the two main camps (multistakeholder vs multilateral). The conference and its build-up process looked at concrete issues to identify the building blocks. The outcome of the conference is the Geneva message (Strengthening Internet Governance: the message from the Geneva Internet Conference) presenting 10 key points.
  • CSTD 2014-2015 Inter-sessional Panel (26-28 November). One of major issues was the mapping of the IG process – an issue which has attracted heated debate. The document The mapping of international Internet public policy issues, which divides issues into seven clusters and identifies hundreds of mechanisms, drew plenty of debate.
  • IGF Open Consultations and MAG meeting is taking place in Geneva this week (1-3 December). The meeting is the first since the newly composed MAG was announced. The group is expected to take stock of the 2014 IGF meeting and start preparations for the 2015 meeting in Brazil.

Dr Kurbalija explained that as we approach the end of the year, Diplo and the Geneva Internet Platform (GIP) will conduct a survey of the top events for 2014. December is expected to slow down in terms of developments and events, and will provide time for reflection.

The video recording of the webinar is available below:

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