APNIC DGs observations on ITU PP-14

By on 13 Nov 2014

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Image credit: ITU Pictures

APNIC Director General Paul Wilson recently spent five days at the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 in Busan – otherwise known as the Plenipot, or PP14 – covering some of the more important and contentious discussions about Internet-related issues.

If you followed Adam Gosling’s daily blogposts during the past month, you’ll have a good idea of how the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 progressed over three long weeks. And since the event ended last week, you may have noticed a number of good accounts which are appearing online, each with their own version of what took place in Busan.

In this post, I hope to complement these reports, because I think it is important to assess what this Conference meant for APNIC and what are the issues that require follow-up measures.

  1. Internet-related Resolutions

The ITU’s scope and activities are directed by so-called “Resolution” documents that are reviewed and updated during ITU conferences. In recent years a number of Resolutions have been developed on a range of Internet-related issues, and these documents have continued to evolve through amendments submitted by Member states.

For PP14 there were numerous proposals from Member States to update the Internet-related resolutions in various ways. In some cases, proposed updates represented significant increases in ITU activities (and therefore scope), and some proposed fundamental changes to the Internet, for instance to the current mechanisms for IP address management. By the end of PP14 however, none of the most contentious proposals had progressed, and the ITU’s mandate for the next four years remained essentially unchanged.

While not agreeing on any significant Internet-related proposals, the PP14 resolved that ongoing discussions would continue to take place at the “Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues”, a.k.a the CWG-Internet. While this group is scheduled to hold open consultations with “relevant stakeholders”, its deliberations will occur behind closed doors, without participation by Sector Members or other relevant Internet stakeholders.

  1. Proposal from India

The subject that attracted most of my attention in Busan was a proposal from India for a new Resolution on a set of Internet issues. It was originally entitled “ITU’s role in realizing secure Information Society” but later became “ITU’s role in improving Network Functionalities for Evincing Trust and Confidence in IP based Telecom Networks”. The proposal generated a lot of debate both before and during the event. Many delegations claimed that this proposal could fundamentally alter the way the Internet works; and during the PP14 debate it was strongly opposed by several developed Western nations.

While in Busan, I met with the Indian delegation and the author of this Resolution, hoping to better understand the motivations behind the proposal. In this discussion I heard about several issues which have been raised before, as concerns of a number of governments. These included issues of geolocation of IP addresses (at a country-level), management of Internet routing (to avoid unnecessary transborder flows), location of DNS resolution (to encourage local resolution), and logging of various types of Internet transactions (as so-called “metadata”).

While addressing these issues could have many possible implications, benign or harmful, I also found that the proposer did not in fact seek to increase governmental control over Internet resources, or to fundamentally alter Internet architecture or routing. And nor were his desires expressed as immediate, unilateral or uncompromising demands. In other words, this was a useful meeting, which will be followed, I hope, by some constructive discussions about Internet routing and DNS architecture, and what these systems can feasibly achieve in operation. I believe that it is with organizations like APNIC (and outside of Intergovernmental meetings) that these discussions can be advanced and resolved; at least those concerning IP addresses and related issues, which were part of the focus of this proposal.

  1. Definition of ICTs

In recent years, the ITU has clearly expanded its view, for instance by progressively introducing the term “ICT” in its documentation, and replacing many references to “telecommunications” with “telecommunication/ICT”. At the same time, the term “ICT” is not yet defined by the ITU, and while there was a possibility of establishing this definition in PP14, this work was left for future efforts.

Since the future definition of ICT may encompass Internet issues in general or in particular, and therefore tend to expand the scope of ITU activities, this is certainly an issue to watch closely in the coming years.

  1. Openness and transparency

One particularly positive aspect of PP14 was the ongoing effort to increase the levels of transparency, access to documents and remote access at ITU meetings. From the time of the previous Plenipot, in 2010, through the WSIS forums, the WTPF and even the WCIT, the level of openness has increased substantially. While the ITU’s membership structure and decision-making model remain unchanged, its wider other stakeholders have at least seen greater transparency in events like PP14.

While APNIC participated only as an observer in the Plenipot, as a Member of the ITU Development Sector, it was very good to see that many meeting sessions were accessible to anyone interested. I do believe that we, the Internet community, have assisted this development through our continuous engagement with ITU, encouraging it to hear the thoughts, ideas and expertise of others. And more and more, little by little, there seems to be more willingness from ITU membership to listen.

This is why I think that the decision to keep the CWG-Internet as a closed group is somewhat unfortunate, and very much at odds with the progress already made to open these discussions to all relevant stakeholders.

In reviewing this latest Plenipotentiary meeting, I am sure that ITU processes will continue to appear slow and cumbersome, requiring these long and large conference events to progress their work. These processes and events may seem completely foreign to those of us from the Internet community, but I am sure they will continue as they seem to serve the ITU’s members, and its culture, very well.

I do appreciate being part of PP14, and I do hope that we in the Internet and ITU worlds can continue to learn from each other in future. And that we can do so with at least the same cordial and amicable spirit that prevailed during PP14 – which was also thanks, in large part, to the ability of the Korean hosts to execute a very successful meeting.

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The views expressed by the authors of this blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of APNIC. Please note a Code of Conduct applies to this blog.

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