Geneva, 30 September 2005 – The third Preparatory Committee (PrepCom-3) of the Tunis phase of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) closed its doors at 21:00 tonight after a gruelling two weeks of day and night sessions that saw agreement on large sections of the Summit text, some major developments in the international community’s approach to Internet governance, but ultimately disappointing progress on a raft of contentious issues.
With just six weeks to go before the Summit opens in Tunis, ITU Secretary-General and Secretary-General of WSIS, Mr Yoshio Utsumi, urged delegates to focus their hearts and minds on arriving at consensus solutions that would assure a credible outcome document that will serve as an effective instrument for promoting ICT development and access worldwide.
Speaking after the close of PrepCom-3’s final Plenary session, Mr Utsumi praised delegates’ hard work, but said more effort is needed. “During the last two weeks we have seen enormous political will to develop meaningful texts that will serve as a solid foundation for tomorrow’s Information Society,” he said.
“If some issues remain unresolved, this is a testament to delegates’ refusal to compromise on the principles they believe to be fundamental to promoting access to ICTs. A strong Summit outcome is the goal of all delegates – and we must all continue to work hard to achieve this. If we wish to build a just and equitable Information Society, this Summit cannot be allowed to fail.”
New round of meetings planned
In the face of lack of agreement on small but controversial sections of the Summit outcome document, delegates will now reconvene in Geneva ahead of the Tunis event to try to resolve some of the sticking points, which include provisions for implementation and follow-up of the WSIS Action Plan, and the wording of the political document outlining participating member states’ political commitments.
In line with formal procedures, PrepCom-3 will be suspended and an intersessional open-ended negotiation group will be set up under the chairmanship of Ambassador Janis Karklins, Chairman of the Tunis Phase of the PrepCom process. This group’s mandate will be to negotiate the chapters on Implementation (Chapter 1), Financial Mechanisms (Chapter 2) and Follow-up (Chapter 4). It will also finalize the political part of the document.
Chapter 3 on Internet Governance will be considered during a resumed session of PrepCom-3, to be held back-to-back with the Summit in Tunis.
PrepCom-3 agreed that the Summit negotiation group will hold two sessions of 2 – 3 days each in Geneva in October to conclude negotiations: one session to finalize the political document and agree on the outstanding parts of the chapter on financing mechanisms, and the other to try to reach agreement on the outstanding issues contained in Chapters 1 and Chapter 4.
PrepCom-3 agreed to entrust the WSIS Bureau, or steering committee, to decide on the place, date and modalities of the resumed PrepCom meeting. It also agreed to split the Summit outcome into two – a political document and an operational document.
Breakthrough on Internet governance
The PrepCom-3 Internet governance debate centered around the report of the multi-stakeholder Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG), set up following the Geneva Phase of WSIS to investigate and make proposals on the future governance of the Internet. The group’s final report released in Geneva on 18 July, along with comments on the report by all stakeholders, served as a source of inspiration for discussions over the two-week period.
After a slow start characterized by strongly polarized positions, the pace picked up substantially in Week 2 following the release of a draft document by the Chair, which saw delegates knuckle down to the task of brokering agreement and drafting new text on issues ranging from spam and cybercrime to interconnection costs and — most crucially — management of critical Internet resources such as the domain name and IP addressing systems.
While many delegations from the developing world had been vocal on the urgent need for new management and oversight mechanisms to better reflect the global nature of the Internet, others, led by the US, had presented a relatively united front generally supportive of the status quo.That scenario changed, however, two days before the end of PrepCom, when the UK delegation, speaking on behalf of the European Union, tabled a new proposal that marked a clear departure from its earlier position.
The proposal outlined a new framework for international cooperation that would see the creation of a new, multi-stakeholder forum to develop public policy, and — most significantly — international government involvement in allocation of IP addressing blocks and procedures for changing the root zone file to provide for insertion of new top-level domain names and changes of country-code top level domain name (ccTLDs) managers.
Other countries added their suggestions. PrepCom-3 agreed that nine proposals from governments would be forwarded together with Chairman Masood Khan’s new “Food for Thought” on section five of chapter three, to the back-to-back meeting to be held in Tunis.
Implementation and follow-up
The other key agenda items for PrepCom-3 included finalization of arrangements for financing of WSIS Action Plan commitments, and the setting out of future mechanisms for implementation of the Action Plan and the follow-up of the Summit.
Following adoption of the Plan by 175 countries during the Geneva Phase of the Summit, clear arrangements setting out responsibility for ensuring that the Plan’s targets are implemented and monitored are considered essential, not only for the successful outcome of the Tunis phase, but also for ensuring that deliverables are met.
Under proposals tabled at PrepCom-3, many delegations support the establishment of a multi-stakeholder coordination approach made up of one or more lead UN agencies, with responsibility for each action line allocated to each agency according to its specific area of expertise. Others preferred that the United Nations’ Secretary-General be charged with managing the coordination process.
A main stumbling block in negotiations remains the precise role of different agencies, including ITU, in ongoing WSIS activities. The reporting mechanisms and the relationship between the WSIS follow-up mechanisms and the review process of the implementation of the UN Millennium Declaration also proved problematic for some delegations.
ICT financing mechanisms
The problem of effective financial strategies to promote the development of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the world’s under-served regions was raised during the WSIS Geneva Phase. Without consensus on the best way to address the issue, the first phase of WSIS requested UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to establish a Task Force on Financial Mechanisms (TFFM).
The group’s final report tabled at PrepCom-2 served as a basis for the discussions. PrepCom-2 largely agreed on the text of Chapter 2, with only a few paragraphs to be approved by PrepCom-3.
Acknowledging the key role played by the private sector, the text already agreed by PrepCom-2 endorse the focusing of financial resources in areas including:
- ICT capacity-building programmes
- Regional backbone infrastructure and Internet Exchange Points
- Assistance for Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States to lower transaction costs related to international donor support
- Integration of ICTs into the implementation of poverty eradication strategies, particularly in the health, education, agriculture and the environment
- Funding of Small, Medium and Micro Enterprises (SMMEs)
- Fostering of local ICT manufacturing in developing countries
- ICT regulatory reform
- Local government and community-owned initiatives that deliver ICT services to communities
- The meeting also stressed the importance of a multi-stakeholder approach and coordination between government and business.
While there was no major impediment to consensus, due to lack of time, PrepCom-3 did not finalize Chapter 2.
In addition, the political part of the Tunis document proved more difficult to negotiate than expected.
Disagreement centred around whether text from the original Geneva Declaration should remain unchanged or reinforced in the Tunis output, given that the first PrepCom had agreed not to reopen what had been adopted in Geneva.
Discussions were also intense over issues such as open source and proprietary software, free access to information and the handling of harmful content, the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms for the Information Society, trade liberalization and debt relief to bridge the digital divide, and the regulatory role of governments.
At the close of PrepCom-3, with no consensus on around 50% of the text, the document will tackled again by the negotiating group.