speaker after speaker called attention to the policy implications
not only of the ICANN regime but also of several other Internet-related
international rules (e.g., Council of Europe Cybercrime Treaty), it became
clear that the intergovernmental system is not going to obligingly go away if
ignored. Participants largely dismissed ICANNs (now halfheartedly made) claim
that it only does technical coordination, and directly confronted the issue of
how technical issues and policy issues can be interrelated.
The eerie coincidence of the VeriSign lawsuit
only reinforced the point. ICANN is now legally and officially accused of
being a rogue economic regulator.
Politically, the meeting reinforced the momentum created by the
World Summit on the Information Society, which succeeded in inserting
"traditional" intergovernmental institutions back into the Internet governance
debate. It did this by coopting an energized civil society, a nontraditional factor
in the international system. WSIS attracted
hundreds of active NGOs and freelance communication-information policy
activists, many of them, like Izumi Aizu, people who had become active first around
ICANN. These actors seem to feel that they are getting more political traction
through their WSIS related activities than through participating in ICANN.
(My cynical take on this is that many cyber-activists prefer the WSIS and
ITU forums because they can talk about euphonious terms like "participation" or "the peer production of governance"
and avoid the tough, tedious, mud-wrestles over policy that happen when
they actually are included as participants.)
ITU staff members Richard Hill and Robert Shaw successfully courted
civil society participants by giving them a platform and showing that, if nothing else,
the ITU can give them access to governments and IGOs and treat them
as equals. More broadly, ITU showed that it can succeed in
bringing together parties that normally talk past each other for a dialogue.
Serious questions can still be raised about the superiority of the
intergovernmental system over the ICANN-self governance regime, however.
This type of workshop is not typical of how governments make real
treaties or policy decisions. And as the interventions of the Chinese delegate
proved, many governments still don't welcome civil society participation. China,
(apparently disturbed by a snowballing discussion of "netizens" and online
democracy) opposed allowing any of the workshop materials to be included
in the official report, seeing it as merely an information session that could be
utilized (or not) in a future meeting of member states. Interestingly, some
European governments, notably the Danish, took the same line, although for
different reasons (they want EU, not ITU, to take the lead).
The ITU is now rather overtly positioning itself to inherit or take control of certain
Internet governance functions that seem to require multilateral agreements among governments.
However, this positioning is coming more from corridor discussions and
over-beer ruminations - there was no discernable manipulation of the program
(indeed, the author of this piece complained to Shaw and Hill that the ICANN
panel contained only pro-ICANN speakers).
many in the audience when he noted that he had been approached about
chairing the yet-to-be-created UN Working Group on Internet Governance.