Internet Governance and the RIPE NCC: The Year Ahead
Internet governance is an important area of resource investment for the RIPE NCC. This article looks at some of the major Internet discussions taking place in 2013, including:
- What is the multi-stakeholder process?
- Who pays for the Internet’s infrastructure?
- What role will governments have in Internet governance?
Under an over-arching goal of ensuring the informed development of public policy relating to the Internet, the RIPE NCC has a number of areas of priority over the coming 12 months. These are:
- Increasing understanding of the benefits of Internet Exchange Points and local peering
- Building more effective regional engagement on Internet governance issues
- Engaging effectively with the ITU and its Member States on Internet governance
The RIPE NCC is eager to hear from all of our stakeholders, including the RIPE NCC membership and broader RIPE community, on what issues are important and how the RIPE NCC can most effectively represent its community. We facilitate this feedback through a range of forums and activities, including the RIPE Cooperation Working Group and RIPE NCC Regional Meetings.
With the RIPE NCC directing increased levels of focus and finance toward the sometimes nebulous subject of “Internet governance”, it makes sense as we enter the new year to spell out some of the practical goals, plans and activities that the RIPE NCC will be pursuing in this area during 2013.
2012 was in many ways a banner year for Internet governance - the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), and the private sector and technical community responses spearheaded by organisations like Google and the Internet Society, pushed Internet governance into the mainstream spotlight more than ever before. 2013 may not include a WCIT-style lightning rod for world attention, but that doesn’t mean the year will be any less busy or consequential for the RIPE NCC, its membership and the RIPE community.
Internet Governance in a Post-WCIT World
Coming out of the WCIT event in December 2012, it is clear that the worst fears about the International Telecommunication Regulations (the ITRs, the international treaty that WCIT was convened to update) extending into Internet matters have not come to pass. Equally clear though, is that the world’s governments are strongly divided over the role of the ITU and of the public sector in Internet governance. Discussions at the World Telecommunications Standardization Assembly (WTSA) saw public authorities from the Arab region pushing strongly for the ITU to begin the process of becoming an IP address registry (only strong resistance from Member States, including the USA, prevented this language from being adopted). The ITRs themselves, while not mentioning the Internet, refer obliquely to Internet governance via new articles on “bulk electronic communications” and security. The attention of ITU players on Internet governance issues will continue this year at events including the World Telecommunication/ICT Policy Forum (WTPF), the WSIS Forum and the regional preparatory meetings for the World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) in 2014.
Fundamental disagreements about the role of government (and multilateral institutions) in Internet governance are reflected in a number of more specific arguments concerning:
Multi-stakeholderism and Enhanced Cooperation
The larger argument over which institutions should “govern” the Internet, and how these institutions should be constituted often ends up as a battle over something as seemingly insignificant as the precise meaning of words. Since the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) issued its Tunis Agenda in 2005, much ink has been spilt and many panel sessions convened over the definitions of “enhanced cooperation” and “multi-stakeholder”, and over the last year, the arguments over these terms have become even more heated.
ITU communications around the WCIT controversially described its process as “multi-stakeholder”, even as non-governmental actors saw their opportunities for participation limited to making a pre-meeting submission or joining a Member State delegation. For many non-governmental stakeholders, ensuring that this definition of a multi-stakeholder process does not stand is a vital battle in ensuring a permanent seat at the Internet governance table.
Discussions over the term “enhanced cooperation”, meanwhile, have focused not simply on the meaning, but where and how that meaning is decided. After much discussion on the meaning and importance of enhanced cooperation at last year’s Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Baku, the UN General Assembly in December invited the Chair of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) to form a working group on enhanced cooperation, constituted of UN Member States, as well as invited experts from other stakeholder groups (including the technical community). While arguably “multi-stakeholder”, there had been suggestions that such a group be formed under the umbrella of the IGF itself, signalling a possible evolution of the IGF into something (slightly) more than an annual non-decision-making forum.
The RIPE NCC’s high-level goal in this area is the promotion of open, transparent, and yes, multi-stakeholder Internet governance processes. This is the model on which the RIPE community has successfully created policy for more than two decades, and it is the model of Internet governance under which the Internet has grown from a few machines to the massive, ubiquitous network we know today. As the structures and processes of Internet governance evolve (as they surely will), it is of paramount importance that those who build, operate and use the Internet have a strong and legitimate voice in the discussion.
Who Pays for the Internet?
The proposal submitted by the European Telecommunications Network Operators' Association (ETNO) to WCIT brought the issue of funding for Internet infrastructure into the public eye, particularly in raising the prospect of a “user pays” model for those companies generating online content. While the issue was largely sidelined during WCIT, it will remain one of the major topics of discussion in 2013 - the proposal of new laws in France that would tax content generators like Google for traffic sent over French networks, and work being done in the OECD, inspired by a dispute between Samsung and Korea Telecom over IP TV traffic, are just two specific examples already attracting attention. Geoff Huston has written more extensively on some of the related issues.
This is clearly an issue that has the potential to impact many network operators in the RIPE community. The priority for the RIPE NCC, therefore, is to communicate developments in this area effectively to the RIPE community and to ensure that public policy makers have the expert input and perspective of RIPE community members.
The Buck Stops Where?
For some Internet stakeholders, particularly certain governments, the position of the US government in relation to the Internet, particularly its oversight of the IANA functions and its relationship with ICANN, is one of the central issues to be resolved in the Internet governance arena.
The five RIRs, speaking as the Number Resource Organization (NRO), have expressed their support for moving both ICANN and the IANA oversight function to a model under which they are accountable to the multi-stakeholder Internet community, and not an individual government. The transition of the ICANN/Department of Commerce relationship to an Affirmation of Commitments in 2009 represented progress in this respect, but the political reality is that further evolution is not likely to occur quickly.
It is also vital that the technical implications of any change to the management of the Internet’s top-level governance be discussed openly and thoroughly; stability of the Internet must be a priority of any strategy moving forward. The RIPE NCC, working with our fellow RIRs, is well-positioned to provide expert advice and insight into the specific issues associated with IP address management, and we will attempt to engage and inform any non-technical stakeholders with proposals in this area.
Building an Informed Multi-Stakeholder Internet Community
If RIPE NCC’s External Relations efforts in Internet governance have a single goal, it is ensuring that policy makers are informed and aware of the consequences of their policy decisions. It is this goal that is the basis for the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance; it is why the Internet Governance Forum, while a non-decision-making forum, remains an important and effective element in global Internet governance. Its status as non-decision-making forum means that the IGF can actually foster more in-depth discussions and interactions between stakeholders than would be possible in a decision-making setting.
Our work with the OECD supports this goal, helping to produce detailed multi-disciplinary studies into relevant Internet governance matters, issued by an organisation that is known and respected by governments around the world. The RIPE NCC Roundtable Meetings allow us to inform public sector stakeholders directly and to build the relationships that will help us to provide ongoing advice and input to public policy discussions at a national and regional level.
To conclude this article, I’ll go into a little more detail on some of the areas that the RIPE NCC will be prioritising over the coming 12 months:
IXPs and Peering
One of the major developments seen in recent years, particularly in the Middle East, has been a new interest in developing Internet Exchange Points (IXPs). Many stakeholders, in both the private and public sectors, are noting the benefits in cost, as well as service quality, of increasing local and regional peering arrangements.
The RIPE NCC's activity in this area has included engaging with the OECD (where we have joined a number of industry partners in funding a study currently being conducted by the OECD Secretariat), speaking with national governments and supporting initiatives like the Middle East Peering Forum (MPF).
By focusing on technical strategies (like increased peering) as a path to new development, greater affordability and easier Internet access, we can defuse calls to employ regulation in an attempt to achieve these goals.
The NRO submissions to the IGF Open Consultations have repeatedly stressed the importance of Internet governance discussions at the regional level. In our service region, the RIPE NCC has been an active supporter of the Arab IGF, EuroDIG (the European Internet governance forum) and national events, as well as incorporating Internet governance discussions into RIPE NCC Regional Meetings and regional Network Operators Group meetings. We plan to continue this emphasis, building, in particular, on the success of the first Arab IGF in 2012.
Regional events are particularly important in the Internet governance environment because they make it easier for a wider range of stakeholders to participate, whereas a focus on global events (like the IGF or other UN-related events) can restrict attendance to the small number of participants (generally from government or enterprise) who can afford to travel. A regional emphasis can also allow discussion to focus on specific regional issues and solutions, which may be overlooked in global talks. Both of these factors serve to highlight the benefits to be gained through more open, multi-stakeholder dialogue.
Working With the ITU
Finally, 2013 will again see the RIPE NCC devoting significant time and resources to engaging with the International Telecommunication Union. As noted at the beginning of this article, the ITU has served as the battleground for some of 2012’s most high profile Internet governance arguments, and it is certain that these debates will continue through ITU events in 2013-14. It is also clear that for many governments in our service region, particularly those in the Middle East and Central Asia, the ITU remains the preferred venue for engagement with the technical community. For this reason, we continue to feel that it is important to engage with ITU processes and to push for greater acceptance of the multi-stakeholder model in addressing Internet governance issues.
Guiding the RIPE NCC’s Internet Governance Activities
The RIPE NCC’s engagement with Internet governance is driven by the interests and priorities of the RIPE NCC membership and the broader RIPE community. All of the positions described in this article have been formed based on the feedback we have received from those groups, and this process is ongoing. In addition to the current priorities outlined above, the RIPE NCC has an over-arching and ongoing priority of engaging with our own community and seeking their input on the issues Internet governance. Activities in this area include:
RIPE Cooperation Working Group
The RIPE Cooperation Group meets twice annually at RIPE Meetings and holds ongoing discussions on a public mailing list. It is a forum for the community to discuss issues relating to Internet governance and engagement with the public sector, for the RIPE NCC to report back to the community on our activities in this area, and for the community to offer feedback and guidance on these activities.
The RIPE Cooperation Working Group will meet at RIPE 66 this May in Dublin, Ireland. We strongly encourage all RIPE community members with an interest in these issues to contribute to working group discussions at this meeting or on the mailing list.
RIPE NCC Regional Meetings
The RIPE NCC holds regional meetings in the Middle East (alongside MENOG), the Russian region (alongside ENOG) and South-East Europe. As well as providing RIPE NCC members with an opportunity to learn more about RIPE NCC activities and services, these events give RIPE NCC staff an opportunity to be informed about regional issues, concerns and situations that may affect our activity in the Internet governance arena. Given the different regional perspectives on many of the pressing Internet governance discussions, this is a particularly important element in determining the RIPE NCC’s approach in this area. RIPE NCC Regional Meetings in the coming months include:
- MENOG 12, 6 March 2013, Dubai, UAE
- ENOG 5, 27-28 May 2013, St Petersburg, Russia
- South East Europe (SEE 2)/RIPE NCC Regional Meeting, 22-23 April 2013, Skopje, Macedonia
The RIPE NCC’s Internet governance activities are closely coordinated with other "I*" organisations (pronounced "I star", a group of not-for-profit Internet organisations including the five Regional Internet Registries, the Internet Society, the IETF, ICANN). This is vital to ensuring that the Internet technical community has a strong voice on issues of important, as well as ensuring that resources are used efficiently to participate the wide range of relevant events and forums taking place around the world.
The I* organisations, while fulfilling a range of different technical roles, share a strong belief in open and bottom-up policy development and industry self-regulation. Cooperation between these organisations has been vital to promoting and defending this model and to achieving positive outcomes in a range of global discussion forums, particularly the various United Nations-related venues, such as the CSTD and the ITU.
The RIPE NCC’s External Relations activities are a work in progress, responding to the needs and concerns of our community, and to developments in other forums. We are always keen to hear from the community on what issues are affecting them, what outcomes they are seeking and how they feel the RIPE NCC could best represent them. We are also eager to work with our membership at the local level to address issues facing the operations of the RIPE NCC.
If you have any questions or comments regarding RIPE NCC’s External Relations activities, please leave a comment below, send an email to the RIPE Cooperation Working Group mailing list, or contact us directly at externalrelations _at_ ripe _dot_ net.