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Enhanced Cooperation v2005 is Dead; Long Live Enhanced Cooperation

The page with the WSIS version of enhanced cooperation of Internet governance, developed in 2005, was turned forever on 30 September 2016 with the expiration of the IANA contract between the NTIA and ICANN. The IANA arrangement was the last issue that remained unchanged since the WSIS Tunis phase where the international community discussed Internet governance related issues for the first time. On 1 October 2016, the concept of enhanced cooperation as defined by the Tunis Agenda ceased to exist.

Several doctoral theses have been written about enhanced cooperation. Many interpretations exist regarding what was agreed in those famous four paragraphs 69-72. In essence, enhanced cooperation was about a practice of management of Internet critical resources as well as a concept about whether it should be seen exclusively in an intergovernmental or multi-stakeholder light.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that enhanced cooperation v2005 was only about changing an exclusive role of one (USA) government over management of Internet critical resources. That mainly entailed oversight of the work of ICANN and performance of the IANA function. In 2005, ICANN and NTIA had a very strong relationship. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) obliged ICANN to work towards implementation of benchmarks that were established by NTIA and report on those each trimester. At that time, the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) of ICANN comprised of not more than 40 members, almost half of whom were mostly passive observers. The IANA procedure was defined bilaterally between NTIA and ICANN without community involvement. ICANN was headquartered in California with one office in Brussels. ICANN staff was almost exclusively American. One should acknowledge that the Board of Directors of ICANN always has been international with just a slight majority of the USA nationals.

In 2005 the Internet backbone was poorly available in the developing world. The African continent didn’t have optical cable access to the global Internet backbone. IP address allocation was largely in favor of the developed world and technical knowledge about the functioning of the Internet was unevenly distributed. Access to the Internet was low in the developing world because of the underdeveloped fixed Internet infrastructure, poor enabling environment and resistance of incumbent telecom operators to embrace new technology that was seen as a direct competitor.

Over the years all of the elements outlined above have evolved and significantly changed. Internet infrastructure development has been remarkable. The African continent has been four times looped by optical undersea cables with many fingers in all coastal countries. Mobile Internet has spread exponentially, especially where fixed infrastructure is underdeveloped. Many developing countries have leapfrogged some stages of development in bringing broadband to their citizens.

The number of Internet users has grown several hundred times in comparison with 2005. However, one needs to acknowledge that the access challenge hasn’t been resolved in a fully satisfactory manner, neither from a physical access nor a price of access point of view. Still half of the world’s population is not online.

ICANN’s relationship with NTIA has changed profoundly. Over the past 10 years, the MoU has been replaced with a Joint Project Agreement and later with an Affirmation of Commitment agreement and the reporting obligation on implementation of set benchmarks is long in the past. Partnership is the name of the current state of the relationship. Like other government representatives the NTIA, as a representative of the US government exercises its influence over ICANN through the GAC. Today, the GAC counts more than 150 countries who act on equal footing in providing advice for the ICANN Board or participating in the policy development processes of other supporting organizations within ICANN. ICANN is present in a dozen countries around the world, including Belgium, Brazil, China, Egypt, Russia, Singapore, Switzerland and Turkey. ICANN staff now comes from a dozen countries as well and ICANN meetings are simultaneously translated into all UN languages.

For a long time, IANA procedures and the authorization of the change in the RZF by the NTIA were the only remaining unchanged elements of the enhanced cooperation v2005 concept. The first step towards change was made a few years ago by ICANN when the delegation/re-delegation policy development process was launched and the community worked in concert to develop a new policy. That development was followed by the decision of the US administration to transfer its historic role in IANA administration to the Internet community under certain conditions. For two years community worked tirelessly to develop post - IANA arrangements that led to its acceptance by the US administration and subsequent expiration of the IANA contract on 30 September 2016.

All of the above leads me to say that enhanced cooperation v2005 is dead and the WSIS v2005 Internet governance page is finally turned. But is it the end of the game? Far from that. Internet governance issues in all its aspects are on international community’s agenda to stay. Moreover, they have become increasingly complex and intertwined.

They have to be addressed if we want the Internet to bring benefits of all kinds to its users. That should be done in a cooperative manner by engagement of all interested communities, including governments. Hence, long live enhanced cooperation.

By Janis Karklins, Ambassador of Latvia, Chair of the MAG

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