The Alphabet Soup
Next week, the World Congress on Information Technology (WCIT) will provide a gathering place for business, media, academics, policymakers, technology professionals, and organizations in Guadalajara, Mexico. The conference brings this diverse community in information and communication technology together in order to provide a “proper platform for the industry, policy makers and academy to show their peers, how ICT innovations are helping them to create new alternatives for a challenging world” – a discussion platform rather than a meeting that ends with policy or regulation decisions.
This may be a little confusing because there also exists the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), the United Nation (UN)-led initiative that sometimes makes the news.
In the alphabet soup of meetings that may have come across your radar, you may have also seen the following: The Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which met in Istanbul, Turkey in early September, and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference to be held in Busan, South Korea from October 20 to November 7 – sometimes just called the “Plenipot”. These two meetings are associated with the UN in different ways: IGF gathers various parts of the Internet community for discussion through a UN mandate. According to its fact sheet (found here), there is no “negotiated outcome” (in other words, it produces no immediate policy or treaty), but rather it “informs and inspires those with policy-making power in both the public and private sectors.” The Plenipot, on the other hand, is convened as an official meeting of the UN’s ITU. This event, held every four years, covers “issues that require international cooperation following technological development, pending global issues, international agendas in telecommunications, and follow-up measures for major summit-level conferences”.
And, of course, there’s ICANN 51, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN) own public meeting, which will be held in Los Angeles from October 12 to October 16. ICANN’s public meetings, which take place three times a year, gather the Internet community to contribute to policies on domain name management that have far-reaching effects on businesses from an IT, marketing, and legal perspective.
What does it spell out?
All of these organizations help comprise a complex Internet governance ecosystem with their various mandates, not to mention their overlapping constituencies. For example, you’re likely to see ICANN officials not only at the ICANN meeting, but also at the WCIT meeting in Guadalajara next week. You’re likely to see some national governments represented at each of the meetings listed above.
While it may seem difficult to keep track of it all, understanding how these different organizations fit together in the larger puzzle of Internet governance and how their activities impact things like Internet policy and how commerce is conducted online is crucial for well-informed brand owners.
The upcoming ICANN 51 meeting can be a place to start, especially if you are a company with a presence in the U.S. and have concerns about the time and resources that will have to be dedicated to getting involved in Internet governance. Most meetings related to Internet structure and governance are held around the world in rotating locations that can be difficult to attend due to time and travel budget constraints. However, with ICANN 51 in Los Angeles, it can be an opportunity to get your feet wet, go to sessions, participate in some of the after-hours discussions, and get up to speed on major policy decisions that affect brands’ digital strategy decisions.
Many organizations have opportunities to work on issues remotely, for example, by participating on working groups and submitting public comments. However, with much work done on-the-ground at these meetings, seeing one for yourself at least once can help demystify the dynamics at play.
If you decide to head to LA, we’ll see you there – otherwise, stay tuned for updates from ICANN 51 in October.