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Opening Session Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at the Internet Governance Forum

Opening Session Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Internet Governance Forum
Nairobi, Kenya
September 27, 2011
-As prepared for delivery-

Thank you, Alice, and I want to especially thank the Kenyan government for hosting this important conference.

On behalf of the United States Government, I have three points and one request to make:

My first point is that the Internet we enjoy today—this marvelous engine of economic growth and innovation—did not develop by happenstance.  It emerged as the hard work of multistakeholder organizations such as the Internet Society, the Internet Engineering Task Force and the World Wide Web Consortium.  These organizations have played a major role in designing and operating the Internet we know today.

These multistakeholder processes have succeeded by their very nature of openness and inclusiveness.  They are most capable of attacking issues with the speed and flexibility required in this rapidly changing environment.  By engaging all interested parties, the open multistakeholder process encourages much broader and more creative problem solving.  These attributes of speed, flexibility, and decentralized problem solving stand in stark contrast to a more traditional, top-down regulatory model characterized by rigid processes, political capture by incumbents, and in so many cases, impasse or stalemate.

My second point is that the future of the Internet is at risk.  The multistakeholder model is being challenged.  In the last year, we have seen more and more instances of restrictions on the free flow of information online, disputes between standards bodies and even appeals from incumbent carriers for government intervention on the terms and conditions for exchanging Internet traffic. We have seen statements from international organizations and some governments that call for more direct regulation of the Internet.  For example, earlier this month, IBSA called for the creation of an appropriate United Nations body to coordinate and evolve global public policies pertaining to the Internet.  IBSA urged that this new governmental organization should oversee all bodies responsible for technical and operational functioning of the Internet.

My third point is that African nations and the entire developing world have a stake in this battle.  Where Africans have chosen the path of openness and inclusion—two key attributes of the multistakeholder process—the rewards have been great.  Take the example of the Kenya Internet Exchange point (KIXP).  Before KIXP, there were no Internet exchange points on the African continent between Morocco and South Africa.  All Internet traffic was routed internationally, and international lines were dominated by a monopoly incumbent carrier.  Today, more than two dozen members peer at the exchange point, including sixteen Internet Service Providers, three backbone gateways, and one government network.  KIXP has reduced costs and increased speeds.  It has encouraged the development of local content, leading to financial opportunities for entrepreneurs in Kenya.  KIXP has served as an example for other African nations to create their own Internet exchange points. 

The choice for the developing world is clear.

Rely on closed, heavily regulated systems and stagnate.

Or, choose openness and inclusiveness, and encourage the rapid economic growth and wealth creation that the Internet has made possible. 

It is no coincidence that where African countries have embraced the open and multistakeholder Internet, the percentage of their tax revenues attributable to information and communications technologies (ICT) has soared.

Now for my request.  All nations should step up in support of the free and open Internet and the multistakeholder process that has led to its success.  In the next year, as some seek to seize control of the Internet for governments, we will all have a choice to make.

We can choose to expand bureaucracies.

Or we can choose to expand jobs, economic development and wealth and fundamental rights and freedoms for all.

What is at stake is the preservation of an open and continually innovating Internet.  If we want to maintain a vibrant and growing Internet and to preserve the established global institutions that helped create it, we must all take action to ensure that the multistakeholder model continues to define the future of Internet governance.  I look forward to working with all of you to build a global consensus with stakeholders around the world on this critical issue.  Thank you.