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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at the 2014 Internet Governance Forum

October 02, 2014


Remarks of Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
High-Level Leaders Meeting
2014 Internet Governance Forum
Istanbul, Turkey
September 1, 2014

--As Prepared for Delivery--

I would like to thank the Turkish government for hosting today’s event and especially Minister Elvan and Tayfun Acarer for asking me to say some words about what we are doing in the United States about capacity building, the topic of today’s session.

I am going to address three areas. First, I will discuss  how we expanded broadband access within our nation; second, what we are doing to increase adoption of broadband services by our citizens; and third, how we are utilizing the multistakeholder process domestically to build the procedures and best practices to enable businesses and other stakeholders to move forward.

This forum is focused on discussing important policy challenges facing the Internet. But it is also important to keep in mind that many people throughout the world still lack adequate access to the Internet, particularly at speeds that would support the applications users are increasingly demanding, such as video streaming.

In the United States, my agency has worked to expand access and adoption to high-speed Internet services and has learned some valuable lessons. In 2009, the U.S. Congress appropriated $4 billion to NTIA to help expand broadband access and adoption around the United States. Our program, as it draws to an end, has generated some impressive statistics. We have laid 112,000 miles of fiber and broadband facilities in the United States, which is enough to circle the globe four and half times. Our grantees have connected 25,000 schools, libraries and hospitals with high-speed broadband access, and our projects have generated 730,000 new broadband subscribers.

But the key thing about our program is how we went about determining where and how to spend the money. We had many experts telling us how we ought to do this or do that. But we took a different tack. We decided to listen to the people. We wanted the communities to tell us what their needs are and where in their communities they wanted to target this investment. What we heard from our communities was that they wanted high-speed access brought into the front door of every community, at least a gigabit of access. And they wanted their schools and libraries and other anchor institutions connected to this high-speed access so that’s where we put the money. And that’s why we have gotten these successful outcomes.

At the end of this program, we are seeing that speeds have dramatically increased to anchor institutions, and prices have come down. For example, a review of a small sampling of our projects found that some colleges and universities have gone from paying $56 per megabit to just $2 per megabit for their broadband service.

With broadband adoption, we followed the same approach.  We awarded grants around the country to allow different communities to experiment with different ways to expand broadband adoption. Currently in the United States, broadband adoption sits at about 72 percent of households that subscribe. But what we have learned from the communities in our program is that to increase that broadband adoption statistic, you need to engage people in the community -- friends and family members -- to train other people on how to use the Internet. And it must be part of any comprehensive broadband strategy to give great importance to teaching and training people to take advantage of these technologies.

In some ways, our approach to expanding Internet access and adoption is similar to our overall approach to Internet policy, which is to engage with stakeholders. When it comes to Internet policy, the United States has long advocated for what we call the multistakeholder model of Internet governance, which brings together businesses, civil society, governments, technical experts and anyone else who wants to participate. It is an approach we have used both internationally and domestically because we believe it is the best way to ensure that the Internet continues to grow as a platform for free speech and economic growth.

We all know about this approach in the international context of the multistakeholder organizations such as ICANN and IETF. But we have used it inside the United States government to bring together businesses, civil society and academics to develop best practices and codes of conduct in the areas of privacy, cybersecurity and the protection of intellectual property.  Early on, it was hard for our participants to understand exactly how to operate in this environment.  They kept looking to us as the government to make the decisions, which they are used to having regulators do. And it took them a while to understand that the only way the group was going to develop solutions was when they took it upon themselves to take responsibility for the process and to make decisions. And so it has been quite an experience as we bring these techniques and bring these practices into our day-to-day actions inside the United States government.

In closing, the United States will continue to look for opportunities to build capacity in these and other important areas of broadband and Internet technology. I am happy to share the lessons that we have learned, but I think it is just as important that we take this opportunity today to learn from the rest of you about your experiences.  Thank you for listening.