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Keynote Address by Assistant Secretary Strickling at Columbia Institute for Tele-Information

June 24, 2013

Keynote Address by Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Columbia Institute for Tele-Information (CITI) at Columbia Business School

Conference on The Future of Internet Governance After Dubai

New York, New York
June 20, 2013

--As prepared for delivery--

It is always pleasure to be back at the Columbia Institute for Tele-Information and I want to thank my good friends, Eli Noam and Bob Atkinson, for the opportunity to speak here on Internet governance.  When I spoke here last year, the world was preparing for the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT).  Today, now that we are six months beyond that conference, is a good time to assess where we are with Internet governance and where all of us, including the United States government, need to be focusing our attention going forward.

I appreciated Eli’s thought-provoking manifesto that he delivered to open today’s program in which he embraced the notion of a “federated” Internet as inevitable and desirable.  He challenged the mythology and theology that has grown around the idea of the “One True Internet.”

I agree with Eli, up to a point.  And that is, there is no “original intent” of the founders of the Internet to which we all must be beholden.  But just as many of us reject the notion that the only meaning we can apply to the words of the U.S. Constitution is what the founding fathers thought over 200 years ago, I think all of us agree that there are basic, enduring values that we all must respect as we deal with the issues our nation faces today.  Concepts such as freedom, justice and equality persist as shared values even if we cannot agree on exactly how to apply the concepts to every particular situation.

The same is true when talking about Internet governance.  Whether or not you believe that the Internet protocol was found carved into stone tablets, there are some enduring principles of Internet governance that deserve recognition and respect and should be preserved whether we have a single, uniform Internet or Eli’s federated Internet.

The enduring values I would like to focus on in today’s remarks are inclusion and participation.  Taken together, we often refer to these values as the multistakeholder model of Internet governance.  The steadfast policy of the U.S. government has been to promote these values of inclusion and participation through our support for the multistakeholder process.

I will not spend much time today going over how inclusion and participation by a multitude of stakeholders over the history of the Internet is largely responsible for the economic growth, innovation and wealth creation we have enjoyed.  The question before us is what role these values can plan as the global Internet community faces the challenges of divergence and disruption that Eli described this morning. 

The answer to that question is that they can and should play an indispensable role.  As Jim Cowie showed us this morning, the Internet is “proficient at discovering solutions that traditional (geo)politics would consider impossible.”  This fact suggests to me that our problem-solving processes need as much flexibility, creativity and responsiveness as possible to be successful.  These are exactly the characteristics of a process that includes and encourages the participation of all interested parties.  Given that the Internet is such a diverse, multi-layered system that thrives only through the cooperation of many different parties, we need to engage as many of these parties as possible to solve the challenges we face.

Going forward from the WCIT, the U.S. government is putting a lot of attention on expanding the inclusion and participation of stakeholders in Internet governance and policy issues.  Our activities focus on three primary areas:

First, we are working to strengthen existing multistakeholder organizations, such as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and the Internet Government Forum (IGF), to make them as responsive as possible to all stakeholders.

Second, we are seeking to expand stakeholder participation in treaty-based organizations such as the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Third, we are working to engage the countries of the developing world to understand better whether the existing institutions are meeting their needs and to develop whatever new responses are needed to ensure that they enjoy the economic growth and wealth creation that the Internet has delivered.

Let me talk about each of these activities.

First, let’s look at the challenges facing existing multistakeholder organizations and let me focus on ICANN.  Two key challenges that ICANN is facing with respect to inclusion and participation relate to its efforts to be more international and the need to more successfully engage governments as one set of stakeholders in the ICANN policy making process.

On the internationalization front, ICANN has made great progress.  Earlier this year, ICANN announced plans to open regional hubs in Istanbul, Turkey and Singapore.  These hubs will perform some of ICANN’s operational functions and will help shape Internet policy throughout Europe, Middle East, Asia, and Africa.  I believe that these regional hubs will strengthen the perceived legitimacy of ICANN where there may have been skepticism in the past. 

In addition, there has been a steady rise in the participation of governments in the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC).  The number of GAC representatives at individual ICANN/GAC meetings has grown over the past year, including several “first-timers” at the April meeting in Beijing, including Lebanon, Bahrain, Oman and Iran.   Some of countries were able to attend due to grants provided by ICANN to help countries who ordinarily lack the resources to travel.  In addition, ICANN now provides on-site interpretation in the six official languages of the United Nations.  These developments reinforce ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé’s recent statement that his “mission is to enhance the globalization of ICANN; it should not be about the world coming to ICANN but [ICANN] coming to the world”.[1]

The ICANN Board and the GAC continue to strengthen the role of the GAC in influencing ICANN policies.  The GAC is structured as an advisory committee whose primary function is to provide advice to the ICANN Board on matters that raise public policy issues and concerns.   Such advice is typically provided through consensus-based communiqués issued at the conclusion of the three annual ICANN meetings.  In the past two years, the GAC has effectively advanced a range of public policy concerns related to the introduction of new generic top level domains (gTLDs), beginning with the GAC Scorecard in February 2011, which identified public policy concerns like consumer protection, intellectual property protection, law enforcement, and the continued security and stability of the DNS. 

In a series of then-unprecedented bilateral, face-to-face exchanges between the ICANN Board and the GAC, the Board adopted between 85 and 90 percent of the GAC’s Scorecard advice.  That in turn led to the Board’s adoption of specific provisions in the final Applicant Guidebook.  These provisions outlined procedures for governments to provide Early Warning notices to new gTLD applicants for strings governments might consider sensitive, as well as procedures whereby the GAC could provide consensus advice objecting to specific strings. 

The GAC’s most recent meeting yielded a substantive, consensus communiqué that we consider a milestone in the GAC’s contributions to ICANN’s new gTLD program.  The GAC reached consensus on a broad range of specific safeguards applicable to all new gTLD applications, as well as to those falling into specific categories such as regulated sectors and sectors vulnerable to abuse.  This achievement demonstrates the shared commitment of individual GAC members to jointly develop and advance consensus positions in support of concrete measures to promote consumer protection and to mitigate possible abuses in new gTLDs.

The United States has always insisted that the meaningful engagement of governments in multistakeholder organizations is one of the strongest arguments we have against efforts by some nations to move important Internet governance functions from multistakeholder organizations to intergovernmental bodies. As more and more governments embrace the role that the GAC affords them and see that they can influence ICANN actions in a meaningful and substantive way, our argument grows even stronger.

Next, let me turn to developments to include more voices in the activities of treaty-based organizations such as the ITU.  We heard Secretary General Hamadoun Touré describe earlier today some of the actions he has sponsored to open up ITU activities to more participation for which he deserves great credit.  In May the ITU hosted the World Telecommunication Policy Forum (WTPF), the first major gathering of ITU member states since the WCIT.  Debate at the WTPF was based upon the work of an informal experts group, which over the course of the prior year contributed to a Secretary General’s report and developed six draft opinions on Internet-related public policy issues.  For the first time ever, the informal experts group was open to all who wished to participate.  As a result, its work likely was richer and more creative than what a closed group might have produced.  In addition, the six final opinions endorsed by the WTPF acknowledged the crucial roles played by industry, the technical community, and civil society and recognized the multistakeholder approach as essential to the Internet’s continued success.

At the close of the WTPF, Secretary General Touré suggested that the ITU Council Working Group on International Internet-Related Public Policy Issues be opened up for multistakeholder participation.  The United States responded by submitting a formal proposal to Council which called for the group to allow full participation by all stakeholders and to conduct its meetings and deliberations in an open, transparent, and inclusive manner.  The proposal from the United States received support from a broad array of countries, including a group from the developing world.  The diverse range of supporters confirms our belief that these ideas of inclusion and participation in Internet policymaking are taking root in countries that traditionally have been more comfortable with a decision-making process in which only governments get a vote.  

I do have to add a word of caution here.  Despite the laudable efforts of Secretary General Touré and some member states to increase inclusion and transparency at the ITU, at the end of the day, only member states will have a vote at the ITU.  A treaty conference, such as the WCIT, can never be a true multistakeholder process where all interests are fairly represented.  Our view is that issues that affect all Internet stakeholders should be debated where all stakeholders have a voice.  And unfortunately, at the ITU Council meeting that just concluded today, our proposal to expand participation did not pass.  But we must continue to press for more openness in these types of proceedings whenever we can.

Finally, let me discuss our third area of activity – reaching out to countries in the developing world to understand better their needs and to work to improve or develop institutions and responses that will help them meet these needs.

There are many countries that want to enjoy the benefits of the Internet, to grow their economies and to create wealth for their citizens.  They are actively searching for the best ways to achieve these goals.  They have issues such as how to attract and maintain sustainable investment levels in their infrastructure and are legitimately concerned about online problems of spam, child pornography and the like.  Many of these countries turn to the ITU for help on these issues because it is the global institution they know the best.  But many would be open to finding solutions to their problems through other means, including multistakeholder organizations, if they were comfortable enough with this form of governance to join in.

An independent task force within the Council on Foreign Relations recently published a report[2] which recommended that the “United States should articulate and advocate a vision of Internet governance that includes emerging Internet powers and expands and strengthens the multi-stakeholder process.”  We could not agree more. 

We see many hopeful signs of progress in this area.  Tad Reynolds of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) discussed this morning the Principles for Internet Policymaking that the OECD adopted in 2011.  The principles were developed in an inclusive process that involved advisory committees from business, civil society, and the Internet technical community.  Fittingly, one of the bedrock principles is the encouragement of multistakeholder cooperation in policy development processes.

Adoption of the policymaking principles was an important first step in articulating our vision of Internet governance.  For the principles to be truly effective, they must guide actual policy, for it is their implementation that really matters.  Moreover, they must gain acceptance beyond the 34 governments which currently belong to the OECD. 

To these ends, the United States has worked with the OECD to develop an Implementation and Outreach Volunteer Group to design an outreach strategy to governments that are not members of the OECD.  Already two non-member OECD economies, Colombia and Costa Rica, have notified the OECD that they wish to conform to the policymaking principles.  Russia is also undergoing a peer review regarding its compliance with the principles as part of its efforts to formally join the OECD.  The U.S. is optimistic that this trend will continue.  These efforts are a great start.

But we must do more.  The world’s Internet population doubled between 2007 and 2013, and is now estimated at over two billion people.  The next two billion people will come online primarily from Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America.  The Internet will grow increasingly diverse geographically, politically, culturally, and linguistically.

All stakeholders can play a role.  We need to redouble our efforts to understand the needs and challenges these new users and their governments will have with respect to the Internet.  We need to brainstorm with them to build their capacity to deal with these issues.  We need to strengthen existing opportunities, and perhaps develop new ones, for these countries to participate in multistakeholder processes to solve their problems.  We need to make a renewed and reinvigorated commitment to getting the necessary funding and staffing to allow the Internet Governance Forum to grow.

Our arguments are powerful.  But we must apply ourselves to the task.  If we do, expanded inclusion and participation of all stakeholders in Internet governance will ensure economic growth and innovation as the Internet continues to evolve.