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Remarks by Assistant Secretary Strickling at the Brookings Institution's Center for Technology Innovation

Washington, DC
January 11, 2012

Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling

Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information

Brookings Institution

Principles of Internet Governance:  An Agenda for Economic Growth and Innovation

Washington, DC

January 11, 2012

As prepared for delivery


I want to thank Darrell West and the Brookings Institution for hosting today’s session on the Principles of Internet Governance and inviting me to participate.  As you have just heard from Ambassador Kornbluh, the adoption of the Internet Policymaking Principles in June by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and their subsequent transformation into an OECD Recommendation were major achievements in 2011.  We all owe a debt of gratitude to the Ambassador for her leadership and commitment to this important effort, which was a key Obama Administration priority for 2011. 

The Principles represent the strongest articulation of our vision of Internet governance to date.  Through the OECD process, over thirty countries have now joined in that vision.  As we enter 2012, the OECD effort lays the foundation for furthering the global consensus on the multistakeholder model of addressing Internet policy issues.  This is a critical initiative, as we will face challenges from a number of different countries, in many different fora.  The OECD Policymaking Principles will serve as our greatest asset as we face these challenges head on.

In order to illustrate the work we have cut out for us, I first need to emphasize 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 (IETF) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C).  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 Internet environment. 

Nonetheless, we face challenges to this model even in our own country.  In that regard, I would like to take a minute to update everyone on where we are with respect to the program of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to expand top level domains on the Internet.

For the last six years, ICANN and its many stakeholders have debated the rules for expanding of the domain name system (DNS) – essentially the Internet’s address book -- through the introduction of new generic top-level domain names (gTLDs).  ICANN’s process involved global stakeholders from the business community, civil society, registries, registrars, and governments.  Nonetheless, in December we saw parties that did not like the outcome of that multistakeholder process trying to bypass ICANN by seeking unilateral action by the U.S. government to overturn or delay the product of a six-year multistakeholder process that engaged folks from all over the world. 

It is important to separate the concerns some industry members have from the process they wish us to employ to change the decisions and compromises ICANN reached with stakeholders around the world.  Based on meetings we have held with industry over the past weeks, we know the level of concern about the specifics of the program.  We are aware that some members of industry believe there are a number of unintended and unforeseen consequences that could jeopardize its success.  Accordingly, I sent a letter last week urging ICANN to work to mitigate concerns and issues related to the perceived need for defensive applications and to improve communication with stakeholders and potential new gTLD applicants prior to the launch of the program.  I also suggested that following the application period, ICANN use the data that will then be available to examine the potential scope of the program, and consider if there is a need for a phased implementation of new gTLDs.  The possibility of implementing additional protections by new TLD operators at the second-level should also be explored in response to this new data.  Lastly, I reiterated the importance of implementing a stronger registrar accreditation agreement; improving current WHOIS policy; and dedicating resources to fully staff and equip the contract compliance department, including creating a centralized and automated complaint process. 

What I did not do was demand that ICANN abandon its multistakeholder processes to deal with these concerns.

Already, ICANN has taken steps to enhance its outreach in the United Sates, including an information session this morning in Washington, D.C. With broader awareness, it is possible that new gTLDs, in addition to facilitating the expansion of the Internet in local languages and offering a platform for entrepreneurs, could help in meeting some of the Internet’s biggest challenges.  For example, in a meeting with content providers last week, we learned about the potential that new top level domains might have to combat the serious problem of on-line piracy.  ICANN could require that the rules for a .music or .movie top-level domain be constructed to assure consumers they are not downloading pirated content. This is a very interesting possibility that NTIA will be exploring with stakeholders over the new several months.

I was encouraged by ICANN’s response to my letter today in which ICANN commits to review possible improvements to the program, specifically to deal with the perceived need for defensive registrations at the top-level, as well as complete execution on a series of work streams that will facilitate more effective tools for law enforcement and consumer protection.  As is necessary in a multistakeholder process, all of these efforts will require active engagement by all parties prior to adoption.  I urge everyone to get involved, particularly prospective new gTLD applicants.  If your application is successful, you will be operating a critical piece of the global Internet infrastructure.  With this comes the responsibility of active participation in ICANN and other related multistakeholder processes such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

This episode with ICANN cannot be viewed in a vacuum.  Each challenge to the multistakeholder model has implications for Internet governance throughout the world.  When parties ask us to overturn the outcomes of these processes, no matter how well-intentioned the request, they are providing “ammunition” to other countries who would like to see governments take control of the Internet. 

As many of you are aware, this is precisely the challenge we face this December in Dubai, at the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT).  This conference, which is hosted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), attracts delegates from the ITU’s 193 member countries. Specifically, the conference will renegotiate the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), a treaty drafted in 1988 that set the basic terms for interconnection of international telephone networks.  Notably, the ITRs allowed for private agreements between non-governmental telecommunication carriers.  These private arrangements subsequently became the most common form of agreement as most national telecommunication providers privatized over the intervening years.

As former Ambassador David Gross recently wrote about the WCIT, “some within the ITU and its 193 member states would now like to see major changes to the treaty, particularly with respect to the Internet as well as wireless, IP-based, and next-generation networks, which have historically been mostly free of intrusive economic and other regulation”. 

For example, some countries have submitted proposals to make ITU standards recommendations mandatory and thus enforceable by treaty, a drastic departure from their current voluntary nature.  Some countries have proposed moving oversight of critical Internet resources into the ITU, including naming and numbering authority from multistakeholder institutions such as ICANN.  Many governments have called for the ITU to play a greater role in regulating peering and termination charges in order to compensate for lost telecommunication fees, the so called “bypass phenomenon”.  Also, in an effort to establish the ITU as an operational authority on international cybersecurity, some more authoritarian countries have proposed to include cybersecurity and cybercrime provisions into the ITRs.

These proposals are relics of an industry and network structure that no longer exists.    The ITU was established as the International Telegraph Union in 1865 to facilitate the interconnection of nationally administered telegraph networks.  As communications evolved, the ITU changed its name and scope in 1932 to once again facilitate interconnection of national networks, this time circuit switched telephone networks based on national borders.  For some, the next logical step is for the ITU to once again facilitate interconnection of today’s network – the Internet.  For some governments, the WCIT presents an opportunity to shoehorn the Internet into a supranational regulatory body where it simply does not belong. These governments fail to acknowledge how fundamentally different the Internet is to the forms of communication which preceded it.  The Internet does not operate under the anachronistic model of monopoly telephone providers that control all aspects of their networks within their countries.  Rather, it is a diverse, multi-layered system that thrives only through the cooperation of many different parties.  All of these parties together form the “network of networks” that we call the Internet, and to disrupt even one would jeopardize the entire system.

The challenge before us is clear.  We must continue to make the case that an Internet guided by the open and inclusive processes as articulated in the OECD Policymaking Principles will encourage the rapid economic growth and wealth creation that the Internet has made possible.

It is incumbent upon us to convince other nations that enshrining the Internet in an international treaty will not accomplish these goals.  The framework simply will not fit.  An Internet constrained by an international treaty will stifle the innovators and entrepreneurs who are responsible for its awesome growth.  As FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell recently said, “upending the fundamentals of the multistakeholder model is likely to Balkanize the Internet at best, suffocate it at worst”.  The states who seek to impose their control over the Internet will only be further removed from its awesome potential.

At the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in September, I made a call to action that I will repeat today: All stakeholders should step up in support of the free and open Internet and the multistakeholder process that has led to its success. The multistakeholder process cannot work without you.  If we want to maintain a vibrant and growing Internet we must all take action to ensure that the multistakeholder model continues to define the future of Internet governance. 

For our part at NTIA, over the coming months we will continue to meet with stakeholders to collectively develop ideas on how to best preserve the open and innovative Internet.  In preparation for the December WCIT, the U.S. government will stand up an active interagency process to leverage the expertise and talents of our various organizations to meet this year’s pressing challenge.  Key to that will be engaging with international governmental and non-governmental partners and I encourage all of you to participate in these important discussions.

Thank you.