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Remarks by Assistant Secretary Strickling at the Computer and Communications Industry Association Washington Caucus

April 09, 2014

Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Computer and Communications Industry Association
Washington Caucus
Washington, DC

April 9, 2014

--As prepared for delivery--

Thank you, Ed, and to CCIA for inviting me to speak today at your Washington Caucus event.  CCIA has been a tireless advocate for the tech community in Washington, and I congratulate you for more than four decades of service promoting policies for open markets, open networks and full, fair and open competition.

Preparing for this speech, I looked at CCIA’s website, and I was not surprised to see that your core principles focus on innovation.  As your mission statement makes clear, “understanding and protecting innovation [is] central to our industry’s future.”  As you point out, it is not “an accident that innovation has flourished in a society that values an open, competitive economic marketplace, nor where original independent and free speech are enshrined in law.”

I could not agree with you more.  At NTIA, we understand the important role the open Internet has had in driving innovation, economic growth and societal change around the world.  And we are working hard to keep it that way.

At NTIA and the Department of Commerce, our work on Internet policy is guided by three simple principles:

  • First, we support the Internet as a platform for economic growth.  In doing so, we focus both on increasing the number of Internet users as well as encouraging more intensive use by existing users.
  • Second, we support the Internet as a platform for innovation.  In doing so, we seek to develop policies that are flexible, creative and rapidly adaptable to fast-changing technology.
  • Third, we view the “Internet” as our client, not any one set of stakeholders.  In setting policy, we must balance the competing interests of users by focusing on what policies best support economic growth and innovation.

So how do we put these principles into practice?  The two key concepts we apply in support of growth are maintaining and increasing the trust of users of the Internet and expanding the global reach of the Internet economy.  To support innovation, we want to make sure policymaking is flexible and adaptable.  That is why we are such strong supporters of the multistakeholder model of Internet governance.

All of these values came to a head in our March 14 announcement of our intent to transition certain Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community.  We took this step to preserve and protect the growing and innovative Internet--an Internet led by a community of companies, technical experts, civil society and governments. 

To give everyone a quick review of that announcement—

For sixteen years, it has been the clear and unquestioned policy of the United States government that the private sector should lead the management of the domain name system (DNS).  In its 1998 policy statement, the Department of Commerce stated that the U.S. government is committed to a transition that will allow the private sector to take leadership for DNS management.” 

Since then, the Department, through NTIA, has entered into a series of agreements with ICANN under which it performs what are known as the IANA functions.  These include assigning Internet protocol numbers to regional registries who then assign them to Internet service providers.  Another function is the maintenance and updating of the root zone file of top-level domain names—the so-called address book for the Internet that is necessary for the routing of Internet communications.  It does so at no cost to the U.S. government.  Our role in this process is simply to verify changes and updates proposed by ICANN to the root zone file before passing the changes on to Verisign, which actually maintains and updates the root zone file.

ICANN, along with other Internet technical organizations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), develop their policies through bottom-up multistakeholder processes.  These efforts are open to all stakeholders, whether they are businesses, civil society organizations, technical experts or governments who work in concert to reach consensus agreements on Internet policies. 

The U.S. government has been a vigorous supporter of the multistakeholder model of Internet governance from the start.  However, we are not the only ones.  In 2012, both houses of Congress unanimously passed resolutions stating that it was the “consistent and unequivocal policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control and preserve and advance the successful multistakeholder model that governs the Internet today.”

In furtherance of this clear Congressional statement, on March 14, NTIA announced the final phase of the privatization of the domain name system by asking ICANN to convene global stakeholders to develop a proposal to transition the current role played by NTIA in the coordination of the DNS.  In making this announcement, we stated that the transition proposal must have broad community support and must address four principles:

  • Support and enhance the multistakeholder model;
  • Maintain the security, stability and resiliency of the Internet DNS;
  • Meet the needs and expectations of the global customers and partners of the IANA services; and
  • Maintain the openness of the Internet.

We also made crystal clear that we will not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or intergovernmental solution.

We asked ICANN, as the current IANA functions contractor and the global coordinator for the DNS, to convene the multistakeholder process to develop the transition plan.  We informed ICANN that we expected it to work collaboratively with the other Internet technical organizations, including the Internet Society, the IETF, the Internet Architecture Board and the Regional Internet Registries.  Two weeks ago at its meeting in Singapore, ICANN, along with these organizations, convened two public sessions to obtain stakeholder input on how to design the process to develop the transition plan, collecting several hours of public comment, which will help craft a proposal for the process going forward.  Yesterday, ICANN published a summary of the discussions in Singapore and asked for public comment on a possible framework for developing the transition plan.

Before I discuss some of the reaction to our announcement, let me go back to our core principles and talk about how what we did last month fits within the policy framework we apply to all Internet issues.  To support growth, we need to focus on maintaining trust that the domain name system will work as intended.  We do that by ensuring that ICANN operates with technical competence and in a manner that is accountable and transparent to the user community.  We also need to encourage greater globalization to bring more users online.  Our announcement to transition our role in the IANA functions directly supports the principles of growth and innovation.  Our continued involvement with IANA could deter globalization as developing countries fear that the Internet is controlled by the U.S. for the exclusive benefit of U.S. interests.  Our current role in the IANA functions, although largely symbolic, is used by other countries to argue for greater governmental control of the DNS at the United Nations or the International Telecommunication Union, thus jeopardizing innovation on the Internet by subjecting it to top-down government regulation.

I expect that some of you noticed our announcement in the press as it has attracted the attention of a few people.  We have been extremely pleased that our announcement has been met with broad support from those companies and organizations that rely on an open Internet to do business – companies like Google, Cisco, Verizon and AT&T.  And I greatly appreciate the vocal support from Ed Black and CCIA on this announcement.  While some have raised concerns that the United States is giving up control of the Internet, your organization understands that transitioning our role is the best path forward to ensuring a free and open Internet.

Yet, myths and misperceptions about our announcement abound.  For the last three weeks, I have been responding to these issues, trying to clear up the misunderstandings.  Today, largely inspired by Ed’s authoritative essay on our announcement, I will let the members of the global Internet community answer the critics.

A refrain we have seen repeated is that the Obama Administration is “giving up the Internet.”  Your President, Ed Black, gave a clear response to this in an op-ed that ran in Huffington Post last week.  He called our announcement a “strategic move not just for the United States, but for all those around the world committed to Internet freedom.  It is exactly because such countries like Russia and China are seeking greater international governmental control over Internet content that the recent NTIA proposal is to be lauded.”  Thank you, Ed.  I could not have said it better myself.

Eli Dourado, a research fellow from George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, expressed another independent view on this subject.  He said our announcement “undercuts the primary justification used by authoritarian regimes to agitate for control of the Internet.”

Others have raised concern that transitioning away from our role will hamper free speech online and lead to greater censorship.  A coalition of human rights groups disagrees.  Human Rights Watch, Freedom House, the Center for Democracy and Technology and others wrote Congress last week stating their belief that “this move could help thwart government overreach in Internet governance, which would have devastating implications for human rights worldwide.”

Others have argued that “if it’s not broken, why fix it?”  Microsoft’s David Tennenhouse has the response.  He says this move marks the evolution of a domain name privatization effort that began in 1998.  (And he knows, because he was part of the group that began the transition process.)  He notes that “’Internet governance’ has been the responsibility of literally dozens of different organizations … to create and implement the key standards, shape business practices, and develop norms that have enabled the Internet to grow at an astonishing rate over the last 20 years.  This model has served the world well and led to countless innovations that have transformed our world.  Initiating the final steps in the transition of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions now is a clear recognition of the value and success of this unique model.”

Others have questioned whether the global Internet community is ready to fill this role.  Cisco’s Robert Pepper answered that concern in a blog post, stating that “NTIA has outlined a powerful process for the move towards full privatization and globalization of DNS management.  It is based upon the recognition that the ecosystem of organizations, groups and individuals which make up the multi-stakeholder Internet governance community is mature and robust and can stand on its own.”

AT&T’s Len Cali adds, “NTIA has made this initiative at the right time.  It has provided a blueprint for how the multistakeholder community can further internationalize the governance of the Internet, while critically preserving the security, stability and dynamism that we all require.”

Still others have questioned whether the transition will upset the stability of the Internet.  Vint Cerf, an early Internet pioneer who is currently the Internet Evangelist at Google, said just the opposite.  "The Internet was built to be borderless, and this move toward a more multistakeholder model of governance creates an opportunity to preserve its security, stability and openness.”

These are the comments of the global Internet community, and they reflect a firm understanding and embrace of the multistakeholder approach to Internet governance.  I know these issues are complicated and misunderstood by some who do not typically play in this Internet governance arena.  That is why it is vitally important that the global community continue to provide a chorus of public support, outreach and education on this important issue. 

In closing, I want to thank Ed, CCIA and the members here today for your support to date and I urge you to continue to speak out in support of multistakeholder Internet governance wherever and whenever you can.  Working together as a community, I am confident that we can ensure that the open Internet is allowed to flourish and prosper, driving innovation and economic growth for the U.S. and the world.  Thank you for your attention.