Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information

Internet Governance Forum USA 2014, Washington, D.C.
July 16, 2014

Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Internet Governance Forum USA 2014
Washington, D.C.
July 16, 2104

—As Prepared for Delivery—

Thank you, Marilyn, for your introduction. I also want to thank the multistakeholder group and ISOC DC for planning this event and, of course, George Washington University for hosting.  I also want to recognize the NTIA interns that are here. Can you raise your hands?  Many of you are aware of the lavish entertainment that law firms have historically provided to their summer clerks, but at NTIA we spare no expense to make sure our interns can attend IGF USA.   I just wanted to recognize them here today and please introduce yourselves to them at the break.

Just as the IGF USA is addressing some very challenging and emerging issues today and doing so in a multistakeholder fashion, we are doing the same at NTIA.   In fact, today’s agenda looks very much like our policy agenda, so my remarks will focus on some of the agenda items that you will be and how we are approaching these issues at NTIA.  

We at NTIA understand the important role that the open Internet has played in driving innovation, economic growth, and societal change around the world and we are all working hard to keep it that way.   At the Department of Commerce and at NTIA specifically, 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 worldwide 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.  And third, we view the Internet as our client, not any one set of stakeholders.  So, in developing 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 to the Internet and expanding the global reach of the Internet economy.  To support innovation, we want to make sure that policymaking is flexible and adaptable, which is why we are such a strong supporter of the multistakeholder model of Internet governance.   

Turning to the specific issue of net neutrality, our goal is to make sure that this virtuous cycle of growth and innovation is preserved and ensure that the Internet continues to function at the best level for consumers.  To that end, NTIA, working with other agencies in the U.S. Government, is conducting analyses and engaging stakeholders and we will be carefully reviewing the comments filed in the FCC proceeding as part of the process to advise the President on this important issue.   But the President has made very clear where he expects this debate to end up.  He supports net neutrality and an open Internet as does Secretary Pritzker.  Now, you may be wondering what do the open Internet rules mean for the multistakeholder model and what does this signal about our Internet policy internationally.   Some may believe that a regulatory agency exercising its regulatory authority over the Internet conflicts with our multistakeholder model of Internet governance.  We do not think so, but as a teaser to encourage you to listen carefully to Ambassador Sepulveda’s speech, he will be addressing this issue in much more detail in his remarks.

Here in the United States, we know there is a debate about the legal authority of the FCC to regulate in this space, whether it be under Title I or Title II of the Telecommunications Act.   From our perspective, we want to look at the entire end-to-end delivery of content to consumers and understand where, if anywhere, in that framework there might be issues for consumers.  Is there a concern with the Title I service that is offered to consumers?  Or should our concern be with the service that Internet Service Providers offer to content providers, which perhaps will be more traditional telecom services already offered under Title II?   These are the kinds of issues that we will be getting into and evaluating as we work our way through the comments. 

Domestically we have found that the multistakeholder approach to policy making is a nimble and effective method to address complex and evolving policy issues.  Just recently in the area of copyright, we have partnered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and have adopted the multistakeholder approach as we explore ways  to improve the operation of the notice and takedown system for removing infringing content from the Internet under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.  Given the bruising debate in Congress in 2012 over the antipiracy legislation, SOPA and PIPA, we felt the time was right to adopt a new approach to policymaking related to these digital copyright issues. 

While there was some hesitation to adopting this approach, it is now working.   At our most recent roundtable discussion, stakeholders agreed to appoint a working group to draft a common format for the notices copyright holders provide to websites that are alleged to be hosting infringing material.   Our hope is that when stakeholders resolve these more narrow issues, they will take on more challenging aspects of the notice and takedown debate.   

Turning to privacy, we have also been using the multistakeholder process with respect to consumer privacy online.   Many of you know that we convened stakeholders to develop a voluntary but enforceable code of conduct with respect to the transparency of mobile apps on your mobile devices.  Earlier this year, we launched a process focused on commercial uses of facial recognition technology.   Recently, with respect to the issue of Big Data, NTIA sought comments from stakeholders on the Big Data Report particularly, whether and how big data use might affect the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights that the President released back in 2012.  That comment period will be open until August 5 and we encourage all of you to participate in that proceeding.

One of your panels today is on increasing the accountability of ICANN.   Back in March we announced our intent to transition the key domain name functions known as the IANA functions to the global multistakeholder community.   As the first step, we asked ICANN to convene global stakeholders to develop a proposal to transition the role that we currently play in the coordination of the Internet’s domain name system.  We communicated a number of conditions that we insist must apply to any transition plan that is presented to us.   While many of you are familiar with those conditions, they do bear repeating here today.  First, the proposal must support and enhance the multistakeholder model in that it should be developed by the multistakeholder community and have broad community support.  Second, the proposal must maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the domain name system.  Third, it must meet the needs and expectations of the global customers and partners of the IANA services.  And finally, it must maintain the openness of the Internet.  To emphasize the multistakeholder nature of this approach, we have made it very clear that we will not accept a proposal presented to us that would turn oversight to a government or group of governments as an appropriate transition plan.

The process is moving forward.  ICANN has had two meetings since we announced the transition in March – one in Singapore and one in London.  Out of these meetings has emerged a two-part approach to this issue.  First, ICANN, accepting nominations from all of its supporting organizations as well as from other Internet organizations like the Internet Society and Internet Engineering Task Force, has organized a coordination group to develop a transition plan for the IANA functions.  I think as of today that group is comprised of about 27 individuals representing 13 Internet communities and they will be meeting for the first time in London tomorrow and Friday to get organized.  ICANN is also organizing a separate work stream to look at the overall accountability of ICANN.  In particular, what does it mean for the United States to step out of its current role?  Does that leave some gap that needs to be filled by additional accountability measures within ICANN?

This is a very important discussion that is still being organized.  We will be answering some very important questions in the Internet community, which is who needs to be held accountable and by whom?  I know there have been proposals to create a new body or a separate body to handle this oversight issue and again to replace this role that people perceive the United States has played.  I have opined before and will opine again this morning that I am not convinced of the usefulness of such proposals because they simply create a new accountability issue in terms of how that organization, whatever it is, will itself be held accountable.  Lastly, I think one of the highlight panels today is a discussion on the evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem.  Certainly we feel that ICANN presents a wonderful set of experiences and precedents to help inform that discussion but the Internet ecosystem is much larger than just ICANN and the domain name system.  Already in the last several months, we have seen evidence that this idea of multistakeholder governance has been maturing and growing in international acceptance.  The recent NetMundial conference in Brazil gave all stakeholders, including governments, businessess, civil society organizations, and academics the opportunity to participate in a discussion about the future of Internet governance.  Those parties came together in two days and agreed that “Internet governance should be built on democratic multistakeholder processes, insuring the meaningful and accountable participation of all stakeholders, including governments, the private sector, civil society, the technical community, the academic community and users.”

The United States is committed to working with all willing parties to continue to address the challenges illuminated at the NetMundial conference and to implement the vision of future of Internet governance developed there.  Some of you may have heard that as a result of that discussion, some parties are interested in organizing a NetMundial initiative.  We are still trying to understand the details of that particular proposal but it is something that will follow with great interest. I hope that it will be something that we will be able to support and participate in as it moves forward.  With that, I want to thank you for your time and I’ll now take some questions.