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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at the Danish Internet Governance Forum

Copenhagen, Denmark
August 23, 2011

-As prepared for delivery-

I want to thank Minister Sahl-Madsen and Director General Andersen for inviting me to speak today at IGF-Denmark.  They both have been especially helpful in organizing my visit here to include meetings with the Danish business community and with other Nordic Governments to discuss some immediate and important issues of Internet governance. 

Denmark is indeed fortunate to have Jorgen Andersen at the helm of the National IT and Telecom Agency.  He is a worldwide thought leader on the important issues we face today and he is making contributions that extend well beyond Denmark’s borders.  Jorgen is chairman of the OECD’s Committee for Information, Computer and Communications Policy.  Just last June in Paris, Jorgen chaired a high-level meeting at the OECD on the Internet Economy.  This meeting attracted senior decision-makers from government, business, civil society, and the technical community representing the more than thirty nations that belong to the OECD.

The meeting was an unprecedented opportunity to lay the foundation for building a global consensus on how we make policy for the Internet.  Participants at the meeting agreed to a communiqué on Internet policy-making principles that are designed to preserve the fundamental openness of the Internet while ensuring its continued growth and dynamism.  One of the key planks of the communiqué is the principle of encouraging multistakeholder processes to address key Internet policy issues.

Today I would like to talk about the multistakeholder model and the challenge to that model that is emerging in parts of the world.  My message to you today is that now is the time for all who are concerned about maintaining a vibrant and growing Internet to get involved.  We are at a critical point in the history of the Internet and the future that lies ahead is unclear.

To understand this challenge, we must first recognize the role that the multistakeholder process has played to get the Internet to where it is today. The Internet we enjoy today—this marvelous engine of economic growth and innovation—did not develop by happenstance.  It emerged as the result of the hard work of multistakeholder organizations such as the Internet Society, the Internet Engineering Task Force, and the World Wide Web Consortium.  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 environment.  By engaging all interested parties, the open multistakeholder process encourages much broader and more creative problem solving. These attributes of speed, flexibility, and decentralized problem solving stand in stark contrast to a more traditional, top-down regulatory model characterized by rigid processes, political capture by incumbents, and, in so many cases, impasse or stalemate. 

The United States enthusiastically and vigorously supports the use of the multistakeholder process as the preferred means of addressing Internet policy challenges.  The Obama Administration believes that maintaining the openness, transparency, and user choice of today’s Internet can only be sustained and advanced in a world where all stakeholders participate in relevant decision making, not one where governments, or other stakeholders, dominate.   And while multistakeholder Internet governance is often discussed in international settings, it is a model that also guides our domestic policy outlook and practices in the United States.  My agency, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), has worked with other agencies within the U.S. Department of Commerce on an Internet Policy Task Force that has conducted a comprehensive review of the nexus between privacy policy, copyright, global free flow of information, cybersecurity, and innovation in the Internet economy.  We have sought broad public participation, and stakeholders from the entire Internet community have shared their insights and offered their ideas on how we can improve Internet policy.  We have held public symposia that promote discussion and the open exchange of ideas.  This process culminated in the publication of green papers—most recently on commercial data privacy and cybersecurity—that advocate for best practices and outline further steps for the U.S. government to take.

In the case of privacy, our recommendations wholeheartedly embrace the multistakeholder process.  We propose the enactment of a basic set of privacy rights in legislation.  But then, as an alternative to traditional government regulation, we recommend that we convene a multistakeholder process with industry, civil society, and others to take these principles and expand on them in negotiated, enforceable codes of conduct.

In the international arena, we have also been active in promoting the multistakeholder model.  I’m sure most, if not all of you, are familiar with ICANN, the multistakeholder organization that coordinates the Domain Name System for the Internet.  Starting last year, as one of its commitments to the global Internet community set forth in the Affirmation of Commitments, ICANN undertook a detailed review of its accountability and transparency.  I had the privilege of participating on the team that conducted this review.  It was truly multistakeholder, with members from around the globe including China, Egypt, and South America, representing elements of the global Internet community such as registries, registrars, users, and governments.  The team completed its review last December and issued a report with 27 recommendations to the ICANN Board for improving accountability and transparency at ICANN.

At its June meeting in Singapore, the ICANN Board adopted these recommendations as proposed by the review team. I am very pleased by the Board’s action, which demonstrates a commitment to improving the accountability and transparency of ICANN and to the multistakeholder process of Internet policymaking. Now the focus turns to ICANN management and staff, who must take up the challenge of implementing these recommendations as rapidly as possible and in a manner that leads to meaningful and lasting reform.

These recommendations, when implemented in a thorough and meaningful way, will measurably improve the accountability and transparency of ICANN.  And, while many people worked very hard to get to this point with ICANN, I think the success of the effort so far illustrates an important point about multistakeholder organizations.  Multistakeholder institutions derive their legitimacy from the support and active participation of all stakeholders. Accordingly, they are more likely than regulatory or treaty-based organizations to adapt to change and evolve when the stakeholders demand it. It is difficult to imagine employing a similar process to reform more traditional regulatory agencies as quickly or as thoroughly.  

The other big news in Singapore was ICANN’s decision to move forward to expand the number of generic top level domains, or gTLDs.  While that decision may not have satisfied everyone, the process used by the Board to reach its decision is worthy of note.  In response to long-standing concerns held by governments about the expansion proposal, the ICANN Board held a number of focused exchanges with the Government Advisory Committee (GAC) to resolve as many of the issues as possible.  These exchanges represented the first meaningful interactions between the GAC and the ICANN Board since ICANN’s inception and it is critical that the lessons learned through these recent interactions result in clear, predictable processes for the ICANN Board and the GAC going forward.    

From our perspective, ICANN improved the new gTLD program by incorporating a significant number of the GAC proposals.  The fact that not all of the GAC’s proposals were adopted does not represent a failure of the process or a setback to governments; rather, it reflects the reality of a multistakeholder model.  More important is the fact that the ICANN Board now recognizes the need to bring governments into its multistakeholder policymaking in a more meaningful way. 

This brings me back to the warning I made at the outset of my remarks: the multistakeholder model is being challenged.  In the last year, we have seen more and more instances of restrictions on the free flow of information online, disputes between various standards bodies, and even appeals from incumbent carriers in Europe for government intervention on the terms and conditions for exchanging Internet traffic.  We have seen statements by international organizations and even some governments to regulate the Internet more directly.

Denmark and the United States, as long-time supporters of the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee and active participants in the OECD, should be proud of our recent achievements and appreciative of our history of cooperation.  However, because of the challenges we face, we cannot be satisfied.  The OECD principles do not mark the end of the work.  Really, we are just at the beginning.  Reaching an agreement on the OECD language was a challenge, but our history with fellow member states and our ideological similarities suggested we would reach consensus.  However, some other nations, many with less experience with the multistakeholder model, may be more inclined to support treaty-based structures for Internet governance. It is our job to counter this model and explain how the multistakeholder process better protects their national interests.

The United States is most assuredly opposed to establishing a governance structure for the Internet that would be managed and controlled by nation-states. Such a structure could lead to the imposition of heavy-handed and economically misguided regulation and the loss of flexibility the current system allows today, all of which would jeopardize the growth and innovation we have enjoyed these past years.  The OECD’s policymaking principles are perhaps the clearest statement yet that the United States and like-minded nations oppose treaty-binding regulation of the Internet.

Now the challenge before all of us is to convince the rest of the world of the advantages of the multistakeholder approach.  In November 2012, our two countries will participate in the ITU’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT).  This treaty negotiation will conduct a review of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), the general principles which relate to the provision and operation of international telecommunication services.  We can expect that some states will attempt to rewrite the ITRs in a manner that would establish heavy-handed governmental control of the Internet.  These are the countries that all of us must reach to promote the multistakeholder model, and our work must begin right away.

The IGF in Nairobi will provide us all with an excellent opportunity to get started on this important task.  I will use speaking opportunities at the IGF and the Government of Kenya’s Ministerial meeting to explain why we feel multistakeholder Internet governance is so valuable to preserving and enhancing a dynamic Internet and how it can be most useful in countries with little tradition of employing it. 

But we need everyone’s help if we are to develop a global consensus on how to develop Internet public policy. What is at stake is the preservation of an open and continually innovating Internet.  We look forward to working with all of you to build a global consensus with nations around the world.  Thank you.