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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at the OECD High Level Meeting on the Internet Economy

Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
Paris, France
June 29, 2011

-As prepared for delivery-

I am pleased to be here to speak in support of the draft communiqué on Internet policymaking principles.  While previous speakers have discussed certain of the substantive provisions, I will focus my remarks on a key process for Internet policymaking—the multistakeholder model.

The United States enthusiastically and vigorously supports the use of the multistakeholder process as the preferred means of responding to Internet policy challenges.

On this point, there is a full consensus of all participants in this conference­—government, business, and civil society.  But part of our mission needs to be to build a global consensus around these policymaking principles.  So, since all of you are already convinced of this point, I would like to start that process by directing my remarks to governments in the developing world and others who may have questions about the model.

To those of you in the global Internet community who have questions about multistakeholder processes, let me make the following points.

First, the Internet we enjoy today—this marvelous engine of economic growth and innovation—did not develop by happenstance.  It emerged as a 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 because 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 involvement in 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.

Second, multistakeholder institutions derive their legitimacy from the support of stakeholders and therefore are more likely than regulatory or treaty-based organizations to adapt to change and evolve when the stakeholders demand it.  Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the case of 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.  The team that conducted the review 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.  Just last week in Singapore, the ICANN Board adopted all of the recommendations proposed by the review team.  These recommendations, when implemented in a thorough and meaningful way, will measurably improve the accountability and transparency of the organization.  And while a lot of people worked very hard to get to this point with ICANN, I cannot imagine successfully employing a similar process to reform more traditional regulatory agencies as quickly or as thoroughly.

Finally, while the multistakeholder process empowers all interested parties, with that empowerment comes responsibility.  All parties need to come to the table in the spirit of reaching consensus and moving forward.  The multistakeholder process requires compromise.  It is no place for policy martyrs.

The process requires restraint on the part of governments.  In international groups such as ICANN, governments have a meaningful role but as stakeholders within the overall multistakeholder framework.  The U.S. government is most assuredly opposed to establishing a governance structure for the Internet that would be managed and controlled by nation-states through a treaty-based organization or otherwise.

For Internet policy matters within a nation’s borders, governments must similarly act with caution.  As we have considered issues within the United States, such as protecting the privacy of consumer on-line data, we have concluded that one of our key roles should be that of a facilitator or convener of a multistakeholder process that will engage all interested parties—business, civil society, and academia.  But while we can nudge the parties to work together, we must be careful to insist on the development of consensus and not to substitute our own judgment.  To do so before the parties have exhausted all possible efforts to reach consensus undermines the multistakeholder model by devaluing the incentive for everyone to work together.

In closing, the United States government is committed to the multistakeholder model of Internet policymaking.  We are encouraged by the fact that support for the model is the consensus view of the participants in this conference and we look forward to working with all of you to build a global consensus on this principle with nations around the world.  Thank you.