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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at Internet Governance Forum

November 13, 2012

Opening Session Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Internet Governance Forum
Baku, Azerbaijan
November 6, 2012
-As prepared for delivery-

Today is Election Day in the United States.  Through the miracle of the Internet and modern communications, people in every corner of the globe know how partisan and contentious this election has become.  Yet, on one issue, all Americans stand shoulder-to-shoulder, and that is, how essential it is that the Internet remain stable, secure and free from governmental control.

Earlier this fall, members of both political parties, Democrats and Republicans, in both houses of Congress, unanimously passed resolutions stating that the “consistent and unequivocal policy of the United States [is] to promote a global Internet free from government control [and] to preserve and advance the successful multistakeholder model that governs the Internet today.”

Why, when our Congress finds little to agree upon, does it unanimously support the multistakeholder model?  The reasons should be clear to all of you who have worked so hard to preserve and expand the multistakeholder process here at the Internet Governance Forum and at organizations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

The multistakeholder model has enabled the Internet to flourish.  It has promoted freedom of expression online.  It continues to provide an environment for economic growth and the creation of wealth in the developing world.

The strength and power of the multistakeholder process arises from the engagement of all interested parties including industry, civil society, technical and academic experts, and governments.  By encouraging the participation of all parties, multistakeholder processes encourage broader and more creative problem solving.  This is essential when dealing with the Internet, which thrives only through the cooperation of many different parties.

We have many serious issues to discuss with respect to the Internet – ranging from economic matters regarding the sustainability of the Internet to basic rights such as freedom of expression and the free flow of information.  We need to ensure that these issues are taken up, but it is just as important that we find the right venue – a multistakeholder venue – in which to hold these discussions.

A treaty conference in which only member states have a vote is most definitely not the right venue for such discussions. No one should mistake such a conference for an open, multistakeholder process.  Certainly, much could be done to improve the transparency of a treaty conference such as the upcoming World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT).  A number of important suggestions to that end were made yesterday by civil society groups attending the IGF here in Baku.  But even if the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) takes seriously the suggestions of civil society and improves the transparency of the Dubai deliberations, at the end of the day, only the member states will have a vote.  In addition to being slow and bureaucratic, a treaty conference can never be a true multistakeholder process where all interests are fairly represented.  Issues that affect all Internet stakeholders should be debated where all stakeholders have a voice.

When I appeared before you at last year’s IGF in Nairobi, I asked all of you to work to ensure that the multistakeholder model continues to define Internet governance for the future.  I think we have accomplished a lot these past months to build a global consensus with stakeholders around the world on these critical issues.  But there is much yet to be done. 

We must continue to support and strengthen the IGF and multistakeholder organizations such as ICANN. We must continue to engage all stakeholders, especially those representing civil society.  We must continue to build bridges to the developing world and ensure that their voices are heard and their needs are met.

If we do these things, we will ensure that the Internet continues to flourish and to bring the benefits of economic growth and human rights and freedoms to all citizens of the world.  Thank you.