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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at the Istanbul Bilgi University Information Technology Law Institute

October 02, 2014

Remarks of Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Istanbul Bilgi University Information Technology Law Institute
Istanbul, Turkey
September 3, 2014

--As Prepared for Delivery--

I want to thank Professor Leyla Keser for inviting me to speak at today’s luncheon. She has asked me to provide the perspective of the United States regarding the ongoing debate on multistakeholder Internet governance, which I am happy to do.

At the outset, I should define what we mean by the multistakeholder process. Wikipedia defines the multistakeholder model as a governance structure that “brings stakeholders together to participate in the dialogue, decision-making and implementation of solutions to common problems or goals.” The key attributes are: the full involvement of all stakeholders; consensus-based decision making; and operating in an open, transparent and accountable manner.

These are important and basic principles: Inclusion. Participation. Transparency. Accountability.

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 innovation and the creation of wealth in the developing world.

One of the most important organizations that is built on the multistakeholder model is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, known by the acronym ICANN. Many of its board members are here at today’s lunch, along with ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé. Turkey is an important country for ICANN as it established one of its international hubs here in Istanbul last year.

In the current debate on multistakeholder Internet governance, ICANN is playing a very important role. Since its creation 16 years ago, ICANN has performed important functions in the domain name system, known as the IANA functions. It has been performing these functions pursuant to a contract between ICANN and my agency, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

From the inception of ICANN in 1998, the United States government envisioned that its role in the IANA functions would be temporary. Over the years, many stakeholders took comfort in the fact that the United States provided some level of stewardship over ICANN. But many countries were irritated by our role because they believed that this relationship allowed the U.S. government to control the Internet.

Last March, we asked ICANN to convene global stakeholders to develop a proposal to transition the current role played by NTIA to the global multistakeholder community.

In making this announcement, we communicated a number of conditions that must apply to the transition. First the proposal must support and enhance the multistakeholder model of Internet governance, in that it should be developed by the multistakeholder community and have broad community support. More specifically, we will not accept a transition proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or intergovernmental organization solution. Second, the proposal must maintain the security, stability and resilience 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.

This announcement does not change anything about how the domain name system operates today. Before any transition takes place, the businesses, civil society and technical experts of the global Internet community must present a consensus plan that ensures the uninterrupted and stable functioning of the Internet and its present openness. We have not set a deadline for this action. While the current contract with ICANN expires in September 2015, we have repeatedly noted that we can extend the contract for up to four years if the Internet community needs more time to develop a proposal that meets the criteria we have outlined. In the meantime, our current role will not change.

Since our announcement, ICANN – working with other Internet organizations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Architecture Board, the Internet Society, and the Regional Internet Registries – has laid out a process for developing the plan based on consultations with stakeholders, which began in Singapore in March. A coordination group of around 30 individuals representing the different Internet communities that will develop a transition proposal has been meeting since July and will hold a face-to-face meeting here in Istanbul this Saturday.

The group is off to a good start. It has developed a charter that affirms that it will “conduct itself transparently, consult with a broad range of stakeholders and ensure that its proposals support the security and stability of the IANA functions.” I am confident that by working out these important issues, this process will strengthen the multistakeholder process and will result in ICANN’s becoming even more directly accountable to the customers of the IANA functions and to the broader Internet community.

In response to community discussion at its Singapore and London meetings, ICANN has also announced a separate process to address ways to improve its overall accountability. Specifically, this process will examine how ICANN can strengthen its accountability mechanisms to address the absence of its historical contractual relationship with NTIA. This important accountability issue will and should be addressed before any transition takes place. The community is currently responding to the latest proposal from ICANN as to how to organize this work effort and we in the U.S. government expect that the process will be open, transparent and lead to consensus recommendations.

As anyone paying attention to Internet governance issues knows, our announcement created a lot of discussion and a little bit of controversy. But overall, the international community has applauded the move as it demonstrates in a concrete way the commitment of the United States to the multistakeholder model of Internet governance.

This has been an eventful year for the multistakeholder model beyond the ICANN transition. Earlier this year, Brazil hosted the successful NetMundial meeting. At this meeting not only did participants agree that Internet governance should be built on democratic multistakeholder processes,” the entire meeting was a demonstration of the open, participative, and consensus-driven governance that has allowed the Internet to develop as an unparalleled engine of economic growth and innovation.

In May, the High Level Panel on Internet Governance headed by Estonian President Toomas Ilves released its report once again affirming the power of multistakeholder policy development. And in June, I participated in a session at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris celebrating the third anniversary of its Internet policy-making principles, which endorsed multistakeholder  policy development because that model provides the “flexibility and global scalability required to address Internet policy challenges.”

Out of NetMundial and the Ilves panel came various recommendations for how the Internet governance process might be improved. And now the question is will these recommendations sit on a shelf and collect dust or will any be implemented? There is hope that there will be a process for the multistakeholder community to consider these recommendations and to build consensus to implement some or all of them. Recently, the World Economic Forum (WEF), at Fadi Chehade’s urging, announced an initiative to organize and conduct a process to do just that. The United States is an early supporter of the effort and will work with the WEF to ensure that the process is open and transparent and complements existing Internet governance organizations such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

Speaking of the IGF, let me make a few observations on this year’s conference, which is being held a few blocks from here. I understand around 3,000 people registered for the Internet Governance Forum this year and I want to thank the Turkish government for hosting the conference. The United States fully supports the Internet Governance Forum. It provides an excellent opportunity for governments, industry, civil society and the technical community to address Internet issues in a broad, candid creative and collaborative manner. And everyone participates on an equal footing at the IGF.

The United States strongly supports an extension of the mandate for the IGF. We hope other nations join with us to support an extension during this year’s U.N. General Assembly to demonstrate our collective commitment to it and its sustainability. An extension this year will provide predictability and planning for the Secretariat, current and prospective donors, and importantly, countries that wish to follow Turkey’s lead and host this event in future years.

We are eager to find ways to establish a more secure financial footing for the IGF. We are pleased to be a donor to the IGF trust fund and encourage others to make donations as well.

Finally, I am pleased to see that the multistakeholder process has taken hold in Turkey. I know former Minister Binali Yildirim supported the process, largely at the urging of Tayfun Acarer and Ishan Durdu. I remember Tayfun Bey’s first exposure to the ICANN multistakeholder process at its Toronto meeting in 2012. He saw how chaotic and energetic it was, he saw how anyone could offer his or her views and opinions, and he immediately became a convert. I hope that Turkey remains steadfast in its support for the multistakeholder model and that the spirit of the multistakeholder process continues to thrive and grow here. Each of you can play an important role in making that happen and I urge you to do so.

Thank you for listening.