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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at Tenth Annual State of the Net Conference

Remarks of Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Tenth Annual State of the Net Conference
The Newseum, Washington, D.C.
January 28, 2014

- As Prepared for Delivery-

Thank you, Milton, for your introduction and thanks to all of you for being here today to contribute to the discussion of the multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance.  I am especially pleased to be here with my partner on these issues in the Administration, Ambassador Danny Sepulveda, who is the coordinator on international communications issues at the Department of State. 

Since the goal of this session is to define what we mean by the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance, I want to share my thoughts as to the key attributes of the multi-stakeholder model and why it is important to preserve and expand the concept.  At NTIA, we work with multi-stakeholder processes both domestically and internationally.  Most all of you, I am sure, are familiar with our work with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which operates as a multi-stakeholder organization.  Here in the United States, NTIA is convening groups to develop multi-stakeholder codes of conduct that implement the consumer bill of rights laid out in the President’s Blueprint on Consumer Data Privacy.  We helped stakeholders complete the first code, dealing with mobile app transparency, last year and next week we will convene a second effort, this one focused on facial recognition.

Multi-stakeholder organizations have played a major role in the design and operation of the Internet and are directly responsible for its success.  Within the Obama Administration, we believe that maintaining and extending this model is important to ensure the continued growth and innovation of the Internet.

Our support for the multi-stakeholder model of Internet policymaking is shared by many countries.  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) adopted a set of principles for Internet policymaking in 2011 that strongly endorse multi-stakeholder cooperation.  The OECD principles state that “multi-stakeholder processes have been shown to provide the flexibility and global scalability required to address Internet policy challenges.”

So that’s all fine but how do we define the multi-stakeholder model?  To get the discussion going, let’s look at the definition of the multi-stakeholder process adopted by no less an authority on the topic than Milton Mueller.  In his book, Networks and States, Milton describes the multi-stakeholder process as different interest groups coming together on an equal footing to “identify problems, define solutions, and agree on roles and responsibilities for policy development, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.[1]” 

From that description, there are two key attributes I want to highlight:  participation and consensus decision-making.

Let me start with participation.  Internet policy issues draw a much larger range of stakeholders than traditional telecommunications issues.  One key benefit of multi-stakeholder processes is that they can include and engage all interested parties.  Such parties can include industry, civil society, government, technical and academic experts and even the general public.  The Internet is a diverse, multi-layered system that thrives only through the cooperation of many different parties.  Solving, or even meaningfully discussing, policy issues in this space, requires engaging these different parties.  Indeed, by encouraging the participation of all interested parties, multi-stakeholder processes can encourage broader and more creative problem solving.

The second key attribute is consensus decision-making.  As Milton’s definition states, it is important that stakeholders come together on an equal footing.  The best way to ensure that all parties are treated equally is to make decisions on a consensus basis.  Final decisions need to reflect the views of all stakeholders as opposed to just the views of only one of the stakeholder communities involved. 

This year may well be a watershed year for the multi-stakeholder model of Internet policymaking.  Last October, the leaders of the Internet technical community - the I Stars – came together to spearhead an international campaign to craft Internet governance principles and propose a roadmap for the further evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem.  In December, a High Level Panel on Global Internet Cooperation and Governance Mechanisms, chaired by the President of Estonia and including members from around the world, convened in London to study these issues and provide thoughts on the evolution of Internet governance.  In April, Brazil is hosting the Global Multi-stakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance.  We are impressed with the open and inclusive process Brazil has instituted to plan for this meeting, and we have been in touch with the Brazilian government as we consider the best potential role for the US government.

Later in the year, Minister Ed Vaizey of the United Kingdom will host a high-level ministerial meeting in connection with the ICANN meeting in London at which these issues will be discussed.  Then, in late summer, the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul, Turkey will provide an additional opportunity for global discussions.

The US government appreciates the thoughtful leadership of the Internet technical community on this important issue.  It is encouraging to see a broad coalition of Internet stakeholders working together to address these challenges in the spirit and tradition of the multi-stakeholder process, and we are hopeful these initiatives will improve current multi-stakeholder approaches.  In particular, we hope the efforts of the High Level Panel will provide ample grist for follow-up discussions at these global meetings.  We want to work collectively to make multi-stakeholder governance more inclusive while maintaining the stability of the open and innovative Internet.  It is especially critical that these discussions engage nations of the developing world to build a global consensus on the importance of the multi-stakeholder process in Internet governance. 

Let me close by saying that while the US government has long championed the multi-stakeholder approach as the preferred tool for dealing with Internet policy issues, it is important to remember that the multi-stakeholder approach is not an end in and of itself.  We do believe that it is the tool best suited to ensure the continued growth and innovation of the Internet but it is the how, not the why.  The Obama Administration pledges to work with other nations to maintain a policy environment that embraces the multi-stakeholder model and to ensure that the Internet remains an open and dynamic platform for innovation, job creation, and economic growth.

Thank you for listening.


[1] Mueller, M.2010.  Networks and States, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, at 82, quoting Karen Banks.