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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at Internet2 Global Summit

April 28, 2015

 

Remarks of Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information
Internet2 Global Summit
Washington, D.C.
April 28, 2015

--As Prepared for Delivery--

      

I am honored to be here to speak at Internet 2’s Global Summit.  Internet2 has been a strong partner with NTIA as a recipient of a $62 million Recovery Act broadband grant.  With this grant, Internet2 has lit or upgraded over 18,000 miles of a national fiber backbone network.  This 100 gigabit per second backbone is accessible to more than 93,000 community anchor institutions through Internet 2’s partnership with regional research and education networks.  Several of these networks also received NTIA grants so we know that in Michigan, North Carolina and numerous other states, the good work of Internet 2 and the research and education community is driving higher speeds and lower cost broadband for schools and other institutions of learning.

However, I did not come here today to talk about broadband.  My topic today is Internet governance.  This is an important and timely issue for everyone who relies on the Internet but particularly for the members of Internet2.  As your website states, “the commercial Internet we know today was shaped by the vision and work of the people and organizations in the Internet2 community.”  Indeed, we only enjoy the Internet today due to the engagement of the academic community decades ago. 

The first four nodes on ARPANET, the experimental network from which the Internet evolved, were universities:  UCLA, Stanford, the University of California at Santa Barbara and the University of Utah.  The first message ever sent was between UCLA and Stanford.  We know from history that this first attempt to login crashed the system but the problem was quickly fixed and the rest is history. 

New challenges to the Internet emerge every day, whether they are related to cybersecurity, privacy, or the free flow of information across borders.  As we confront these challenges, we continue to debate a key question that has dominated international discussions over the last decade or so, specifically who should govern the Internet?  Who should make the decisions that determine what the Internet of tomorrow will look like?  How can we ensure that the decisions made today will enable the Internet to continue to thrive as the amazing engine of economic growth and innovation we enjoy today?

The debate has focused on two very different choices.  One choice is that governments alone should make the key decisions on the governance of the Internet.  This is the choice favored by authoritarian governments that want to restrict the information available to their citizens.  The other choice is to rely on all stakeholders to make these decisions through what is known as the multistakeholder model of Internet governance.

What do we mean by the multistakeholder model?  One expert defines the multistakeholder model 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 to emphasize:  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 multistakeholder 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, multistakeholder processes can encourage broader and more creative problem solving.

The second key attribute is consensus decision-making.  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. 

Multistakeholder organizations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) 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.

There is bipartisan support for the multistakeholder model of Internet governance.  Both Republican and Democratic administrations have consistently emphasized that the multistakeholder process is the best mechanism for making decisions about how the Internet should be managed.  Congress agrees.  Earlier this spring, the Senate unanimously passed Senate Resolution 71, which states that the “United States remains committed to the multistakeholder model of Internet governance in which the private sector works in collaboration with civil society, governments, and technical experts in a consensus fashion.” 

Today, the Internet is at a critical juncture.  We are continuing to oppose efforts by authoritarian regimes to replace multistakeholder decision making with a process limited only to governments.  This debate came to a head in 2012 at the International Telecommunication Union’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in Dubai.  At this meeting, governments split over whether the ITU, a United Nations organization in which only nations have a vote, should have more control over the Internet.  A majority of countries there supported greater governmental control. 

However, since that conference, we have seen a growing acceptance of the multistakeholder model around the world, but particularly in developing countries.  Democracies in the developed world have long supported the multistakeholder model of Internet policymaking.  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) adopted a set of principles for Internet policymaking in 2011 that strongly endorse multistakeholder cooperation.  The OECD principles state, “multistakeholder processes have been shown to provide the flexibility and global scalability required to address Internet policy challenges.”

What is now emerging is greater acceptance of the model in developing countries.  A year ago, Brazil hosted the successful NetMundial conference, which brought together a wide range of stakeholders including technical experts, civil society groups, industry representatives and government officials, all on an equal footing with each other.  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.

Most recently, at the ITU’s 2014 Plenipotentiary conference in Busan, Korea late last year, we saw the fruits of all our work to preserve multistakeholder Internet governance.  The United States achieved all of its objectives in Busan, including keeping the ITU’s work focused on its current mandate and not expanding its role into Internet and cybersecurity issues. 

This validation of the multistakeholder model comes at a critical time.  Last year, NTIA announced its intention to complete the privatization of the Internet Domain Name System (DNS). Key to the operation of the DNS is the performance of important technical functions known as the IANA functions, the most well known of which is the maintenance of the authoritative root zone file, the telephone book for the Internet that supports the routing of all traffic to websites. 

The process of privatization of the DNS began in 1998, when NTIA entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with ICANN to transition technical DNS coordination and management functions to the private sector.  A year ago in March, NTIA asked ICANN to convene a multistakeholder process to develop a proposal to take the final step to complete the transition of the U.S. stewardship over the IANA functions to the international community.  We did this to ensure that the multistakeholder model for DNS coordination continues.  Some governments have long bristled at the historical role the U.S. government has played in the DNS and have used our continued stewardship of the DNS as an excuse to argue for greater government control over how the Internet is governed.

When we announced this transition, we outlined some specific conditions that must be addressed before this transition takes place.  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 resiliency 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.

We are pleased that the community has responded enthusiastically to our call to develop a transition plan that will ensure the stability, security and openness of the Internet.  The community is in the process of developing proposals related to the specific IANA functions as well as examining how to ensure ICANN remains accountable to the global Internet community. 

I am confident that engaging the global Internet community to work out these important issues 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. 

Some of you here today are likely participating in the stakeholder discussions to design the transition plan.  Others of you are no doubt wondering why you should care about this transition and what is at stake for you.  The members of Internet2, such as universities and research institutions, depend on the free flow of information.  Completing the privatization of the Domain Name System is an important step to ensure that the Internet remains a global platform for the free exchange of ideas, commerce and social progress.

Failing to complete the transition, as we promised 17 years ago, risks breaking trust in the United States and in the underlying system that has enabled the Internet to work seamlessly for consumers and businesses.  Introducing this uncertainty could have a significant impact on American companies that depend on the Internet to do business if other countries respond by erecting barriers to the free flow of information or worst case, abandoning the long-held belief in the power of a single Internet root. 

The transition plan is being developed by the Internet’s stakeholders and must be a proposal that generates consensus support from the multistakeholder community.  All of you can play a role to ensure a good outcome.  First, I encourage you to participate in the transition planning process.  You are an important constituency and those crafting this plan must hear from you as this transition progresses.  Second, stay informed on the progress of the transition.  When the community completes its consensus plan, let your voice be heard in support of completing the transition.  We all have a stake in this transition and in ensuring the Internet remains an open, dynamic platform for economic and social progress. Decades ago, the academic community played a central role in the development of the Internet; now we need you to play an active role in its future.

Thank you for listening.



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