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Keynote Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at the Internet Society's INET Conference

Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Internet Society's INET Series: What kind of Internet do you want?
New York, NY
June 14, 2011

-As prepared for delivery-

Good afternoon.  I am pleased to join you here today in New York at the Internet Society’s INET Conference.  Just over a year ago, I delivered remarks at the Washington, DC INET event and introduced the Obama Administration’s vision for Internet policymaking.  I want to thank Lynn St. Amour and Sally Wentworth for the invitation to return today to provide you an update on the global challenges confronting the Internet and the actions we are taking at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to respond to those challenges.  

Before getting stared however, I would first like to offer congratulations to the Internet Society for organizing last week’s World IPv6 day.  NTIA was among a wide range of organizations, including U.S. government agencies and Internet companies that participated.  It was a critical learning opportunity.  The activities helped draw attention to this important undertaking and provided a good opportunity for both the public and private sectors to make additional strides in IPv6 deployment efforts.  Congratulations for a job well done.  We look forward to future opportunities to partner with the Internet Society and other stakeholders on this important issue.

Now on to today’s topic. The question is what kind of Internet do I want?  Unlike Vint, I do not have a comprehensive answer to that question, but I do know I want an Internet that is open, innovative, growing and global and that continues to rely on the established global Internet institutions for guidance and direction. 

When I spoke to you last year, I said we were at an ‘all hands on deck’ moment in terms of working together to preserve, enhance and increase everyone’s access to an open, global Internet.  Events over the last year have only confirmed the need for action.  We have seen more and more instances of restrictions on the free flow of information online, disputes between various standards bodies, and statements by international organizations and some governments to regulate the Internet more directly.  All of these events only strengthen my view that it truly is a time for all those who are concerned about maintaining a vibrant and growing Internet, as well as preserving established global Internet institutions, to get involved.  We have a full agenda at NTIA on a long list of Internet policy issues.  At the top of the list is the need to preserve and enhance the multistakeholder model that has been a hallmark feature of the global Internet institutions that have been responsible for the success of the Internet.

Multistakeholder organizations, like the Internet Society, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) have played a major role in the design and operation of the Internet. In addition, this multistakeholder concept is critical to preserving what you – the Internet Society – have termed the ‘user-centric Internet’.  Maintaining the openness, transparency, and user choice of today’s Internet can only be sustained and advanced in a world where all stakeholders participate in relevant decision making, not one where governments, or other stakeholders, dominate.  We believe that preserving our existing institutions while extending this model to other aspects of Internet policymaking is important for ensuring the continued growth and innovation of the Internet.

Fortunately we have several opportunities in the coming weeks to do just that.  At the end of June, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) is convening a High Level Meeting on the Internet Economy in Paris for senior decision-makers from governments, the private sector and civil society.  The meeting is an unprecedented opportunity to advance the global consensus around the working multistakeholder model that we believe is critical to the Internet’s success.  Just as important, the Internet policymaking principles that will be considered in Paris provide an opportunity for many nations to agree that there is no  need for a treaty-based regulatory regime for the Internet.  Such a regime threatens the key attributes of flexibility and decentralized decision making that have led to the Internet’s success and would put future growth and innovation at risk.

From all of this it should be crystal clear that the Obama Administration is fully committed to the multistakeholder model of Internet governance.  We have strongly supported the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), a key multistakeholder institution.  I believe that the IGF is the very embodiment of the multistakeholder Internet governance model and was gratified to see it specifically mentioned in the recent statement of the G8 leaders.  I am very pleased that the United Nations has renewed the mandate of the IGF for an additional five years and I look forward to attending this year’s meeting in Nairobi, Kenya.

We have also devoted a great deal of attention to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).  ICANN is important not just because of its multistakeholder nature, but also because of its core mission to provide technical coordination of the Internet's domain name system (DNS).   I have been quite direct in criticizing some aspects of ICANN.  But it is not because of any concern about the model.  We remain committed to the ICANN model as the best way to preserve and protect the security and stability of the DNS.  But as with any important institution, it is important that the reality match the vision and thus, we should never shy away from critically evaluating its performance and making improvements where appropriate. 

And there have been improvements. In recent speeches, I have highlighted the progress that ICANN has made since we signed the Affirmation of Commitments in 2009. Today, however, I will once again focus on two key challenges confronting the ICANN Board as it prepares for its meeting in Singapore next week.

First is the accountability and transparency of ICANN’s decision-making processes.  The Affirmation of Commitments, among other things, established four global multistakeholder review teams to evaluate ICANN’s performance and execution on key tasks. The first of these review teams is related to preserving and enhancing accountability and transparency in ICANN’s decision making and ensuring the interests of global Internet users are taken into account.  I had the privilege of serving on the first Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT).   Last December, after many months of work, the team set forth what we think are thoughtful and meaningful suggestions, based on community stakeholder input, to enhance and improve this model. 

The recommendations deal with some of the key building blocks of the ICANN model, specifically: (1) Board governance, performance and composition; (2) the role and effectiveness of the Government Advisory Committee, or the GAC, and its interaction with the Board; (3) the processes for public input into the policy development process; and (4) the mechanisms for the review of Board decisions. 

For the most part, our recommendations are not new.  They have been suggested in past studies from past years.  The question now is whether the ICANN Board and management have the discipline and will power to embrace and implement these recommendations in a serious and meaningful way.  It is my expectation as a Review Team Member and co-signer of the Affirmation that the Board will respond to this challenge and move to implement these recommendations at the upcoming ICANN meeting in Singapore.  In order for ICANN to continue to enjoy the support of global stakeholders, it must take the specific proactive steps outlined by the Review Team to ensure that the accountability and transparency of its day-to-day operations match the expectations of the global Internet community. 

A second challenge facing ICANN as the Singapore meeting approaches is finding a way to adequately address the collective concerns of governments, as expressed through the Government Advisory Committee, regarding the possible expansion of generic top level domain names (gTLDs).  I have spoken before about my concern that one of the greatest challenges facing the Internet in the next five years is its political sustainability, which of course forces us to confront the question of what the collective role of nation-states is with respect to the multistakeholder governance model. 

The ICANN Board – GAC interaction in recent months is a perfect example of this challenge.  Those discussions represent the first really meaningful exchanges between the Board and the GAC to understand and evaluate GAC advice on the gTLD program and I commend ICANN for its efforts to respond to the GAC advice.  For the long-term success of ICANN, it is critical that the lessons learned from these recent interactions result in clear, predictable processes and work methods for the ICANN Board and the GAC going forward, and I urge they be codified.

With the Singapore meeting starting this weekend, the ICANN Board and the GAC are down to just a handful of issues to resolve.  From our perspective, the large remaining issue is how to implement a meaningful way for governments, via the GAC, to express objections to proposed sensitive strings.  The United States and other nations are quite concerned by ICANN’s current position. On the other hand, the Board has indicated that a GAC consensus objection to a proposed string for any reason gives rise to a strong presumption for the Board to deny the application. We support that. But on the other hand the Boar is attempting to dictate the terms of how the GAC should develop its consensus advice. This we oppose. The GAC has been operating on a consensus basis as set forth in its operating principles. There is no basis for ICANN to now attempt to dictate a new definition of consensus in the context of the expansion of top level domains.

In light of the reporting of some recent events, particularly the eG8 meeting in France last month, I want to emphasize that this proposal for dealing with objectionable proposed top-level domains is not intended to turn over decision-making to governments.  Instead, we need to find a way to bring governments willingly, if not enthusiastically, into the tent of multistakeholder policymaking. While some nations persist in proposing such measures as giving the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) the authority to veto ICANN Board decisions, the United States is most assuredly opposed to overturning the proven governance model that has built and spread the Internet around the world with extraordinary openness, speed and innovation. Subjecting the leading Internet institutions such as ICANN, and the IETF, to traditional treaty-based regulation, such as the ITU, would certainly lead to the imposition of heavy-handed and economically misguided regulation and the loss of flexibility the current system allows today, all of which would jeopardize the growth and innovation we have enjoyed these past years.  The United States government will work with other nations to protect existing global Internet institutions by better defining the role of governments as a set of stakeholders.  We do not seek to supplant these institutions with a United Nations or treaty based regime.

Yet another example of NTIA’s commitment to the multistakeholder model is the process we have underway to review the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions contract.  The IANA functions have historically included:  (1) the coordination of the assignment of technical Internet protocol parameters; (2) the administration of certain responsibilities associated with Internet DNS root zone management; (3) the allocation of Internet numbering resources; and (4) other services related to the management of the .ARPA and .INT top-level domains.  As you know, ICANN currently performs the IANA functions, on behalf of the United States Government, through a contract with NTIA.  This contract expires on September 30, 2011 and on March 4, 2011 NTIA issued a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) to seek global stakeholder input on how to enhance the performance of the IANA functions in the development and award of a new contract.

We received comments from stakeholders from around the world and thank those of you in this room who took the time to file comments on such an important issue.  The fact that so many of the comments are from stakeholders outside of the United States reinforces the global nature of the Internet and the need for us at NTIA to understand that our stewardship role in this area must reflect the interests of stakeholders worldwide.  With that in mind, we carefully reviewed the comments received and just this week issued a Further Notice of Inquiry (FNOI).

The Further Notice is our attempt to go back to the global community and confirm that we interpreted correctly what was said in the comments.  We set forth our tentative conclusions in response to the comments and then provided a draft Statement of Work for public comment.  Based on the input of the global Internet community, we are proposing the following changes in the IANA functions contract:

  • First, we propose a functional separation between DNS policymaking wherever it occurs, at ICANN or elsewhere, and the actual execution of the tasks associated with the IANA functions;
  • Second, we propose enhanced transparency and accountability through the development of documentation processes as well as performance standards and metrics to establish service levels; and,
  • Third, we propose that the contractor needs to include documentation that demonstrates how proposed new gTLD strings have received consensus support from relevant stakeholders and are supported by the global public interest.

This process is the first comprehensive review of the IANA functions contract since the award of the initial contract in 2000 and the first time NTIA has sought public input on the draft Statement of Work.  In keeping with our commitment to the multistakeholder model, NTIA is actively seeking the input of global stakeholders.  I encourage you to all carefully read the Further Notice and submit comments.

Finally, given that the panel that directly follows my remarks is on new privacy frameworks, I would like to give you a brief update on where we are in our thinking on privacy.  Last December, after convening a workshop and soliciting comments, we released a green paper recommending the establishment of stronger privacy protections for online commercial data. I would like to highlight two key elements of our proposed framework.

The starting point is the green paper’s recognition that strong privacy protection is necessary to preserve and build the trust of users of the Internet. In March, the Obama Administration announced its support for legislation that would set forth a baseline set of privacy protections for all consumers. There are many statements of these Fair Information Practice Principles, and NTIA is working with other Federal agencies to develop a version that is a useful guide for consumers as well as the organizations that handle personal data. 

Second, drawing on the power of the multistakeholder process, we then propose that companies, civil society and others come together to take the baseline protections and expand them into  legally enforceable codes of conduct.  To get there, we will need a process that incorporates input from everyone who has a stake in consumer data privacy. As we laid out in the green paper the Department of Commerce plans to be the facilitator or convener of these discussions, which will allow companies, consumers, civil liberties advocates, and academics to forge a consensus on how the privacy principles should apply in specific industries or business contexts. 

Though we are still working out the details, we envision an open process, in which anyone who is willing to contribute careful thought and a willingness to work toward consensus will be able to participate.  It is essential that this process produce standards that are legally enforceable as well as be faithful to the consumer data privacy principles we are developing, but beyond that, stakeholders should do the deliberating and be in control of the outcome. 

In closing, I reiterate that now is the time for all those that believe in an open, global Internet to get involved and actively participate in the various global Internet institutions.  In the Obama Administration, we will continue to improve and strengthen existing multistakeholder processes as an essential strategy for dealing with Internet policy issues.  We will address how all stakeholders, including governments collectively, can operate within the paradigm of a multistakeholder environment and be satisfied that their interests are being adequately addressed.  Resolving this issue is critical to ensure the long term political sustainability of an Internet that supports the free flow of information, goods and services as well as meeting the Internet Society’s commitment to preserving the user-centric Internet. 

Thank you.