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Remarks by Assistant Secretary Strickling at ICANN High Level Governmental Meeting

June 23, 2014

Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
ICANN High Level Governmental Meeting
London, United Kingdom
June 23, 2014

--As prepared for delivery--

Thank you, Minister.  I'm very pleased to be here today at the High Level Governmental Meeting and I want to thank you Minister Ed Vaizey and his staff for organizing this discussion.

The first Accountability and Transparency Team recommended holding these meetings as a way to increase the level of support and commitment of governments to the ICANN multistakeholder process.  As you've heard, Canada hosted the first of these meetings in Toronto in 2012 where participants did affirm the importance of the multistakeholder model and made recommendations for improving ICANN's accountability, all of which were addressed in the second Accountability and Transparency Review Team report released at the end of last year. This week in London, the ICANN board will be making its formal response to that latest set of recommendations.  

As you have heard, this is an eventful year for Internet governance issues.  Already we have seen the successful NETmundial meeting, which Brazil hosted in April.  At this meeting, which Virgilio Almeida will summarize later today, 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 released its report once again affirming the power of multistakeholder policy development, and just last Friday 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.”  In September, Turkey will host a pivotal Internet governance forum, followed by Korea hosting the ITU plenipotentiary conference in October.

Earlier in March, the United States government added its contribution to this year's Internet governance agenda when we announced our intent to transition our role in key Internet domain name functions, which are called the IANA functions, to the global multistakeholder community. 

From inception of ICANN in 1998, we envisioned that our role in the IANA functions would be temporary.  We took this action last spring for two reasons.  First, as ICANN has performed the IANA functions over the years, it has matured as an organization and has taken important steps to improve its accountability and transparency as well as its technical competence.  Second, as witnessed so strongly in Sao Paulo, international support has continued to grow for the multistakeholder model of Internet governance.

In March, we asked ICANN to convene global stakeholders to develop a proposal to transition the current role played by my agency, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), in the coordination of the domain name system.  Our role is largely procedural in that NTIA verifies that ICANN followed its policies and procedures in processing domain name change requests.  NTIA then authorizes Verisign to proceed in implementing those changes.  We have no operational role and we do not initiate any changes to the root zone file, to the assignment of IP numbers, or the allocation of Internet numbering resources. 

In making our announcement, we have communicated a number of conditions that we insist must apply to the transition.  First, the proposal must support and enhance the multistakeholder model 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.  And in that regard, all we have put on the table is a transitioning of our role.  Due to the need to maintain security and stability, we have not asked for an evaluation of the role of ICANN and Verisign in this process.  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.

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.  Theresa Swinehart will be providing more details on that process later in this session, but I will just address the matter of timing.  The current contract between ICANN and NTIA is scheduled to expire September 30, 2015.  To the extent that all projects of this nature benefit from setting a timeline for work, that is a good date for the community to use.  But we have not set a deadline. If the community needs more time, we can extend the contract past September 2015 for up to four years.

But we all should understand that before any transition takes place, the businesses, civil society and technical experts of this community must present a consensus plan that ensures the uninterrupted and stable functioning of the Internet and its present openness.

Now, I will be happy to answer any questions you have about this matter, but before I close, I'd like to offer some suggestions to those of you who are wondering how you can help achieve a smooth transition.

First, show your support for the transition process by participating in it.  We have made it crystal clear that the plan should be developed in an open and transparent manner.  Now, there will be coordination just out of necessity, and you've heard reference to a coordination group that will do just that.  But anyone can provide input into the process.  And I urge you to do so. 

Second, continue to demonstrate your support for the multistakeholder model of Internet governance.  As with any consensus-based organization, one will not always be able to get everything one wants.  But that is a hallmark of the process.  It is not a sign of failure of the process.

Third, reaffirm the importance of consensus.  This is particularly true for governments participating at ICANN through the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC).  As one group of stakeholders in the ICANN process, governments have unique power to speak to the public interest when they speak as one based on consensus positions.  As Minister Lu Wei commented, the Internet does not respect national boundaries.  No one country, no two countries, no 10 countries can claim to speak on behalf of the public interest.  And this fact is reflected in the ICANN bylaws in which governments can provide advice on public policy matters to the board.  But such advice only has true power when it is presented as the consensus advice of governments, and any effort by governments to eliminate that requirement of consensus will simply weaken the role of governments within ICANN.

And finally, continue to work with all of the stakeholders at ICANN to improve accountability and transparency of the organization.  Government officials from China, Denmark, Costa Rica, Australia, and the EU have made important contributions through their participation on the two prior Accountability and Transparency Review teams, and I encourage all of you to contribute to these efforts in the future. Thank you for listening.