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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at ICANN/GAC High Level Governmental Meeting

Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
ICANN/GAC High Level Governmental Meeting
Marrakech, Morocco
March 7, 2016

—As Prepared for Delivery—

I am pleased to be here today at the third GAC High Level Governmental Meeting.  I would like to thank the government of Morocco for the invitation and Minister Elalamy for the hospitality and generosity he has shown all of us.  I would also like to acknowledge the hosts of our previous two meetings here in the room today – Associate Deputy Minister Kelly Gillis from Canada and Minister Ed Vaizey from the United Kingdom.

These meetings are the result of work of ICANN’s first Accountability and Transparency Review Team which recommended holding these meetings to increase the level of support and commitment of governments to the ICANN multistakeholder process.  Canada hosted the first of these high level meetings in Toronto in 2012 where participants affirmed the importance of the multistakeholder model and made recommendations for improving ICANN's accountability.  These recommendations were affirmed in the second Accountability and Transparency Review Team report released in 2013.  The second high level meeting in London in 2014 provided Ministers and senior officials the opportunity to announce their support for the IANA Stewardship transition which we had announced in March of that year. 

Since that first meeting in Toronto, we have seen ICANN mature as an organization and take important steps to improve its accountability and transparency.  Today in Marrakech, we are at an important crossroads as the stakeholder community completes its proposal to transition the stewardship role of the United States over the IANA functions that has existed since the stakeholders established ICANN 18 years ago.

At this historic moment, I want to recap why the transition of the U.S. government’s stewardship role of the Internet Domain Name System is so important for the Internet.  From the inception of ICANN in 1998, the United States government envisioned that its stewardship role in the IANA functions would be temporary.   At that time, we made a commitment to privatize the domain name system because we recognized that a private coordinating process based on multistakeholder governance would be more flexible than government control and would move rapidly enough to meet the changing needs of the Internet and of Internet users.

The Internet has grown and thrived largely because of the multitude of folks around the globe who have come together through multistakeholder processes to solve technical and policy challenges on a consensus basis.  The U.S. government has been a strong proponent of this model, and we believed in 2014 and still believe today that transitioning our stewardship role is the best path to preserving and strengthening this multistakeholder model that has worked so well.  This model has demonstrated over the years that it is a powerful mechanism for protecting the Internet as a driver of economic growth, innovation and free speech.

Two years have passed since we announced our intent to complete the privatization of the Domain Name System and much has happened since then as the community has risen to the challenge to develop a transition plan that has broad community support.  The efforts to date represent the largest multistakeholder process ever taken.  Stakeholders have spent more than 26,000 working hours on the proposal, exchanged more than 33,000 messages on mailing lists and held more than 600 meetings and calls.

By their very nature, multistakeholder processes are not easy.  They require the full commitment of stakeholders to work together to reach consensus decisions.  They need to operate in an open, transparent and accountable manner.  The proceedings can be contentious, and yes, chaotic at times.  There’s give and take, and rarely does anyone get everything he or she wants.  But at the end of the day, the process is about reaching agreement after taking all views into account.

Over the last two years, members of the IANA Transition Coordination Working Group (ICG) and the ICANN Cross Community Working Group on Accountability (CCWG) have worked tirelessly to develop the two elements of the IANA transition stewardship proposal.  Scoping the issues, understanding the challenges, working through the various scenarios and then engaging with the various ICANN constituency groups and IANA customers along the way was not easy.  Both the ICG and the CCWG showed incredible determination, focus and then flexibility to adjust, as conditions required.

For its part, the CCWG has considered a series of options to empower the community ranging from a “multi member” model to a “sole member” model before finally setting on the current “sole designator” proposal.  At each step of the process, the CCWG responded to concerns raised to public comments and made adjustments without ever losing sight of the overall goal to provide the community with meaningful governance protections.

I applaud all those who participated in and contributed to the ICG and CCWG processes, which worked  through very complex issues.  ICANN is stronger as a result of this effort.  And a successful outcome here will serve as a powerful example to the world of the power and capability of the multistakeholder model to solve difficult issues regarding the Internet.

Looking back on this two-year effort, is there any question whether we were correct to call on the multistakeholder community to develop the transition proposal?  I believe without a doubt that we were.  Could any other process have brought together the views and ideas of so many people in such a short period of time to solve such complicated and important issues?  I do not think so.  The collaboration among diverse interests that is on the verge of receiving final community support is a true testament to the multistakeholder model.

So, what’s next?  Assuming final approval of the plan by chartering organizations in the next couple of days, we expect the Board to transmit the proposal to us this week.  Once we receive the transition proposal, we will review it, hopefully within 90 days, to ensure it meets the criteria we outlined when we announced the transition.  Let me remind all of you of the specific conditions that we said that the plan must satisfy.  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.

As promptly as we can, we will carefully evaluate the proposal and measure it against the criteria.  In this effort, we will be joined by other agencies of the U.S. government that will be impacted by the transition.  We will also follow the recommendations of the U.S. Government Accountability Office.  The U.S. Congress has a strong interest in this proposal and we expect Congress to closely monitor and review the proposal as well as our evaluation of the plan.

As I look back on the past couple of years since we announced our intent to transition our stewardship role, I am even more confident in the ability of the multistakeholder community to continue to successfully resolve the many pressing policy and technical challenges of the global Internet. 

I also believe that our announcement two years ago has helped to catalyze and build support for the multistakeholder model around the world. In April 2014, Brazil hosted the successful NetMundial Conference.  The conference brought together a wide range of stakeholders including technical experts, civil society groups, industry representatives and government officials who agreed that Internet governance should be built on democratic multistakeholder processes.   As I already mentioned, Minister Vaizey hosted a high level meeting at the June 2014 ICANN meeting in London at which ministers demonstrated their support for the transition and for the multistakeholder model in general.  At the end of 2014, the International Telecommunication Union’s Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan, Korea concluded with a consensus outcome that the ITU should remain focused on its current mandate and not expand its role into Internet and cybersecurity issues.

We saw this momentum carry over into 2015.  India – the world’s largest democracy – announced its support for the multistakeholder approach to Internet governance at the June ICANN meeting in Buenos Aires.  Finally, In December, the international community provided another boost to the multistakeholder model when the United Nations’ High Level Meeting on the 10-year review of the implementation of the World Summit on the Information Society agreed to extend the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) for an additional ten years.  This extension is twice the length of the IGF’s original five-year mandate.  The final outcomes document includes language that affirms the primacy of the multistakeholder approach to developing the Information Society.

This year marks the final year of the Obama Administration.  In our remaining time, we will remain active and engaged around the globe whether it is at ICANN, the IGF, or in any other venue where these issues will be debated and discussed.  The OECD Ministerial in June will provide an opportunity to reflect on and assess the OECD Internet Policymaking Principles and their link to the NetMundial outcome document.

In conclusion, every one of us has a stake in ensuring the continued growth, job formation and wealth creation that an open Internet brings.  I urge you all to work to preserve and grow this vibrant platform of innovation, economic growth and free expression.

Thank you for listening.