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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation 03/17/2016

Remarks of Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation
Washington, D.C.
March 17, 2016

--As prepared for delivery--

I want to thank ITIF and Daniel Castro for holding this event on the evolution of Internet governance.  I will focus my remarks on the challenges and issues I see before us for the year ahead but given the recent ICANN meeting in Morocco and the hearing later this morning, I should spend a few minutes updating everyone on the IANA transition. 

I am sure that everyone in the audience today knows that last week, the Internet multistakeholder community completed its work on the IANA transition plan including measures to enhance ICANN’s accountability. ICANN formally transmitted the transition package to NTIA a week ago today.

We have now begun the process of reviewing the proposal to determine whether it meets the criteria we outlined when we announced the transition.  Just to remind all of you, when we announced the transition two years ago, we established 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.

We expect to complete our review in 90 days.  Prior to completing our review, we expect ICANN and the community to adopt all the necessary bylaw changes to implement the transition proposals.   In our review, we will be joined by other federal agencies to evaluate the plan.  We will also be guided by the recommendations of the Government Accountability Office. As evidenced by today’s hearing, 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. Now that we have begun our review, I will not be providing any substantive comments or evaluations on the plan until we complete our work. 

But I do want to take this opportunity to once again thank the Internet community for all its hard work. I know some of you here have participated in that process, which represents the largest and most complex multistakeholder process ever undertaken.  I greatly appreciate the time and commitment you and other stakeholders have given to this process.  And as I have said on other occasions, 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.

This is an important fact as it has implications for the Internet governance challenges we will be facing in the future.  Already, our announcement and the amazing amount of work the community has completed, has helped to catalyze and build support for the multistakeholder model around the world. In April 2014, a month after we announced the transition, 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. This was followed by the high level meeting at the June 2014 ICANN meeting in London at which government 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 2015 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.

Here in 2016, what do we see as the landscape for Internet governance this year?

Countries around the world will continue to grapple with the challenges of the open Internet. We all accept and take for granted that the Internet has produced dramatic economic growth and incredible innovation and provides an important platform for free expression around the globe.  At the same time, we have seen the growth of sophisticated malware and other cyber security threats and an increasing need to protect the privacy of Internet users and to combat the theft of intellectual property online. These challenges have tested governments’ ability to balance these important interests with the equally important need for openness. In their attempts to do something to protect their citizens and businesses, governments sometimes rush to put up digital walls between their countries and the rest of the world by proposing or instituting data localization laws, as well as imposing limitations on data storage, data transfer, and data processing. Such moves, however, threaten to undermine the central idea of the Internet as a global, connected network of networks. And in responding to these concerns, governments sometimes lose sight of the power of the multistakeholder process to find solutions to these problems.

In addition to the IANA transition, here are the leading Internet governance questions for 2016 as I see them:

First, will the multistakeholder model expand to meet the needs of the developing world?  With its new ten-year mandate, the IGF is poised to play a major role here if the global Internet community takes up the challenge.  This will also be an important year to determine if the NetMundial Initiative can become a useful resource.  It has been handicapped from the start by its failure to make a compelling case to attract the support of the business community and the Internet Society.  Its initial funding runs out this summer so it does not have much more time to demonstrate what value it can provide.  The terms of the members of the inaugural Coordination Council end in June and we expect to Council to consult with the public this spring as it determines whether there is a future direction for the Initiative that the community will support.

Second, where is China in the Internet governance debate?  While we have been pleased by the growing support for the multistakeholder model, we are under no illusion that nations that favor a government-run, multilateral approach to Internet governance are going away quietly. China is among the countries that have sent mixed messages on its support for the multistakeholder approach. China has participated in ICANN – it even served on the first two accountability and review teams and Minister Lu Wei has said supportive things about the multistakeholder model in the past.  But does December’s Wuzhen conference indicate that China intends to go its own way on these issues, more in line with its recent statements about the cyber sovereignty of nations and the need for multilateral, not multistakeholder, Internet governance?

Third, can the multistakeholder model be used effectively to address Internet policy issues that come up in the context of privacy, cybersecurity and other issues where governments historically have had a mandate to act?  For our part at NTIA, we have been utilizing the multistakeholder process the past few years as an alternative to traditional legislation and regulation and we will continue to do so this year with respect to work on drones, cybersecurity, privacy and copyright issues. 

In this regard, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development promulgated a landmark document five years ago – the OECD Internet Policymaking Principles – which support the utilization of the multistakeholder approach to deal with policy issues.  The OECD’s Ministerial meeting in June will provide an opportunity to reflect on and assess the effectiveness of the Principles. 

And finally, for the Department of Commerce and NTIA, how can we help American businesses navigate their way through these issues as they attempt to establish markets for their products worldwide?  As a start, the Department announced last week the creation of a pilot program of Digital Attaches in our Foreign Commercial Service to ensure that U.S. companies can participate in the global digital economy and reach markets around the globe. This new program will provide support and assistance to help U.S. businesses successfully deal with digital policy and regulatory issues in foreign markets and expand exports through global e-commerce channels. NTIA will be involved with this initiative along with other bureaus here at Commerce in helping to train these attaches.

We are in 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.   We will continue to work to ensure the Internet remains a dynamic platform for innovation, economic growth and free expression.

Thank you for listening.