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Remarks of Assistant Secretary Strickling at the Internet Governance Forum Opening Session 12/06/2016

Remarks of Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Internet Governance Forum
Opening Session
Guadalajara, Mexico
December 6, 2016
--As Prepared for Delivery--

Nearly 20 years ago, the United States promised to privatize the Internet’s domain name system.  Two years ago, the United States announced its intent to complete the privatization once the multistakeholder community developed a consensus plan for that transition.  The transition was discussed in great deal at the IGF in Istanbul in 2014 and again last year in João Pessoa. Today I am pleased to appear here at IGF 2016 to report that the transition is now complete and was completed as of October 1, 2016.  The United States Government now stands on an equal footing with all other governments with respect to ICANN and the domain name system.

For the past two years, the world has witnessed the power of the multistakeholder model of Internet governance.  In developing the IANA transition plan, stakeholders around the world, including many of you, have provided perhaps the most compelling demonstration of the power of this model that we have ever witnessed.

The challenge now before us is how we can expand and evolve the multistakeholder approach.  Can we build on the success of the IANA transition and the outcome of the 10-year review of the World Summit on the Information Society to tackle other Internet policy challenges? To do this, we must understand and adhere to the attributes of a successful multistakeholder model.

It is clear that the most effective multistakeholder processes are ones that:

  • Include and integrate the viewpoints of a diverse range of stakeholders, ensuring that historically underrepresented groups have a meaningful say in the policies that impact them;
  • Produce outcomes that are consensus-based, reflect compromise, and are broadly supported by the stakeholder communities;
  • Build agendas through bottom-up contributions rather than delivering top-down mandates;
  • And earn legitimacy by practicing openness and transparency and developing an environment of trust.

Let me elaborate on this legitimacy point, because it is perhaps the most critical component. Participants must have some trust in those convening the process and a sense that the world at large will accept and recognize the outcome of the process as authoritative.

So where does legitimacy come from?  Often that legitimacy may come from a government or some other “official” entity that convenes the process.  But government does not always need to be the legitimizing force. 

For example, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is an example of a successful multistakeholder body that has gained legitimacy organically over the years and did not require the blessing of a government agency like NTIA.  Instead, the IETF gained its legitimacy by producing voluntary standards of the highest quality.  So, while legitimacy is a crucial factor in the success of a multistakeholder process, there may be different ways to obtain it.

One thing is clear.  To be accepted as legitimate, a process needs to be open to any participant and consciously include a diversity of stakeholders.  The Internet thrives only through the cooperation of many different parties. Solving or even meaningfully discussing policy issues in this space requires engaging participants from industry, civil society, governments, technical experts and the academic communities.  Absent this openness and diversity, it can be difficult to achieve the degree of legitimacy needed for a multistakeholder process to be successful. At the same time, participants must know that they will be the ones to make the decision – not someone else – and that it must be a consensus decision.

Expanding and evolving the multistakeholder process also requires a dedicated and concerted effort to educate people about the multistakeholder model.  It is up to those of us who support the model to build greater awareness and understanding of it among key policymakers, business leaders, and others around the world.

When we engage in those educational efforts, we must be direct and upfront and explain that multistakeholder processes are not easy.  They can be chaotic and they do require a serious commitment of time and energy from participants.  But we can point to a record of success.  We can explain that they offer a nimble, flexible approach and are better suited to rapidly changing technology and markets than traditional regulatory or legislative models.

So I urge you to seize this moment. Use the momentum generated by the recent success in completing the IANA transition to build on that experience and find opportunities to apply the multistakeholder model to those issues where it has the best chance to succeed.

Throughout this week in Guadalajara, as you engage in discussions with different stakeholders from around the world, consider how you can organize multistakeholder approaches back home in your own community. Consider how you can join with other stakeholders regionally or globally to demonstrate the value of the multistakeholder approach to solve Internet policy challenges. And, continue to engage in the IGF going forward – its annual forum, intersessional work, the National and Regional Initiatives, and the important dialogues and intersessional work it fosters.  This is the first IGF in the renewed 10-year mandate we achieved in the WSIS review last December, and we have nine more years in which to continue to expand participation, enrich the dialogue, and, indeed, demonstrate the power of the system for all.

The world is waiting. Let’s get on with the task. Thank you for listening.