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Remarks by Assistant Secretary Strickling at Internet Governance Forum-USA

Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling
Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Internet Governance Forum-USA
Washington, DC
July 26, 2012
-As prepared for delivery-

I am pleased to return to the fourth annual meeting of the Internet Governance Forum-USA.  I am especially pleased that I have been able to speak at each of these sessions, which have been so ably organized by your “chief catalyst” Marilyn Cade and the rest of the steering committee.  I am, however, not pleased that I was not able to attend any of the day’s sessions, as many of them looked particularly inviting.  I am sure I missed an opportunity to learn from all of you, as I always do at multistakeholder events such as this one. 

I was particularly intrigued by the title of one of this afternoon’s panels:  “Turning Principles Into Practice,” as it seems to describe what we in government ought to be doing to advance the cause of multistakeholder governance in a concrete and tangible way.  So I thought I would do a riff on that panel’s topic—I’ll call mine “Practicing With Principles”—and take the opportunity to update you on recent developments as the Obama Administration works to protect and enhance the multistakeholder process for Internet governance.  

I will start with our efforts to implement the multistakeholder process in domestic policy deliberations, specifically our work to implement the Administration’s consumer privacy blueprint to develop voluntary, enforceable codes of conduct.  We convened our first session earlier in July, and we were floored by the level of participation.  We had around 300 people take part—200 in person here in Washington and 100 online or on the phone. 

I thought we had a very productive day, particularly given the number of participants and the fact that each person had his or her own set of expectations as to how the day would or should go.  We had intentionally structured the agenda to push people out of their comfort zone but nonetheless, the group learned together and by the end of the day, was reaching near agreement on many issues—in some cases, not even knowing it was doing so.

All of these participants had a lot of experience in group meetings but not so many had participated in true multistakeholder processes.  This fact was reflected by the need expressed by many people that NTIA exert more direct control over the process and discussion.  Our biggest challenge, as we prepare for the next set of discussions in August, will be to push back against these calls for more control.  As quickly as possible, we need the group to take ownership of the process and determine the direction the work should take.  The more control we exercise, the less likely the group will be to make this process its own and to conduct its discussions in a true multistakeholder manner.  I feel strongly that limiting our role to that of a facilitator is absolutely key to the ultimate success of this endeavor but it will take the patience and engagement of all parties to make that a reality.

In the international arena, we have focused on practicing some additional principles.  One is the idea of “enhanced cooperation” and finding ways for the global Internet community to have more direct say in matters where historically the United States has played a more central role.  This issue is one of great importance as we head into the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) and World Telecommunications Policy Forum (WTPF) in the next year, where some countries attempt to justify greater governmental control over the Internet as a response to alleged U.S. domination of the Internet.

At your very first IGF USA meeting, I discussed the Affirmation of Commitments we executed with ICANN in 2009.  That agreement provides a model of enhanced cooperation by establishing mechanisms and timelines for the multistakeholder review of ICANN’s performance of its core tasks.  We expanded what had once been a unique role for the U.S. government to include the participation of the international community through review teams.

In 2010, I served on the first of these review teams, which focused on evaluating ICANN’s accountability and transparency. Our team, which included representatives from the governments of China and Egypt as well as representatives from South America, Europe and Australia, made a series of recommendations to the Board, all of which the Board adopted last year in Singapore.  But now, it is apparent that ICANN will need to rapidly pick up the pace of implementation if it is going to complete that implementation in the few months remaining before the next review team begins work in January.

More recently, we made a concerted effort to employ the principle of “enhanced cooperation” and expanding international participation in Internet governance with respect to the IANA functions contract.  Last year, in anticipation of the expiration of the IANA functions contract, NTIA undertook two consultations of stakeholders, both domestic and international, on how to best enhance the performance of the functions. Based on input received from stakeholders around the world, we added new requirements, such as the need for a robust conflict of interest policy, to exercise heightened respect for local country laws and to increase transparency and accountability.

This spring, we took the unprecedented action of cancelling the initial request for proposals (RFP) because we received no proposals that met the requirements requested by the global community.  We then reissued the RFP, and at the end of June we awarded the contract to ICANN, whose submission in response to the reissued RFP did adequately meet the new requirements.  The initial period of performance for the new contract is three years with two separate two-year extension options.  This contract is consistent with the global community’s input and will provide all stakeholders greater visibility into the performance of the IANA functions.  One priority task for ICANN, VeriSign, and NTIA will be to automate the root zone management system over the next several months, which will be important as we face the prospect of a large influx of new global top level domain names.

Lastly, I am pleased to see how the global pressure on international organizations to “practice the principles” is finding its way to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), particularly the principles of participation and transparency.  Most of you know that at the last meeting of the ITU Council there was quite a debate on the issue of making ITU documents publicly available, especially those submitted for the upcoming WCIT.  Unfortunately, a familiar contingent of non-democratic states defeated the proposal.  But the ITU will make public the main WCIT preparatory document, commonly referred to as TD64, and to his credit, Secretary General Touré did invite the member states to distribute ITU documents to their own constituencies.  So there has been a little progress but no one should harbor the illusion that the ITU will ever become a fully multistakeholder organization.  By its Constitution, it is beholden only to its member states, and that is unlikely ever to change.

Still, it is important for the global Internet community to make known its desire for greater public participation and transparency in ITU processes.  I urge all of you to continue to watch closely as we continue our work to get ready for the December WCIT treaty conference.  It is healthy for the ITU and the Internet that people affected by ITU decisions are making themselves heard and demanding a level of accountability and transparency never before seen at the ITU. 

As for the United States, I know you heard from Ambassador Kramer this morning but I will just say for my part that those of us in the U.S. government will work to be as transparent and inclusive in our preparation process as we can.  We want to ensure that positions we will take at the WCIT negotiating table reflect the full multistakeholder input of the Internet community in the United States.

So that is a quick update on how we are practicing the principles.  We and all of you in the Internet community have a busy fall and winter ahead of us as we continue to work on these Internet governance issues.  My closing, as always, is to ask for your help.  Stay involved.  If you are not involved, get involved.  Get others involved.  We are defending important principles here.  And we have to practice, practice, practice to ensure their success. 

Thank you.