A Major Win for the Open Internet

Opening Ceremony of NETmundial Conference in Brazil

Last week, we announced that we were heading to São Paulo, Brazil to attend NETmundial, a global meeting of governments, entrepreneurs, academics, Internet institutions, civil society activists and users to discuss the future of Internet governance.  We expressed our hope that NETmundial would make an important contribution to the positive evolution of the Internet and its governance.  Our optimism was well-founded.  As one of Brazil’s leading Internet scholars and chair of Netmundial Virgilio Almeida brought NETmundial to a close, the U.S. government delegation rose in applause.  And almost everyone else in the room rose with us.

We applauded to affirm the Multistakeholder Statement of São Paulo, the ideas it presents, the ideals it embraces, and the multistakeholder process that made it possible.  We rose out of appreciation for the Brazilians and the Internet community leaders that brought us together and impressively managed a challenging conversation.  And we rose in joint commitment to preserving, promoting, and expanding the benefits of a single, interoperable, open, and global Internet for all of the world’s people.

The success of NETmundial was no small feat.  Every sector of society from six continents came together to discuss and debate a path forward for international Internet governance.  We outlined principles for Internet governance and developed a path for a way forward.  In our open and collaborative meetings in Brazil, we demonstrated the utility of the multistakeholder process for addressing stakeholders’ needs, and set a valuable example for what is possible in other forums.  It is a game-changing achievement that the results and outcomes of NETmundial were substantive and meaningful; we can and will build on the momentum it creates for progress.

Although optimistic going into the meeting, we did not know if it would turn out this way.  In fact, some in America thought our participation in NETmundial carried too many risks, but we were driven by our commitment to the open Internet and its community of users and innovators.  To the surprise of some, and to the dissatisfaction of the authoritarian regimes who also attended the meeting, a substantial majority of NETmundial's global participants successfully supported freedom and inclusion over government control of the Internet.  Standing on equal footing, we agreed on the use of the multistakeholder model for overcoming challenges as our first principle, and outlined other principles Internet governance should embrace.  The gathering also constructed a roadmap for the further evolution of the existing multistakeholder system of Internet governance to ensure that it becomes more inclusive, transparent, and responsive to the needs of all, including underrepresented communities.  Importantly, the Multistakeholder Statement emphasized the need to enable the Internet to continue fueling innovation, growth, and economic development, as well as strongly promoting and protecting human rights and shared values.

We heard from many at NETmundial that the announcement of the U.S. government’s intent to transition to the multistakeholder community the last remaining aspects of stewardship over key domain name functions that ICANN executes helped set the stage for a cooperative and collaborative gathering.  In the minds of many, it proves that the U.S. government truly believes in the community of users, firms, activists, technologists, and academics who use, love, study, and operate the Internet.  And ICANN reiterated its plans to initiate an accountability review. This is an important complement to the IANA stewardship transition, because accountability is integral to multistakeholder governance.

The world now shifts its focus to the Freedom Online Coalition meeting -- which Secretary Kerry addressed via teleconference -- in Estonia, the ICANN High Level event in London, and the Internet Governance Forum in Istanbul to further address various crucial Internet issues, including its future governance.  The NETmundial statement will provide a solid starting point for those discussions.

NETmundial clearly demonstrates the suitability of the multistakeholder approach over intergovernmental discussion to address Internet governance issues.  We will carry this experience forward as we approach upcoming multilateral events like the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference in Korea in October, where we will work to ensure that the ITU remains relevant and responsive to the evolution of technology in its traditional areas of competence, and leaves issues such as Internet governance to the fully capable global multistakeholder community .

As the community moves forward from NETmundial, we do so armed with the strength of friendships and alliances across sectors and nations further forged and solidified at NETmundial behind a set of multistakeholder Internet governance principles and ideals that will serve us well.

About the Authors: Michael Daniel serves as Special Assistant to the President and White House Cybersecurity Coordinator.  Lawrence E. Strickling serves as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and Administrator, National Telecommunications and Information Administration.  Ambassador Daniel A. Sepulveda serves as U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy at the U.S. Department of State. Christopher Painter serves as Coordinator for Cyber Issues at the U.S. Department of State. Scott Busby serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

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