As the Internet continues to grow and expand, there is an ongoing global discussion on how the Internet should be governed. This is an important debate. The Internet has proven to be a revolutionary force for economic growth and social progress but decisions we make today will have serious implications on its future.
The U.S. government believes that the Internet belongs to everyone, at home and abroad, and that we all have a right and responsibility to participate in its governance. Over the last few years, we have worked to build alliances with partners around the world, both to preserve what works about how the Internet is governed today, and to continue to evolve its governance towards an increasingly inclusive and distributed multistakeholder system of governance that enables and empowers individuals and innovation worldwide.
For those of us privileged enough to have access to the Internet over robust networks, it has become a part of our daily lives, making us more productive, more connected, and better informed. It has made our civil society stronger, and it has been an important driver of innovation, economic prosperity, and security. Most of us take the Internet’s open and global architecture for granted. But the Internet operates that way by design, not by accident. Its open and global architecture and governance structure is organic, bottom-up, and driven by the Web’s most active and engaged communities such as engineers, software developers, academics, the private sector, civil society, and government representatives. Known as the “multistakeholder approach,” it creates and enables the innovative, open network of networks that we call the Internet.
The U.S. government remains committed to supporting the evolution of the multistakeholder approach to Internet governance and has taken steps to demonstrate this commitment. For example, in March of this year, the Administration announced its intention to transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions ensure a global interoperable domain name system and the multistakeholder community is developing a transition proposal to assume stewardship of those functions now. The State Department fully endorses and supports this effort, as announced by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and we believe it is the next natural step in the continuing evolution of Internet governance toward full inclusion of all the Internet’s stakeholders. This transition is the last step in a process that started 16 years ago when the U.S. government committed to allowing the private sector to take leadership for domain name system management. NTIA’s call for such a proposal is a reflection of our deep faith in the Internet community and the multistakeholder process for decision-making and governance. Another example of how our government is working to support the multistakeholder approach to governance is through raising public awareness about what Internet governance is and why it matters through the information video we recently produced.
There are some actors who want to radically change the existing multistakeholder approach to Internet governance by centralizing control over the Internet under an intergovernmental organization, effectively giving governments sole authority over the choices that affect the Internet’s design and operation. When the world’s governments get together to discuss Internet-related issues, questions about the current model of governance will arise. One critical moment for those discussions will be in Busan, Korea at the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference in October of this year.
The ITU is a specialized agency of the United Nations that does valuable work in a number of areas related to global telecommunications, including assigning uses in the airwaves for mobile telephony and satellites and promoting and examining public policies that contribute to the deployment of wireless and wired broadband networks worldwide. These are critical functions, and we will continue working with our colleagues around the world to help the ITU efficiently and effectively fulfill its vital mission in these areas. But there are some who want to manipulate or change the mandate of the ITU in ways that would purport to give governments the sole authority over the Internet’s content, technologies, or services. The U.S. government categorically rejects this proposal. Remitting the Internet to intergovernmental control -- whether the ITU or otherwise -- would produce three negative outcomes. First, as intergovernmental institutions are slow in making decisions, this proposal would diminish the dynamism of the Internet. Second, this proposal does not meaningfully include in decision making the crucial views of civil society, academic, and industry -- all essential stakeholders in Internet public policy making. And finally, intergovernmental controls would inevitably encourage repressive regimes to attempt to introduce censorship or content controls. Thus, intergovernmental control would radically undermine the effectiveness, freedom, and inclusion that the existing multistakeholder approach to Internet governance provides.
Whether at the ITU or elsewhere, we think there is growing worldwide recognition that the multistakeholder process for Internet governance is the most effective and inclusive way for people and communities to fully benefit from the power of the Internet.
We must continue working together through the Plenipotentiary and beyond, to ensure that tomorrow’s Internet is built using today’s model, while continuing to evolve toward being even more inclusive. And we welcome all of those around the world who use and love the Internet to join us in this effort.
About the Author: 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.