Why Commerce Secretary Pritzker’s ICANN remarks on US commitment to the multi-stakeholder process matters

Techpolicydaily: This week’s ICANN meeting is setting the tone for other upcoming Internet governance conferences dealing with strategies for managing the Internet infrastructure as a global asset. Keeping the Internet free and open to content, communications, and commerce on a global scale requires a commitment by all participants in the decision making processes that make up the Internet governance forums. During yesterday’s ICANN opening ceremony, US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker delivered a strong message to the crowd, reiterating the administration’s commitment to a free and open Internet that is vibrant for all. Secretary Pritzker is the first Commerce Secretary to ever attend an ICANN conference, and her attendance speaks volumes of the level of attention Internet governance has come to receive in Washington.

Since ICANN’s establishment in 1998, the US government has fully supported the multi-stakeholder model for making decisions regarding Internet governance. Secretary Pritzker’s message to the world is that the US government will reinforce this position in every forum: “Let me be clear about this.  The United States will not allow the global Internet to be coopted by any person, entity, or nation seeking to substitute their parochial worldview for the collective wisdom of this community.”  Secretary Pritzker was as direct throughout the entire speech, cautioning against governments that are interested in “promoting narrow national interests” in Internet governance.

The administration’s strong comments that the US government is “all in” regarding support for the global debate on Internet governance issues are very timely given the ongoing discussion around the transition of the IANA function, a topic that is also heavily featured at ICANN.  Secretary Pritzker highlighted the importance of holding the IANA function accountable to its technical customers and the broader Internet community, stressing that it is technical accuracy – not promoting government agendas – that is the goal for the IANA transition.

Innovation is fuel to the Internet architecture, but this synergy is in danger of being stifled by regulation implemented in the wrong place at the wrong time. As we go into the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary meeting next week, the Secretary’s message sends a very strong signal that the US government is not interested in seeing the Internet be bogged down by telecommunications tariff rules that bind it to outdated physical boundaries of governance.

During her speech, the Secretary stressed that, “the Internet is also a vital platform for free expression and the exchange of ideas.  And that is why I stand before you today to make this fundamental promise: the United States will protect and preserve a free, vibrant and open Internet.” This may seem like an obvious statement to most Internet users, but there are in fact plenty of foreign government representatives attending these decision-making meetings who do not share the fundamental principle of global Internet freedom.  Secretary Pritzker’s commitment to denying any person, entity, or nation the ability to put their parochial worldview above that of the multi-stakeholder community is important because it reinforces the collaborative model as the right framework.

How institutions make and abide by decisions is important to both institutional participants and to those who operate within the framework that springs from the process. Governments, companies, and end-users need to see accountability in the development of policies in order to be assured that they are participating in a fair process. Being publically committed to a transparent, accountable, and measurable decision-making process will move the evolution of the Internet governance process to the next level.

Both the ICANN community and those who support the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) are very committed and hard-working individuals from around the world who bring different – albeit often conflicting – views and priorities to the discussion. Yet they continue to attend meeting after meeting, working hard to create a consensus that can develop into the guidelines that are needed to move Internet governance policies to the next phase.

The accountability and transparency dialogues going on this week at ICANN are a testament to the commitment of these dedicated individuals, companies, and governments to ensure that the multi-stakeholder process is open to all participants and that the decision-making process is clear to the world. Secretary Pritzker’s remarks and presence goes a long way in reaffirming America’s commitment to these values.

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