In remarks at Georgia Tech on October 26, Assistant Secretary of Commerce Lawrence Strickling celebrated the fulfillment of a “promise made by the United States nearly two decades ago” to privatize governance of the Internet. Strickling, who is administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), was hosted at a forum led by Professor Milton Mueller and his Internet Governance Project in the Ivan Allen College School of Public Policy. Mueller is a key influencer in Internet policy and practice including the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) transition.
The contract between the U.S. Commerce Department and ICANN was allowed to expire on October 1, 2016. ICANN will no longer be overseen by the U.S. government, but by a freestanding institution accountable to a global multistakeholder community. The transition occurred after two years of intensive work by ICANN stakeholders to develop a new institutional structure for the governance of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). The contract outlines the functions of the IANA and ICANN’s corporate governance generally.
This Internet privatization was preceded by nearly two months of controversy, some of it centered in the U.S. Congress. Opponents claimed the transition was “giving away control of the Internet to Russia and China,” while supporters of the move deemed it a step toward “transnational popular sovereignty” in global internet governance. Not until 6 p.m. on September 30, when a Texas judge denied a last-ditch legal challenge, was it clear that the transition would go forward.
Georgia Tech was the venue where Strickling reflected publicly for the first time on the new policy. He highlighted both the virtues and limitations of the multistakeholder model of Internet governance, which relies on nongovernmental institutions and open and voluntary working groups to make policy.
Strickling was introduced by Milton Mueller, the director of the Internet Governance Project (IGP) and a professor in the School of Public Policy, who recounted the historical background and political significance of the transition to multistakeholder Internet governance. Mueller has been a leading voice in Internet governance scholarship since the earliest days of the Internet, and Strickling began his remarks by commending Mueller for his service.
Following Strickling’s remarks, Hans Klein, an associate professor in the School of Public Policy, moderated a panel with Strickling, Mueller, Scheller College of Business Professor Peter Swire, Internet Architecture Board Chair Andrew Sullivan, Verisign, Inc.’s Vice President for Policy Keith Drazek, and Internet Society Representative Konstantinos Komaitis. The panelists discussed the accountability of ICANN staff going forward, the strengths and weaknesses of multistakeholder processes, and the role of governments in multistakeholder institutions.
Strickling lauded the achievement of the stakeholder community:
“Looking back on this two-year effort, is there any question whether we were correct to call on the multistakeholder community to develop the transition proposal? I believe without a doubt that we were. Could any other process have brought together the views and ideas of so many people in such a short period of time to solve such complicated and important issues? I do not think so.”
"So if you take away one message from me today it is this: the challenge for the multistakeholder community is to learn from our experiences and apply it to those issues where it has the best chance to succeed. At the same time, we still have work to do to demonstrate to stakeholders everywhere, but especially in developing countries, how they can utilize this tool to solve technical policy challenges better than top-down regulatory approaches offered by governmental organizations like the International Telecommunications Union (ITU)."
A recording of the forum can be found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X4MRkRq6TEc
Learn more about the forum at: http://www.internetgovernance.org/2016/10/05/the-self-governing-internet/