Larry Strickling’s keynote at the U.S. Internet Governance Forum

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Larry Strickling, the administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and assistant secretary for communications and information at the U.S. Department of Commerce, delivered the keynote at the U.S. Internet Governance Forum last week in Washington. I find Strickling to be a man who pulls no punches, and this presentation did not change my opinion of him.

On the topic of Internet governance, Strickling and I are of the same mind. The success of the Internet (and it is a success by any measure) is a direct result of the way in which it is governed – the multistakeholder approach.

Without this organic, bottom-up approach, the Internet would not have been able to develop as it has. Period. However, there are forces at play, including many governments that would like to see increased regulation of the Internet. Strickling put it this way:

“Now our challenge is to convince the rest of the world of the advantages of the multistakeholder approach.  Next November, the United States will participate in the ITU’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT).  This treaty negotiation will conduct a review of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), the general principles which relate to the provision and operation of international telecommunication services.  We can expect that some states will attempt to rewrite the ITRs in a manner that would establish heavy-handed governmental control of the Internet and cybersecurity.  These are the countries that we, including all of us in this room, must reach to promote the multistakeholder model, and our work must begin right away.”

Again, quoting from Strickling’s speech, “We are at a critical time in the history of the Internet.” I would add that the current Internet has enabled and enhanced so many aspects of society – from economic development to political revolutions to basic social interactions – this means that our society is at a critical time. By answering the question ‘what kind of Internet do we want?’ we are really asking ‘what kind of society do we want?’.

There is no doubt that the current governance model works as a result of its loose structure and the fact that the people and organizations that have the most at stake in ensuring the Internet succeeds are the ones who make the important decisions. In my opinion, and the opinion of many others, adding government regulation to the Internet will stunt its growth, and likely stifle much of the creativity and innovation that it has to date enabled to flourish. If you want to know my reasons for believing this so strongly, please read this op-ed I wrote that was published in the Globe and Mail last year.

I strongly encourage you to read Strickling’s remarks, below. He makes some excellent and important points. Please take the time to reflect on his remarks, as well. How can we support the multistakeholder model?

Remarks by Lawrence E. Strickling

Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Internet Governance Forum–USA
Washington, DC
July 18, 2011

-As prepared for delivery-

Thank you for the opportunity to speak once again at the IGF-USA. I want especially to thank Marilyn Cade for her work in pulling together the third edition of this meeting and I am glad to have had the opportunity to speak at each of these sessions.

We are at a critical time in the history of the Internet.  Last month I spoke at the Internet Society’s INET meeting in New York City where the question before the house was “What kind of Internet do I want?”  I answered that I wanted an Internet that is open, innovative, growing and global and that continues to rely on the established global Internet institutions for guidance and direction.

But in the last year we have seen more and more instances of restrictions on the free flow of information online, disputes between various standards bodies and even appeals from incumbent carriers in Europe for government intervention on the terms and conditions for exchanging Internet traffic.  We have seen statements by international organizations and even some governments to regulate the Internet more directly.  All of these events only strengthen my view that now is truly a time for all to get involved who are concerned about maintaining a vibrant and growing Internet and who want to preserve established global Internet institutions.  When we speak of global Internet institutions, we are referring to multistakeholder organizations, like the Internet Society, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), that have played a major role in the design and operation of the Internet.

A top priority of the Obama Administration, and in particular, NTIA, is to preserve and enhance the multistakeholder model that has been a hallmark feature of the global Internet institutions that have been responsible for the success of the Internet. Maintaining the openness, transparency, and user choice of today’s Internet can only be sustained and advanced in a world where all stakeholders participate in relevant decision making, not one where governments, or other stakeholders, dominate.  We believe that preserving our existing institutions while extending this model to other aspects of Internet policymaking is important for ensuring the continued growth and innovation of the Internet.

Today, I would like to discuss some recent events where we have made substantial progress on our goal to protect and enhance the multistakeholder process for Internet governance.

First, many of you know that I have devoted a lot of time in speeches to the accountability and transparency of ICANN, the multistakeholder organization that coordinates the Domain Name System for the Internet.  Starting last year, as one of its commitments to the global Internet community set forth in the Affirmation of Commitments, ICANN undertook a detailed review of its accountability and transparency.  I had the privilege of participating on the team that conducted this review.  It was truly multistakeholder, with members from around the globe including China, Egypt, and South America, representing elements of the global Internet community such as registries, registrars, users, and governments.  The team completed its review last December and issued a report with 27 recommendations to the ICANN Board for improving accountability and transparency at ICANN.

A little more than three weeks ago, at its meeting in Singapore, the ICANN Board adopted these recommendations as proposed by the review team. I am very pleased by the Board’s action, which demonstrates a commitment to improving the accountability and transparency of ICANN and to the multistakeholder process of Internet policymaking. Now the focus turns to ICANN management and staff, who must take up the challenge of implementing these recommendations as rapidly as possible and in a manner that leads to meaningful and lasting reform.

These recommendations, when implemented in a thorough and meaningful way, will measurably improve the accountability and transparency of the organization.  And while a lot of people worked very hard to get to this point with ICANN, I think the success of the effort so far illustrates an important point about multistakeholder organizations.  Multistakeholder institutions derive their legitimacy from the support and active participation of all stakeholders. Accordingly, they are more likely than regulatory or treaty-based organizations to adapt to change and evolve when the stakeholders demand it. It is difficult to imagine employing a similar process to reform more traditional regulatory agencies as quickly or as thoroughly.

The other big news in Singapore was ICANN’s decision to move forward to expand the number of generic top level domains, or gTLDs.  While that decision may not have satisfied everyone, the process used by the Board to reach its decision is worthy of note.  In response to long-standing concerns held by governments about the expansion proposal, the ICANN Board held a number of focused exchanges with the Government Advisory Committee to resolve as many of the issues as possible.  These exchanges represented the first meaningful interactions between the GAC and the ICANN Board since ICANN’s inception and it is critical that the lessons learned through these recent interactions result in clear, predictable processes for the ICANN Board and the GAC going forward.

From our perspective, ICANN improved the new gTLD program by incorporating a significant number of the GAC proposals.  The fact that not all of the GAC’s proposals were adopted does not represent a failure of the process or a setback to governments; rather, it reflects the reality of a multistakeholder model. More important is the fact that the ICANN Board now recognizes the need to bring governments into its multistakeholder policymaking in a more meaningful way.  If we are to combat the proposals put forward by others, such as to grant the International Telecommunication Union the authority to veto ICANN Board decisions, we need to ensure that our multistakeholder institutions have provided a meaningful role for governments as stakeholders.

A second major achievement of the last month was the action taken by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris at the end of June to adopt a set of Internet policymaking principles.

The occasion was the OECD’s High Level Meeting on the Internet Economy for senior decision-makers from governments, the private sector, civil society, and the technical community and it was an unprecedented opportunity to advance the global consensus around the working multistakeholder model that we believe is critical to the Internet’s continued success.

Participants at the meeting agreed to a communiqué on policy-making principles that will create the conditions for an open, interoperable, secure, and continually innovating Internet.  The communiqué reflects a growing global consensus on the value of the multistakeholder approach towards addressing Internet challenges.  The principles are not intended to harmonize global law, but rather provide a common framework for companies and governments as they consider Internet policy issues.

The OECD member nations endorsed the policymaking principles as did the business and technical advisory committees.  The civil society advisory committee could not endorse the entire document due to its concern with provisions relating to online protection of intellectual property.  However, everyone supported the plank encouraging multistakeholder cooperation in policy development processes.

So, with these actions in Singapore and Paris, where do we go next?  What is the call to action for all of you?

First and foremost, do not take the OECD principles as the end of the work.  Really, we are just at the beginning.  Reaching an agreement on the OECD language was a challenge, but our history with those member states and ideological similarities gave us confidence that we would eventually reach consensus.  However, some other nations, many with less experience with the multistakeholder model, may be inclined instead to support treaty-based structures for Internet governance. It is our job to advocate for this model and highlight how this multistakeholder process protects their national interests.

The United States is most assuredly opposed to establishing a governance structure for the Internet that would be managed and controlled by nation-states. Such a structure could lead to the imposition of heavy-handed and economically misguided regulation and the loss of flexibility the current system allows today, all of which would jeopardize the growth and innovation we have enjoyed these past years.  The OECD’s policymaking principles are perhaps the clearest statement yet that the United States and like-minded nations oppose treaty-binding regulation of the Internet.

Now our challenge is to convince the rest of the world of the advantages of the multistakeholder approach.  Next November, the United States will participate in the ITU’s World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT).  This treaty negotiation will conduct a review of the International Telecommunication Regulations (ITRs), the general principles which relate to the provision and operation of international telecommunication services.  We can expect that some states will attempt to rewrite the ITRs in a manner that would establish heavy-handed governmental control of the Internet and cybersecurity.  These are the countries that we, including all of us in this room, must reach to promote the multistakeholder model, and our work must begin right away.

The IGF in Nairobi will provide us all with an excellent opportunity to get started on this important task.  I will use speaking opportunities at the IGF and the Government of Kenya’s Ministerial meeting to explain why we feel multistakeholder Internet governance is so valuable to preserving and enhancing a dynamic Internet and how it can be most useful in countries with little tradition of employing it.  My team at NTIA will also work extensively at the bilateral level over the next year to spread the message.  We ultimately hope to attain a global consensus on Internet governance that will preserve an open, interoperable, secure, and continually innovating Internet.  But we need your help.

Before I close, I would like to remind everyone of the July 29th deadline for responses to NTIA’s Further Notice of Inquiry on the IANA functions contract.   This process is the first comprehensive review of the IANA functions contract since the award of the initial contract in 2000.  We have been conducting what I hope the community agrees is an open and transparent process on the contract.  Based on comments received to our original notice, we have gone back to the global community to confirm that we interpreted correctly what was said in the comments.  We set forth our tentative conclusions in response to the comments and then provided a draft Statement of Work for public comment.  This is the first time NTIA has sought public input on the draft Statement of Work.  In keeping with our commitment to the multistakeholder model, NTIA is actively seeking the input of global stakeholders.  I encourage you to all carefully read the Further Notice and submit comments by the deadline.

In closing, let me assure all of you that the United States government is committed to the multistakeholder model of Internet policymaking.  We are encouraged by the fact that support for the model is the consensus view of the participants in this conference and we look forward to working with all of you to build a global consensus on this principle with nations around the world.  Thank you.

The full text is also available here.

On another note, Strickling applauded ICANN’s acceptance of the Governmental Advisory Committee’s proposals regarding the approval of new gTLDs (about which he had made some very pointed remarks [––] to ICANN about in San Francisco in March).

Rational Rules Beget Rational Behaviour

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If you follow the Internet governance world like I do, you’ve no doubt had time to ponder the news of former ICANN Board Chair Peter Dengate Thrush’s appointment as Executive Chairman of Top Level Domain Holdings Limited (TLDH). This was a seemingly fast jump from the body that coordinates the Internet (whose most recent milestone was to approve the creation of new gTLDs) to one of the key companies that stands to actively benefit from this burgeoning part of the domain name industry. Further, he’s taken up a position that, according to reports, will allow him to benefit substantially as well.

I’m not sure I could sum up the situation better than Antony Van Couvering, CEO of TLDH, who said on the company’s website:

“Peter championed successfully the approval of the new gTLD programme at the highest levels and with Peter on board I have every confidence we will achieve the same success at TLDH.”

Peter seems to have made a shrewd decision in taking on his new role with TLDH.  And, it would seem that Antony made an excellent choice in securing someone with the depth of experience and knowledge that Peter has. And frankly, who among us would pass up such an opportunity? Likely not I.

Let me state upfront that there’s nothing in the ICANN rules that precludes Board members from advancing their career in any way they choose once they have left ICANN’s Board.

What we have here are rational actors acting rationally under the existing rules.

That said, the time has come in the evolution of the Internet to more closely scrutinize the free flow of key industry influencers. They can currently move from organization to organization without the constraints of non-compete and governance rules regarding employment in the industry after leaving ICANN. In my opinion, what may have been fine for a young, immature sector surely cannot continue. We are talking about increasingly large flows of money changing hands and with that comes the possibility of material conflict.

Perhaps we can take some important lessons from the private sector, government and regulatory bodies, and I would argue, apply them to the ICANN model. After all, I believe it is important to create a dynamic organization where good people (and remember, ICANN’s Board is largely volunteer-based) are protected from being put in harm’s way leading to undue temptation.

The World Bank is an excellent example of an agency that has financial influencers coming and going all the time. The Bank sets very high standards for ethical practices for both existing and exiting Board members. Their Code of Conduct clearly spells out to a number of points, including requirements on employment once a director leaves the Bank.  Here is one of the key statements that really resonated with me: “For a period of one year following the end of service as a Board Official, a Board Official shall recuse himself or herself from involvement in or influence on matters related to the Organizations’ dealings with his or her future employers.”

In Canada, we have seen similar rules imposed through the Conflict of Interest Act on departing federal public officer holders, Ministers of Parliament and their staff.  Amongst other things, a key purpose of the Act is to, “establish clear conflict of interest and post-employment rules for public office holders.” Specifically, Part 3 places a number of restrictions on public office holders once they leave office.

If you were to consider this to be the extreme end of the accountability spectrum and ICANN to be at the other end, I would argue that there is a great deal of space in which to find a more appropriate balance for the body that governs the Internet. At a bare minimum, a cooling off period is more than reasonable and a common practice in most industries. Ideally, I would like to see clear post-employment rules for ICANN Board members, as well as staff.

Interestingly, ICANN accepted the recommendations of the Accountability and Transparency Review Team (ATRT) earlier this year. Fundamentally, the ATRT is the body tasked with making sure ICANN does the job it is mandated to do, and does it in an open and consultative manner. The ATRT review is a lengthy process that takes place every three years. Unfortunately, although the ATRT examined many aspects of Board decision-making, the issue I have raised in this post was not among the many items considered in the review.  I would strongly recommend that the issue of departing Board members and conflicts of interest be closely examined as part of the next round slated to begin in 2013, if not sooner.

What do you think? Does ICANN need to evolve its code of conduct?

CRTC Hearings on Internet Billing

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Last week, the CRTC began hearings into how smaller Internet service providers (ISPs) should be charged by large telecommunications companies for access to their networks. It’s a contentious issue, and tweets about the hearings are flying through my Twitter stream at near lightening speed.

I’ll steer clear of the billing argument. It is certainly outside of the purview of a registry like CIRA. However, I do have a couple of items I’d like to talk about with regard to the speed and price of broadband in Canada.

I’m going to sound like a bit of a broken record here, but according to OECD reports, Canada has been falling behind its peers with regard to the digital economy. And, it is my opinion that this is in due in part to the fact that in terms of speed and cost for broadband, we’re trailing much of the developed world. In fact, according to the latest OECD data, with regard to speed, we’re 22nd out of the 33 countries ranked. With regard to price, we’re 24th out of 33. In Canada, we pay on average $4.15 per month for 21 megabytes per second. In Sweden, the average is 80 cents; in Japan its 40 cents.

At CIRA, we developed this infographic to illustrate Canada’s ranking globally.

Canada’s ranking in the areas of broadband speed and price has been consistently dropping since the OECD started collecting this data 10 years ago. In 2001, Canada was a leader in broadband technology. We were right at the top of the rankings with regard to cost and speed.  In fact, in 2001, we ranked second overall.

A clear trend has emerged: we’re not keeping pace with our international counterparts.

Why is this important? Because the Internet has enabled the global economy. Increasingly, your market is just about anywhere in the world. However, the Internet has also enabled the global workforce. In the digital economy, broadband speed and price is a country’s currency, and at this time, our currency appears to be declining in value.

The new economy is a mobile economy and businesses are going to go where they can get the best speed for the best price.

Let me put it this way: imagine a company like RIM or Intel announced a new product. If this new product operated at half the speed and cost twice as much as the competition, would you buy it? Of course you wouldn’t.  So why would we expect businesses to locate in a country where they have to pay twice as much for slower broadband?

We shouldn’t and we need to change that.

Hopefully, the decisions made as a result of the CRTC hearings may help. And, in the latest Speech from the Throne, the government indicated that it will be releasing the Digital Economy Strategy it began consulting Canadians on last summer.

The hearings continue this week.

.CA leads the pack in growth

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At CIRA we pour over metrics to know how we are performing as an organization and whether we are successful in the ways that we promote awareness and education about .CA. We have been pleased to see evidence that we are moving this needle each and every year. Our customer satisfaction levels, already considered to be best in class, continue to move higher and higher. Our renewal rate, also known as customer retention, is close to 80 per cent and on the rise. Market share is up. And we’ve known for some time that we’re outpacing our main competitor .com in growth.

One of the other great measures of success is how we rank compared to other registries around the world. SIDN, the registry for .nl (Netherlands) recently released its magazine The .nlyst which paints an important part of this picture.

From .CA leads the pack in growth

This chart, which references the top 25 domains on the Internet for Q1 of 2011, lists .CA as the second fastest growing domain, and the fastest among country code top-level domains (ccTLD)!

This is a tribute to our staff at CIRA and their great work in positioning .CA as a world-class registry. Our registry redesign, which was completed in October 2010, has greatly enhanced the ease with which .CA customers can now register and manage their .CA domain names. Happy customers register more domains and keep on renewing. And in terms of new growth, we have been actively reaching out to the Canadian Internet community to raise awareness of .CA, reward excellence in .CA, and play a leadership role through such initiatives as the Canadian Internet Forum and IPv6 adoption.

At a time when many registries have seen their growth levels flatten, .CA is just hitting its stride!

On another note, I recently spoke to the Financial Executives International Canada annual conference which took place in Ottawa. My presentation on the future of the Internet can be found here.