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Internet Governance and the Public Interest

Paul Diaz

ICANN held its first international meeting of 2012 last week in San Jose, Costa Rica, and kicked off the week on a high note with an inspired speech by Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla. If you missed it, we strongly recommend that you read or listen to it here.

PIR shares many of the public interest values and policy positions that President Chinchilla expressed, including the assertion that:

"The legitimate concerns [related to] privacy, security and protection of intellectual property should not become an excuse to justify trends seeking to exercise highly restrictive controls on cyberspace."

While Chinchilla's point was made in reference to recent U.S. legislative initiatives and other proposals to increase Internet regulations at the international level, the tug-of-war over online rights and the governance framework to develop and assure them was a common thread throughout much of the ICANN meeting. In fact, Internet Governance was central to most of the issues discussed, which included an update on the negotiations to amend the Registrar Accreditation Agreement (the contracted parties hope to unveil draft text in the coming weeks); a proposal from ICANN staff for how to select the first batch of new TLD applicants for review (concerns about the plan from across the community prompted the Board to defer approval pending additional input from stakeholders); and further debate about how ICANN will account for the likely huge influx of new TLD program-related funds (ICANN intends to publish a detailed budget in early May).

In particular, the debate over a time-sensitive demand to grant special exceptions in the new generic top level domain (gTLD) application process for the International Olympic Committee and the Red Cross/Red Crescent exposed the friction that is inherent to the bottom-up, multi-stakeholder policymaking process. In our view, though, this friction is beneficial and necessary. Policy should not be imposed from the top-down, but rather must be developed and debated from the bottom-up, because outcomes that are genuinely in the public interest can only be achieved through transparent processes that have been allowed to run their defined course. Needless to say, all parties in the process must participate in good faith and be willing to compromise. This is the essence of the Internet Governance model that ICANN is supposed to embody and that PIR will continue to wholeheartedly support.

While the issues before us may be complex and the policymaking process is rarely easy, the alternatives to a bottom-up model that some parties propose — i.e. top-down, government-led mandates and regulations — are untenable. As President Chinchilla noted, "Internet belongs to us all, and we should all participate in the discussion on the rules that should govern the Internet."

By Paul Diaz, Director of Policy, Public Interest Registry

Related topics: ICANN, Internet Governance, Policy & Regulation, Top-Level Domains

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