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USG Provides First Official Statement on Montevideo, Brazil, and ITU Plenipotentiary

Philip S. Corwin

The United States government (USG) has provided its first official reaction to the October 2013 Montevideo Statement issued by organizations responsible for coordination of the Internet technical infrastructure, the upcoming April Internet governance conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil , as well as other matters related to Internet governance — including the ITU Plenipotentiary meeting scheduled for October in Busan, South Korea. The remarks came in the form of keynote remarks delivered by Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda of the U.S. State Department at a program titled "Internet Governance 2020” held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, DC on Thursday, January 23, 2014.

The complete text of Ambassador Sepulveda's remarks, obtained from the State Department, is reproduced below. My own parsing of it is based on the presumption that the words of such statements are deliberately chosen and thoroughly vetted before being finalized, and that what isn't mentioned is often as important as what is.

That leads me to the following conclusions — noting that this interpretation is strictly my own reading of its text and "between the lines", and recognizing that others involved in the Internet governance conversation may well have different reactions or reach different conclusions —

  • The US rejects the views of "foreign observers" who "have chosen to conflate the issue of intelligence gathering with U.S. positions on Internet governance, posing new challenges that could disrupt the current multi-stakeholder system of Internet governance". That would certainly include President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil and her angry September 2013 pronouncements at the UN that chastised the US over the NSA intelligence-gathering activities revealed by Edward Snowden, which she called a violation of international law and human rights and cited as the impetus for forthcoming Brazilian initiatives to "present proposals for the establishment of a civilian multilateral framework for the governance and use of the Internet". That USG view also appears at sharp odds with the remarks made by ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade just after he invited Brazil to host a "global summit" on Internet governance, when he stated, "I came personally to convey to her that when she spoke at the United Nations two weeks ago she spoke for all of us, she spoke for the world… She was the world's leader on that day..."
  • The US is committed to working to strengthen existing Internet governance organizations — but has not endorsed substantial alterations in existing organizations, much less creating a new organizations or mechanisms for so-called orphan issues. Such proposals may well be produced in Sao Paulo, where the main agenda item is the development of a "Roadmap for the further evolution of the Internet governance ecosystem" that encompasses "a path to evolve and globalize the current institutions and mechanisms, as well as address emerging needs."
  • The US views the Montevideo Statement as useful for furthering an important dialogue, but is silent in regard to its most noteworthy feature — a call for accelerating the globalization of ICANN and the IANA functions that relate to DNS management, where the US holds a unique remaining role as the IANA contract counterparty vis-a-vis ICANN. Most telling, especially in light of its comment on the upcoming Brazil meeting, the US views the September IGF meeting in Istanbul — and not Sao Paulo — as the appropriate forum in which to continue the conversation initiated in Montevideo.
  • In its one positive nod toward current ICANN activities, the US hopes that the fifth and final President's Strategy Panel, the High Level Panel on Global Internet Cooperation and Governance Mechanisms, produces a draft roadmap that will contribute to the unfolding Internet governance conversation in multiple venues. According to ICANN, that Panel will not produce its final report and recommendations until after the Sao Paulo meeting.
  • The US has been in contact with the Brazilian government but has yet to make an official commitment regarding any US role in the "Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of the Internet Governance" that was requested by and is being co-chaired by CEO Chehade. Further, the US has placed multiple conditions on its ultimate view of the meeting that address its agenda development, breadth of participation, and follow-up activity. Those conditions appear meant to both influence those key factors as well as to provide a rationale for disowning any output that is not supportive of "the multistakeholder system rather than an intergovernmental mechanism of centrally imposed regulation or mandates".
  • A strong shot is fired across the ITU's bow, urging it to stick to its telecomm and broadband deployment responsibilities and steer clear of any intrusion into Internet governance — warning that "any attempt to use the ITU to revive proposals to resolve questions of Internet governance that are better dealt with in multistakeholder settings raises the possibility of divisive outcomes." Long in advance of the upcoming meeting in Busan, and irrespective of whatever develops in Sao Paulo, Istanbul, or related meetings, the US "will oppose proposals that threaten the current Internet governance model by limiting the input of non-governmental stakeholders or substituting the existing system with one that only governments control" and "will also not support new, centrally imposed regulations". While ICANN has indicated a belief that the Brazil meeting's results would feed into the ITU, the US is clearly wants the ITU to steer far afield of Internet governance.

Summing up, the remarks are somewhat remarkable for the absence of any direct reference to ICANN other than noting the Montevideo Statement's call for IANA globalization. Its other key features are:

  • Rejection of any valid linkage between the NSA revelations and Internet governance — a linkage endorsed by ICANN and other entities and that underlies both the Montevideo Statement and the Sao Paulo meeting
  • No hint of backing down on US control of the IANA contract
  • Hope that ICANN's High Level Panel can produce a useful roadmap
  • Hedging all bets on Sao Paulo and preserving broad reasons to disown it and its output
  • Warning the ITU against any attempt to intrude on the multistakeholder model or Internet governance generally when it meets in Busan

Some will view these positions as predictable and intransigent. Others will welcome them as exhibiting necessary backbone and strong commitment to a thoughtful and deliberative process for evolving the structure of Internet governance. All should recognize them as the diplomatic equivalent of an iron fist in a velvet glove that has laid down an unmistakable marker at the start of what may be a tumultuous year in Internet governance dialogue and negotiation.

* * *

"Internet Governance 2020 – Geopolitics and the Future of the Internet"
Remarks by Ambassador Daniel Sepulveda
Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
January 23, 9:00 am

Thank you very much. I appreciate the invitation to help frame and initiate the discussion that the experts on the panel will conduct. It is an impressive panel with folks that have lived through the more than decade long debate over Internet governance, what it means, and where it is headed. I am familiar with their work and it helps inform my own.

Let me start at the end and work my way backwards. Last week, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and I visited Mexico to conduct a series of meetings on bilateral and multilateral technology and telecommunications issues. In the process we took the opportunity to visit with a group of young entrepreneurs who were using technology and the open, global Internet as a platform for developing new businesses using the assistance and guidance provided to them at Telefonica's tech accelerator, an organization called WAYRA.

As government officials, we were the only people in the room wearing suits and we raised the average age somewhat, but we were thrilled to see what was happening and what these young Mexican entrepreneurs were doing. They were working on innovative ways to link parents with teachers, retailers with customers and doctors with patients. The ideas were innovative, the energy was high, and the enthusiasm boundless.

As public servants, those of us in this Administration work with our friends and colleagues at home and abroad to create a legal and regulatory framework domestically and internationally that enables the kind of optimism and pursuit of happiness that we saw at Wayra in Mexico.

Underlying the capacity of those young people to innovate and reach the world without having to jump through regulatory hoops or ask anyone for permission are two concepts U.S. policymakers and others seek to preserve — an open Internet, governed by a broad range of decision makers, including industry, government and civil society and free-market competition in telecommunications networks.

The subject of this panel is (1) how to understand and help evolve the framework of Internet governance to increase the inclusion of those who feel that they are left out and (2) how to defend the concepts of diffuse, multistakeholder governance from challenges to its legitimacy and from efforts to change the way the Internet operates in a manner that would make it harder for those young people in Mexico — and others in the world like them — to succeed.

NSA Disclosures

In the President's speech from Friday on the Administration's review of U.S. signals intelligence practices, he made clear our commitment to respecting the privacy of all people, regardless of nationality. The reforms the President announced demonstrate how public debate occurs in democratic societies and how we defend security and privacy, while limiting our intelligence collection to specific priorities. As the President said, U.S. collection is for a defined list of purposes — the United States is not indiscriminately reviewing the emails or phone calls of ordinary folks. The fact that we are taking steps to reform certain intelligence programs demonstrates the respect that we have for the rights of individuals, regardless of nationality. I believe that the President has made a compelling case to the world.

Some foreign observers have chosen to conflate the issue of intelligence gathering with U.S. positions on Internet governance, posing new challenges that could disrupt the current multi-stakeholder system of Internet governance. In fact, these issues are not the same. Nevertheless, given this conflation, the Administration reaffirms our commitment to the open Internet and the multi-stakeholder approach to Internet governance. We will redouble our efforts to strengthen and make more inclusive its policy-making, standards setting, and governance organizations.

Montevideo Statement

We are aware that some people in the world are unhappy with the status quo of Internet governance, but we believe that any change should come in the form of more, not less, decentralized and inclusive participation of people, institutions, firms, experts, private citizens, and governments.

Last fall, the leaders of the Internet institutions that are so vital to the reliable operations of the Internet issued what is now known in our community as the Montevideo Statement. The statement, noteworthy for the unanimity expressed by the technical community and useful for engaging an important conversation, addressed four issues. First, the group expressed concern that recent surveillances allegations had undermined user trust. Second, they expressed a desire for a community effort to evolve multistakeholder cooperation to better address Internet governance challenges. Third, they called for accelerating the globalization of ICANN and the IANA functions, a set of activities related to management of the Domain Name System (DNS). Finally, they stressed the need for transition from IPv4 to IPv6. Helpfully, and importantly, the Montevideo Statement launched this conversation from the heart of the multistakeholder system rather than an intergovernmental body. We appreciate the thoughtful leadership of the technical community and we hope their efforts will spur further consideration of how we can continue to make multistakeholder governance more inclusive while maintaining the stability of the open and innovative Internet.

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is one venue that is fully open and, therefore, particularly well-suited to address these issues in the most global and inclusive fashion. When the next IGF convenes this September in Istanbul, we expect the Internet community will further this conversation.

More immediately, Estonian President Ilves is chairing a High Level Panel on Global Internet Cooperation and Governance Mechanisms that will produce a draft roadmap for a way forward on these issues in a matter of months. This panel includes a number of luminaries from government, business, and civil society; we are hopeful it can constructively contribute to this year's conversation that is unfolding in multiple venues and we believe that any gathering on the subject should strongly consider the group's views in its dialogue.

Brazil

One such gathering will occur this April, when the Brazilians, in coordination and consultation with the Internet community worldwide will host the "Global Multistakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance." Along with many of you, we are following the developments of this meeting and we've been in touch with the Brazilian government as we consider the best potential role for the U.S. government. We are pleased to see announcements from the organizers that a multistakeholder structure will plan and execute the meeting. And from what we can tell, the Brazilian government and the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee appear to be reaching out to a wide range of stakeholders to shape the meeting. These are good signs.

While there's still much to know about how this meeting will unfold and what it's lasting impacts might be, I believe that the meeting holds promise in advancing the global community's understanding of Internet governance if: (1) the agenda is developed in a truly multistakeholder fashion; (2) participation at the meeting is broad and inclusive; and (3) any follow on activity is guided by, and ultimately supportive of, the multistakeholder system rather than an intergovernmental mechanism of centrally imposed regulation or mandates.

Plenipotentiary

Beyond the conference in Sao Paolo and many other intervening discussions, this fall, ITU member states will gather in Busan, Korea for the quadrennial ITU Plenipotentiary Conference. During this conference, the member states will elect new leadership and establish the work of the ITU for the next four years. It's a very important conference in many respects, including in areas of great interest to the United States such as global spectrum management and the ways in which the world can leverage communications services to promote economic and social development.

Beyond the Plenipotentiary Conference affirming the vital role for the ITU in the world's telecommunications ecosystem, we would also like to seek a greater role for the ITU in helping developing nations address broadband deployment. We expect, however, that there will be a number of proposals at the conference on more controversial topics, such as Internet governance and cybersecurity, and we further expect that some of these proposals will be at odds with the multistakeholder principles shared by so many in the Internet community, both in the United States and abroad.

Ultimately, we think it's better for the ITU and to focus on what needs to be accomplished to increase affordable access to communications networks and encourage the further deployment of those networks. That is an honorable, manageable, and tangible task. Any attempt to use the ITU to revive proposals to resolve questions of Internet governance that are better dealt with in multistakeholder settings raises the possibility of divisive outcomes. It is our hope that will not happen.

We will oppose proposals that threaten the current Internet governance model by limiting the input of non-governmental stakeholders or substituting the existing system with one that only governments control. We will also not support new, centrally imposed regulations, and we will work with countries that share our views to push back on any such initiative.

We would greatly prefer a conference where the ITU works within its mandate to promote the benefits of telecommunication for member states and their citizens, especially those from the developing world. Therefore, we intend to develop a number of proactive initiatives that shape the debate that will help build a constructive agenda for the ITU. The ITU can help nations put policies and programs in place to support the buildout of broadband networks. It can advise and consult with nations on proper procedures to respond to natural disasters that destroy communications infrastructure. And it can guide and help nations as they move through their analog to digital transitions and reorganize their spectrum management to provide for participation in the world's mobile communications revolution.

And there are multiple other initiatives that we are eager to work with other nations and the ITU to ensure that the Union continues to thrive and contribute to the prosperity and wellbeing of its member states.

I believe that the direction our President has given us, and that Secretary Kerry is executing, promote respectful engagement combined with a vigorous defense of our interest and values. We intend to work in that spirit on this issue going forward.

I believe that this year presents a perfect opportunity for all of us to work together and tell the story of the Internet's incredible, multistakeholder success, and to ultimately preserve and strengthen an open and innovative Internet as it continues to evolve to include all of the world's people and communities.

By Philip S. Corwin, Founding Principal of Virtualaw LLC, a Washington, DC Law and Public Policy Firm He also serves as Of Counsel to the IP-centric law firm of Greenberg & Lieberman. Views expressed in this article are solely his own. Visit Page
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Thanks for the summary McTim  –  Jan 27, 2014 9:12 AM PDT

Very useful!

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