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Internet Stewardship Transition Critical to Internet’s Future

This article was co-authored by Ambassador Daniel A. Sepulveda, serving as U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy at the U.S. Department of State, Christopher Painter, serving as Coordinator for Cyber Issues at the U.S. Department of State and Scott Busby, serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

The growth of the global Internet as an open platform for innovation and economic and social development has succeeded in large part because of its multistakeholder system of governance. That is, rather than through central mandate or government control, the Internet’s most engaged communities from the private sector, academia, the technology community, and civil society manage the coordination of the Internet’s critical functions. They do so through collaborative decision making processes that are flexible enough to encourage innovation, adapt to change, and engage in creative problem-solving without political manipulation.

Because the United States believes deeply in that multistakeholder process, in March of 2014, the U.S. government announced its intention to complete the transition of its stewardship of the Domain Name System technical functions to the global multistakeholder community. Over the last two years this community has taken part in a process to develop a proposal that meets the detailed criteria and safeguards that were established at that time to ensure that the Internet continues to operate freely, without centralized control, under the stewardship of all of its stakeholders.

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunication and Information Administration has indicated it will take the final step in this process by allowing its contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the California-based non-profit responsible for managing some of the Internet’s technical operations, to expire as of October 1st. Although to the average Internet user, that day will feel like any other, it marks a major milestone in the development of a truly global Internet and it may be the key to preserving and expanding global support for the Internet under multistakeholder governance.

The vast majority of the Internet community, at home and abroad, believes that recently launched efforts to derail the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) transition could damage the collaborative and positive relationship that has developed within and for the Internet community and embolden authoritarian regimes seeking to establish their own mechanisms of control. We agree.

Opponents of the transition would have you think that the freedom and openness of the Internet is at risk. As three American public servants on the front lines of these debates on the global stage, working on it every day, we can tell you categorically that this could not be further from the truth. The IANA transition is an important step along the same path that has allowed the evolution of the Internet and is the best way to ensure it remains a single, global “network of networks”. Instead, it is the attempts to delay or prevent the transition that constitute a threat to the Internet as we know it. Were they to succeed, these efforts would feed skepticism of America’s motives from the allies that we need the most, and could be exploited by authoritarian states as they redouble their long standing efforts to establish greater government control in the Internet’s governance, at the expense of other Internet stakeholders.

The good news is that the U.S. government’s commitment to the multistakeholder approach and our belief that the Domain Name System does not require government-only stewardship is winning the day in part because of our commitment to the IANA transition. Since the announcement of the transition, the international community has reached consensus agreements relating to Internet governance issues at major international meetings, including the NETmundial Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance in April 2014 and the UN General Assembly High Level Meeting on the Ten Year Review of the World Summit on the Information Society in December 2015. Further, the leaders of the G-20 recently endorsed the multistakeholder approach, which many developing countries have also come to support and appreciate through their engagement in the IANA stewardship transition process. These outcomes are a bulwark against a multilateral takeover of and efforts to fragment the single, global Internet, both of which would have significantly negative consequences for Internet freedom.

The U.S. government has worked diligently, across the last three administrations and in a consensus bi-partisan manner, to promote the open Internet as a global platform for innovation and the distribution of information and services worldwide. The IANA transition continues that tradition. The U.S. government will continue to play a key role in discussions and debate that impact this critical global resource. Not allowing the transition to go through plays right into the hands of those who have sought to undermine the multistakeholder approach all along. This, not the transition, is the gravest short-term threat to the Internet’s future.

By Daniel A. Sepulveda, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State

Daniel Sepulveda serves as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy in the State Department’s Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (EB).

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