Ensuring an Open Internet
Central to the Internet’s value as a platform for innovation, democracy, access to information and scientific progress are the technical standards on which it is built and the open manner in which it is governed. Yet, there are governments that seek to alter the fundamental way the Internet functions. Several governments recently called for new treaty provisions to assert centralized control over the Internet’s operations instead of relying on the voluntary, consensus-based processes that gave us the Internet we enjoy today.
Internet institutions such as the Internet Engineering Task Force, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and the World Wide Web Consortium have been essential to the Internet’s growth. These organizations operate on a multi-stakeholder basis, assuring that all who have an interest in the Internet can have a voice in its operation. They reflect the collaborative and enterprising spirit of the Internet, which President Obama referred to in the International Strategy for Cyberspace as “one of the finest examples of a community self-organizing." Their transparency and flexibility have enabled the Internet to scale up from a small academic network to a growing global infrastructure.
Governmental proposals to replace the Internet’s decentralized and open system must be resisted. Centralized control over the Internet through a top-down government approach would put political dealmakers, rather than innovators and experts, in charge of the future of the Internet. This would slow the pace of innovation, hamper global economic development, and lead to an era of unprecedented control over what people can say and do online. Centralized control would threaten the ability of the world’s citizens to freely connect and express themselves by placing decision-making power in the hands of global leaders who have demonstrated a clear lack of respect for the right of free speech.
Over the last year, we have heard from numerous Internet stakeholders regarding their concerns about the future of the Internet. Most recently we heard from a number of constituencies at a White House meeting that the three of us hosted on Monday as part of our ongoing effort in this domain. All of these discussions have been invaluable for fostering understanding of the key issues at hand and forging partnerships to confront the challenges ahead.
We have heard from civil society organizations calling for greater participation of advocacy groups in Internet governance policy to supplement voices representing commercial and technical perspectives.
We have also heard from several of the technical bodies that set engineering standards and oversee the day-to-day operations of the Internet. These groups have stressed that technical decisions regarding the Internet must be made free from political intrusion. If that separation does not exist, politics may take precedence over technical decisions, leaving Internet users with unreliable technology that does not reflect the best thinking of computer scientists and engineers.
Members of the business community have expressed concern that some national governments seek to balkanize the Internet by establishing barriers to the free flow of information under the pretext of protecting cybersecurity, social stability, or local economies. This is contrary to President Obama's vision of an Internet that is interoperable the world over, and the United States will vigorously oppose such barriers. Further, these regulatory actions would create a confusing array of “local Internets,” establishing different rules for different places. Firms may cease to offer services outside the country in which they are based if a variety of domestic regulations makes it too complicated or too costly.
For these reasons the United States is actively engaged with our global partners in a variety of international settings and remains committed to working with all Internet stakeholders to defend and strengthen the open, interoperable, and innovative Internet.
Lawrence Strickling is Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information
Ambassador Philip Verveer is Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy
Daniel Weitzner is Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Internet Policy in the White House