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Internet Governance is in Your Hands

11 September 2014

Fadi Chehadé, Former President & CEO

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Who will run the Internet and how?

The question is now galvanizing the mainstream media. Numerous stories are appearing on both the reportorial pages (i.e.,WEF unveils 'crowdsourcing' push on how to run the Web), and on the opinion pages (i.e.,The Internet Power Vacuum Worsens).

In that context, this seems like an appropriate time to set the record straight and to correct some inaccuracies that are being spread across the media landscape.

Scare-mongering headlines aside, the United States is not giving up control of the open Internet. How can I be sure? Because the U.S. does not have control of the Internet. In fact, no one does. No single person, organization or government has control of the global, decentralized Internet.

If you've heard that the U.S. is giving up its protection of the Internet, you may not have all the correct information. What the U.S. is actually doing is preparing to transition its stewardship of a narrow set of technical functions performed by ICANN within the Internet's infrastructure (the IANA functions) to you, as part of the global multistakeholder community. The IANA functions include the allocation and maintenance of the unique codes and numbering systems of the Internet (such as Internet Protocol addresses).

The U.S. Government's announcement of this transition in March 2014 set into motion two open, public processes. One is for the global Internet community to develop a process for this stewardship transition. Consistent with the criteria laid out by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), this proposal must have broad community support and must not seek to replace NTIA's role with a government-led or inter-governmental solution. The second effort is to enhance ICANN's governance and accountability mechanisms in light of the US Government's transition away from its stewardship role. Both of these open and transparent processes involve people and organizations from around the world that have reiterated their conviction that the coordination of these narrow technical functions remains with a private-sector led multistakeholder community, not under control of one or more governments.

A mark of a robust multistakeholder community is spirited debate about how processes work and policies are formed. This debate sometimes leads us to adjust course to allow more time or ensure alignment. One example is the difference of opinions we recently experienced over how ICANN is developing its process for enhancing its governance and accountability. After hearing stakeholder input, ICANN paused the process and launched an additional public comment period (this one 21 days) to gather further input on how best to move forward. ICANN's pausing and seeking further inputs is just one way that the multistakeholder model is working.

A recent proposal to alter ICANN's Bylaws is another example of the power of stakeholders within the multistakeholder model and engaging through mechanisms to address concerns. This proposal would require a two-thirds majority of the Board to agree to act inconsistently with the consensus advice of the Governmental Advisory Committee. This proposal was developed as part of a process stemming from recommendations made in 2010 by ICANN's Accountability and Transparency Review Team. And it is not a done deal. If you read the public comments received to date, you will see strong opposition to it. Many do not agree with that proposal in light of the IANA stewardship transition announcement and recent proposals within the GAC to change how it defines consensus. They are using the public comment system to make their voices heard via ICANN's open and inclusive process because they know the system works and their comments will be heard and considered. Some feel so strongly about it that they are calling others to action via blogs and news articles.

Debate is good. Disagreement is good. These are important dialogues and your views are essential. Engagement in the debate, even if it is to disagree, is critical to the success of the multistakeholder model.

We invite you to join us as a participant or an observer along any portion of this journey. This is how we will together sustain a global, unified Internet.

Former President & CEO

Fadi Chehadé