Internet Governance Forum USA

Philip L. Verveer
Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy 
Washington, DC
July 18, 2011

It’s a great pleasure to join Marilyn Cade and other friends, both personal and of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), this morning as we look forward to the Nairobi meeting.

The Internet is the largest and most successful cooperative venture in history. It also is by far the most successful example of the multistakeholder approach to discovering appropriate ways and means for achieving beneficial results.

The Internet Governance Forum is the great manifestation of the multistakeholder approach—a kind of annual secular pilgrimage. The U.S. Government is fully committed to the IGF and to the larger multistakeholder arrangements that surround and constitute the Internet.

We live in a time when a whole range of institutions have come to accompany nation states as international actors. Intergovernmental organizations, global corporations, and voluntary organizations of every description play prominent roles in the life of our planet. But even in this context, the Internet stands out. Specialized institutions that are intrinsic to the Internet have been created--the Internet Society, the IETF, ICANN, the World Wide Web Consortium, and the IGF itself prominent among them.

Now exactly what multistakeholderism is remains less than clear as a juridical matter. It is clear that it is a construct that enables all affected parties to participate and likewise one in which no party is privileged vis-à-vis the others. Its essential advantages in the context of the Internet have been recognized in very recent months in communiqués issued by the G8 and the OECD.

But what is it? At a minimum, it is a kind of ethic. It may be or may become much more, but it is important that all of the Internet’s friends continue to observe the ethic by participating when and as possible, at IGF and elsewhere, in a spirit that welcomes and respects the contributions that each participant brings.

It is clear that national governments have a material role in much of what the Internet is and enables. But it is equally clear that we—all humanity—are better off if the Internet remains as it is—free of intergovernmental controls.

In the view of the United States, this is critically important if the Internet is to remain open and free—that is, open to new ideas and uses and to the kind of organic change that has served so well and free of censorship and other tools of political repression. We will continue to press this point everywhere, but especially at the World Conference on International Telecommunications next year. We continue to encounter suggestions to the contrary—that the Internet should be remitted to some form of intergovernmental control—from many quarters.

Some of the suggestions are a function of geopolitical considerations that have their base in misperceptions about the United States’ ability and inclination to use the Internet as an instrument of national power. Countering these misperceptions is an important priority of U.S. diplomacy, both the formal kind that I and my government colleagues are charged with practicing and the citizen kind that all of you interested in the health of the Internet, in the IGF context and otherwise, should be practicing.

On the other hand, I have come to believe that some of the suggestions are a function of differences in worldview. In some cases, it may be the contrast between an intellectual commitment to Cartesian values of order and logic and an American intellectual commitment to pragmatism, our great contribution to philosophy.

One of the truly exciting things about the upcoming IGF is that it is occurring in sub-Saharan Africa. It is the place where the positive consequences of the conjunction of broadband transmission, Internet Protocol, and cellular architecture can be seen most dramatically. With the introduction of undersea cables on both sides of the African continent to supplement satellite transmissions and with the constant improvement in wireless broadband transmission and terminals, the opportunities for significant changes in the economic and social lives of the citizens of a very vibrant region are truly dramatic.

There is another reason I am looking forward to the Nairobi meeting. One of the genuinely noble and successful ICT occurrences of the last three decades has been the United States Telecommunications Training Institute. It has offered training to more than 8,000 professionals from all over the world over this time. I can attest that the demand for participation is high from every part of the world. Much more often than not, it is requested in the course of the bi-lateral meetings in which I participate.

USTTI has been managed on a pro bono basis by its founder, Mickey Gardner, for these nearly 30 years. Fittingly enough in light of our upcoming meeting, USTTI was born in Nairobi. Mickey served as the U.S. head of delegation to the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference in Nairobi in 1982. It was there that he recognized a need for ICT educational services and he moved immediately to help fill that need.

It thus is especially fitting that, if all goes according to plan, USTTI will announce and demonstrate its first distance learning course at the IGF.

I look forward to seeing many of you in Nairobi.