Remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

Ambassador Daniel A. Sepulveda
Deputy Assistant Secretary and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Washington, DC
October 15, 2014

Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you before our delegation heads to Korea for the International Telecommunication Union’s Plenipotentiary Conference.

The ITU allocates global radio spectrum, develops technical standards for telecommunications networks, and works to improve access to telecommunications and ICTs through its capacity building work.

The United States has been a member of the Union in good standing since 1908. We value the organization and look forward to continued collaborative work with our colleagues abroad next week at the Plenipotentiary and in the years to come.

The quadrennial Plenipotentiary Conference is the top policy-making body of the ITU. More than 2,000 delegates from 167 of the ITU’s Member States attended the last Plenipotentiary, and we expect this year’s Plenipotentiary to be attended in even greater numbers. Representatives from multiple sectors including industry, academia, and civil society will attend the Conference as well. While only Member States will decide the outcome, we urge all governments to make their decisions with robust multistakeholder input.

I have the honor of heading the U.S. delegation. We will attend in very strong numbers, with close to 130 Americans scheduled to join us from our sister agencies, the private sector, and civil society. I will depend on their expertise to guide our advocacy, our negotiation, and our work.

Much of what will be accomplished in Busan will be uncontroversial and administrative in nature. That doesn’t make it unimportant. In fact, the proper administration of the Union, its transparency and accountability with regard to decision making, and its management of financial resources are all critically important. But those aspects of the deliberation and the conference itself are not why I was invited to speak here today.

I was invited here today to address the issues we expect the Union’s membership to debate, with whom we side, what we envision as a successful conference, and our plan to accomplish our goals.

We expect a fairly vigorous debate on the effort of some ITU Member States to expand the authority of the ITU into the realm of international Internet regulations and mandates. The Plenipotentiary will be the latest but not the last arena in which that debate will occur. We will engage it respectfully, but firmly. And we hope it will not detract from the good work on which we can all agree that the Union should engage.

To the extent that the union decides to address issues related to the Internet, our goal will be to ensure that final Plenipotentiary Resolutions and Decisions support the distributed, inclusive, and multistakeholder process of decision making for global Internet governance.

We believe that the global benefits the Internet already provides, and the critical role all stakeholders have played in realizing so much of the Internet’s potential are proof of concept for the existing system of Internet governance, and for the value of building on it rather than replacing it. In Busan, we will leverage the alliances in support of that view that we strengthened and expanded over the last two years at other ITU meetings, the WSIS +10 High Level Event in Geneva, at the NETMundial conference in Brazil, in the Freedom Online Coalition, and in the Internet Governance Forum.

The United States believes that the ITU plays a valuable role as one of the organizations in the constellation of multistakeholder and multilateral forums that deal either directly or indirectly with the global Internet and the networks on which it runs. We respect the views of our colleagues at the ITU, those with whom we agree and disagree alike. And of course, we respect their right to express their views and be heard.

We appreciate and acknowledge that the ITU does valuable work in a number of areas that contribute to the health and continued deployment of the global Internet. It assigns uses in the airwaves for mobile telephony and satellites. It promotes and examines public policies that contribute to the deployment of wireless and wired broadband networks worldwide. And it does valuable work as one of the standard development organizations that enable the interoperability between telecommunications networks and technologies worldwide. Lastly, but very importantly, through its development bureau, the ITU engages in critical capacity building and sharing of best practices in parts of the world that are resource constrained. We support that work and, as I said, we consider it a critical component of the larger universe of activities that support the Internet and are helping bridge the digital divide, a goal that the host nation of Korea has made a top priority for the Union with our support.

There are, however, some Member States in the Union who want to expand the mandate of the ITU in ways intended to give governments the sole or supreme authority over the Internet’s content, critical resources, technologies, or services. We will strongly oppose those proposals. We will argue that the ITU is a time-honored technical organization that should focus on where it can add value by enabling and encouraging telecommunications connectivity around the world. It does so through best practices, voluntary standards, and the promotion of competition and investment in networks. That is both an honorable mission and critical work. The ITU’s members should leave the governance of the Internet, including how people use the Internet to express themselves or as a platform for the development and delivery of services, to others. The ITU’s moral authority and work should not be used as a tool for enabling or endorsing the censorship of free expression on the Internet, nor should it be complicit in the creation of new regulatory barriers to innovation or Internet services.

Some diplomats with whom I have engaged on this question have argued that the roles and responsibilities of governments relative to Internet governance are synonymous with the role and responsibility of the ITU as it relates to Internet governance. We believe that position is fundamentally mistaken. The role of the ITU relative to the Internet is a subset of the broader role of governments on the Internet.

Specifically, the ITU’s role is primarily one dealing with technical standards and technical capacity building, as appropriate to that organization. To the extent the ITU does facilitate discussion of Internet issues, we will insist that it does so in full collaboration with all of the Internet’s stakeholders. It has proven itself capable of such openness during the preparatory process for the 2013 World Telecommunications Policy Forum and as an organizer for the WSIS +10 High Level Event.

But the ITU cannot speak for all its members when consensus does not exist, and its specialized input cannot supplant, direct, or override the input of governments (or other stakeholders) on Internet-related issues in other institutions. We cannot forget that other intergovernmental and multistakeholder organizations have the existing mandates and expertise to address how the Internet intersects with human rights, law enforcement, and national security issues, among others. In the UN context, for example, deliberations on privacy in the digital age are happening at the UN Human Rights Council; concerns about cybercrime are being raised at the UN Office of Drugs and Crime; and the ongoing UN First Committee’s Group of Governmental Experts on Cybersecurity has been tasked to address the use of ICTs by states during conflict situations.

Beyond those areas, and moving to the critical technical functions of the Internet, governments participate in and contribute to the naming and numbering functions of the Internet within the Governmental Advisory Committee, which provides advice to the ICANN Board on public policy aspects of domain name matters pending before it. In the construction of Internet protocols, governments are welcome to, and do, participate in the deliberations and work of the IETF. And the Internet Governance Forum creates and enables a space for policy deliberation and the sharing of best practices amongst all stakeholders, including governments, on some of the most complex and challenging issues facing all of us across cultures and regions on the borderless Internet.

The ITU was not designed, and it does not have the expertise, to exercise singular authority over the areas of Internet policy that others are managing as part of their core mission. And neither it, nor any other single organization or entity, is equipped to wield that kind of comprehensive power. And given that the ITU, like every organization, has limited resources, any expansion of its work into tasks better managed elsewhere would reduce its ability to perform its essential work, for which in some cases the ITU is uniquely responsible.

That is our view and our position. And it is shared and often better articulated by our colleagues abroad.

At the WSIS+10 High Level Event earlier this year in Geneva, Alejandra Lagunes, the Coordinator for the National Digital Strategy for Mexico, said, “On Internet Governance, Mexico strongly believes that what works today has to be strengthened and improved. The Internet has been governed by a multi stakeholder model that includes all of us: governments, academy, civil society, technical organizations who have, from the bottom up, in a collaborative way, defined the principles of Internet governance. We cannot reduce the healthy debate that happens in a multi stakeholder environment to an intergovernmental debate. The Internet is owned by all the people.”

Speaking at Brisbane in September, the Australian Minister of Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, said, “The Australian Government is committed to freedom both on and of the Internet. Australia considers this objective best served by having a strong multi-stakeholder framework such that the governance of the Internet is not in the hands of any one group, including any one government or organization of governments. Of course there is a need for an appropriate role for governments – however, this shouldn’t be one of control.”

And in Brazil, earlier this year, the NetMundial conference endorsed a Multistakeholder Statement which included the following: “The development of international Internet-related public policies and Internet governance arrangements should enable the full and balanced participation of all stakeholders from around the globe, and made by consensus to the extent possible. … Anyone affected by an Internet governance process should be able to participate in that process. …. Internet Governance should be carried out through a distributed, decentralized and multistakeholder ecosystem.”

So when I am asked who stands with us in placing our faith in the multistakeholder process of decision making -- in the people who operate, innovate, work on, study, and love the Internet – I tell them that we stand with Mexico, Australia. We stand with the NetMundial community, and the billions of people who use the Internet today. And we do so in the hopes of ensuring that the remaining billions will join them on an open, global, and inclusive platform in the near future.

It is with the alliances and ideas that underpin our goals that we will succeed in Busan. We will join with Korea and others working to connect the remaining billions of people on the other side of the digital divide. We will encourage and contribute to collaborative efforts encouraging voluntary standards, contributing to connectivity. And we will attend and engage all of the gatherings that the ITU convenes over the next four years in good faith.

We appreciate your interest. We welcome your support. And we encourage you to engage the conversation.

Thank you very much.