Advancing the Multistakeholder Approach in the Multilateral Context
Senior Deputy Coordinator for International Communications & Information Policy, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Good afternoon. I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak to you here at IGF-USA, but before I begin my remarks, I want to take a moment to thank the many individuals who make up the planning committee for today’s event. You have provided a valuable platform for exchanging views on Internet policy issues and embodied the very approach we are collectively seeking to advance – the continued evolution of multistakeholder mechanisms.
In my role as Senior Deputy Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy at the State Department, my primary responsibility is to formulate and coordinate communications and information policy relative to multilateral organizations. This includes the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the Organization for American States. As information and communications technologies (ICTs) have evolved, so have the interests and needs of the governments that participate in these multilateral institutions. The growth and spread of the Internet brought with it economic and social benefits that have improved lives in every corner of the world. And with it came a new set of public policy issues and challenges that also need to be addressed.
In the United States, transparency and robust public participation is ingrained in our democratic processes and in our DNA. Having the expertise of those who are most knowledgeable and most keenly affected by policy is necessary in order to achieve the best results. We know that a wide range of public policy challenges require the efforts and expertise of the full community and we are joined in that view by many countries around the world. We recognize that the Internet has flourished because of and not despite the bottoms-up, consensus-based process that embraces the private sector, civil society, academia, engineers and governments, to participate in its development and governance.
But even as we have made progress in advancing the multistakeholder approach to Internet governance, there are still some countries that would rather discuss and decide public policy issues in institutions and settings where governments have the sole or dominant voice. This has created an interesting set of questions and challenges for multilateral organizations and how they engage with the Internet community. Those questions include:
• How can the Internet community preserve and advance the multistakeholder approach in light of some governments’ drive to address Internet policy in multilateral settings?
• How can we shape institutions to better meet the needs of the twenty-first century society?
• How do we make existing multistakeholder institutions more accessible to all stakeholders, including governments from developing countries that are seeking assistance in addressing public policy issues?
• Can multilateral institutions aim to support the multistakeholder approach and organizations -- and if so, how?
The answers to these questions are a work in progress. But I’m happy to note we are making progress and there are positive signs emerging.
One stand-out achievement is the Internet Governance Forum (IGF). The connection to the United Nations provides the IGF legitimacy in the eyes of many participants from the developing world, and the multistakeholder nature of the IGF gives it the expertise and vibrancy to address the critical issues of the day.
For the past decade, the IGF has served the community well as a valuable forum for timely, candid, and multistakeholder dialogue on Internet policy issues. As a community, we have matured and improved the IGF so that it better meets the needs of all stakeholders. The IGF provides participants with live webcasting and transcripts of the sessions, which provides transparency and expands participation, including participation by persons with disabilities and specific needs. Intercessional work, like the best practice forums, and the growth of national and regional IGFs have deepened the forum’s reach.
We have also seen some multilateral institutions take steps to incorporate stakeholders outside their traditional membership in their proceedings on Internet-related issues. These steps are significant as well as symbolic when you consider the traditions of these organizations.
UN entities like UNESCO and the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD) have wrestled with the issue of multistakeholder versus traditional intergovernmental participation in their proceedings. CSTD, which has an important role in advising UNGA and the ECOSOC on science and technology issues and served as the focal point on implementation of WSIS outcomes, has adopted a model that strives to use “the multistakeholder approach effectively” while still preserving the “intergovernmental nature of the CSTD.” UNESCO, which has historically had a stronger relationship with non-governmental organizations, has been more open to multistakeholder participation, as well as participating as a stakeholder itself in other meetings and events. This was apparent at UNESCO’s WSIS+10 Review Event in 2013 and most recently at the “CONNECTing the Dots” conference on the Internet, which included breakout sessions comprised of a mix of representatives from the government and private sector to discuss the final outcome document.
This was also the case at the World Summit on the Information Society - WSIS + 10 High Level Event, which was organized by the ITU, UNESCO, UNCTAD, and UNDP last June. The event reviewed the progress made in the implementation of the outcomes of WSIS. Six multistakeholder preparatory meetings provided the basis for the two outcome documents: "WSIS + 10 Vision for WSIS Beyond 2010" and "WSIS + 10 Statement of Implementation of the WSIS" which were approved by the community. We viewed the culmination of the preparatory process as a positive development and an example of how multilateral institutions are opening to multistakeholder participation, as the membership increasingly recognizes the important role that non-government stakeholders can play.
We also saw incremental progress at the ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference, which took place in October 2014. There, Member States agreed to establish mechanisms to enable multistakeholder input to the government-only Council Working Group on International Internet Public Policy. This agreement fell short of the United States’ proposal to open the Council Working Group entirely and allow all stakeholders to participate fully. However, it signifies progress and helps to further the view that discussions of Internet-related issues require stakeholder participation, which is a step in the right direction. Every meeting that is enriched by multistakeholder participation serves as an example and a precedent that opens doors for multistakeholder participation in future meetings and fora.
Despite the progress that we have made, we recognize that some scenarios call for governments to play predominant roles. This is the nature of multilateral institutions and why the mandates of such institutions must remain focused on their core competencies and not expand into the area of Internet governance.
This is also why we find it essential to incorporate multistakeholder participation in our domestic preparatory processes and in the delegations that we bring to multilateral meetings. At the 2014 ITU Plenipotentiary Conference, we had a delegation of more than 130 members -- over half of whom were non-governmental stakeholders. The situation for the upcoming World Radiocommunication Conference will be much the same.
I do not have sufficient words to express how valuable we find your participation and the expertise you bring to our delegations. I believe it is because of you that we are able to achieve positive outcomes at these events.
Looking ahead, the United States is pleased that the international community will conclude the ten-year review of WSIS at a High Level Meeting of the UN General Assembly in December 2015.
The growth and development of the Information Society has been remarkable, and the WSIS framework continues to demonstrate that it is flexible enough to adapt to rapidly evolving technologies . The WSIS outcomes clearly recognize the role of the multistakeholder community, which has been integral to WSIS implementation the past decade.
We believe that the WSIS +10 review should reaffirm the principles agreed at the World Summit, including continued promotion of the multistakeholder approach.
To that end, the United States worked closely with our allies over eight months to negotiate the modalities for the WSIS+10 High Level Meeting and its preparatory process. One of the most difficult issues during those discussions was the reluctance of a few countries to include non-government stakeholders in a process held according to General Assembly rules. But we continued to push for full and open participation for all. We will persist at every opportunity to make sure the voices of the non-governmental stakeholders are heard and taken into consideration during WSIS+10.
We are pleased to see that the President of the General Assembly and two co-facilitators have recognized the role of the non-government stakeholders that is outlined in the modalities resolution and appear committed to making the process as inclusive as possible. Not every country in New York agrees with this approach, so we’ll need to remain vigilant to ensure the process remains as open as possible.
But now it’s time for all of us to take advantage of those opportunities and to participate in the WSIS+10 process. There are important meetings in October and December and, most urgently, the UN Secretariat is accepting written inputs towards the WSIS+10 outcome document until the end of July. I encourage you to provide input.
We continue to work these issues on other fronts as well. We are working now with the OECD to shape an upcoming ministerial meeting on the Digital Economy: Innovation, Growth, and Social Prosperity, scheduled for next June in Cancun, Mexico. Ambassador Sepulveda will be a vice chairman. One of the themes focuses on the open Internet as a platform for growth and inclusiveness. We look forward to discussing the benefits of the open Internet for investment, trade, innovation, economic growth, and social well-being and re-affirming the OECD’s Internet Policy Principles.
We have a strong U.S. government team working on our engagements with international institutions and we will continue to work with the broader stakeholder community in forming our positions and approaches on these important issues. As we know, there are those who do not support the multistakeholder system and seek to replace it with a centralized, top-down approach where governments and inter-governmental institutions have more control. Let me say that we in the U.S. Government believe that such policies are misguided and would actually stunt the growth of the Internet and impede its effectiveness.
We live in an age where the key ingredients for innovation and economic growth are cooperation and collaboration, flexibility and ingenuity. And we need the community’s support because you bear the largest share of the burden of developing and implementing solutions that keep the Internet robust and growing.
The fact is that in the global governance of the Internet, intergovernmental authority has never been the prevailing power, and it shouldn’t be going forward. The innovation and transformative effect for human empowerment that the Internet has produced over the last ten years are proof positive that the multistakeholder approach not only should continue, but deserves praise and recognition, reaffirmation, and further investment.
We in the U.S. Government are working steadfastly with our international partners and global stakeholders to preserve the multistakeholder approach wherever it is challenged. We need your help to do this and that is why I am particularly pleased to be here at the IGF-USA to ask for your continuing engagement.
I look forward to working with all of you.