Closing Remarks at the Internet Governance Forum USA

Ambassador Daniel A. Sepulveda
Deputy Assistant Secretary and U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs
Center for Strategic and International Studies
Washington, DC
July 14, 2016

(As delivered)

Thank you, Shane, for the introduction. I also want to thank the U.S. IGF Multistakeholder Planning Committee for planning this event and the Center for Strategic and International Studies for hosting.

As you all know, the international Internet Governance Forum has become the premier global, multistakeholder venue for candid and timely dialogue on cross-cutting Internet issues.

We fought to keep it that way through months of negotiations as part of the World Summit on the Information Society Ten-Year Review, and in December 2015, the United Nations General Assembly agreed by consensus to renew the mandate of the Internet Governance Forum for another ten years.

That was an achievement and the end result of the advocacy and commitment of the people in this room and the many others around the world committed to preserving the Internet as a tool for human progress.

A positive side effect of the IGF has been the organic growth of regional and national IGFs, like the IGF-USA and I think the format is just as timely and useful at the national level as it is at the international level.

The day covered a full spectrum of issues, ranging from how to “move beyond access” as we enhance connectivity around the world, to how to manage the risks and opportunities of emerging technologies.

There were also innovations in the agenda that made today’s discussion stand out. The organizers this year strived, and I believe succeeded, to avoid the “echo chamber” phenomenon that plagues similar events. For example, rather than ask “how do we balance privacy and security?” there was a session on whether there is room for both in the Internet’s future.. This led to especially vibrant discussions for which the credit goes to the session organizers, the steering committee, and of course the speakers.

Beyond the panels, I want to acknowledge the work of the IGF-USA’s new Sustainability Working Group, which is already looking beyond today’s event and thinking about what structures and processes are needed to ensure its future dynamism. Strengthening our national IGF and enabling the kind of discussions that happen here is key to our success on these issues globally.

I attended my first IGF-USA in 2014. In my remarks there, I outlined the internet governance road ahead as we saw it then. At the time, Brazil’s NETmundial meeting had just concluded and we were in the thick of preparations for the International Telecommunication Union Plenipotentiary Conference. We were also in the nascent stages of the process through ICANN to develop a proposal to transition the stewardship of the IANA functions from NTIA to the global multistakeholder community. And the WSIS +10 was still off in what seemed like the distant future.

There was some anxiety around each of these events, with predictions about how each one would be a possible moment where authoritarian countries would make progress towards their ambition of a UN or ITU “takeover of the Internet”.

But because of your work, advocacy, and support for the multistakeholder approach and the Internet itself, that is not what happened. In each case, the Internet community found ways to work together, which allowed us to not only avoid bad outcomes, but reach positive consensus-based decisions that will influence the future of the Internet and preserve it as an open and global platform for communication and innovation.

With those events behind us, 2016 is brimming with opportunities.

Among the most relevant opportunities for us today is the question of how to take advantage of the IGF’s ten-year mandate and ensure its growth and prosperity.

The IGF community, particularly through the hard work of the Multistakeholder Advisory Group, has repeatedly demonstrated its resolve to meet the needs of the international community by improving IGF processes, and has carried out work that responds to the recommendations of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development Working Group on Improvements to the IGF.

Since the publication of the Working Group’s report, the MAG has increased transparency by outlining the IGF workshop evaluation and selection process and publishing those processes on the IGF website, along with other internal planning procedures. The MAG’s creation of an IGF intercessional work program has resulted in more tangible outputs, such as last year’s Policy Options for Connecting the Next Billion. And the growing body of work that the IGF’s Best Practice Forums and Dynamic Coalitions have produced is a testament to the IGF community’s enthusiasm and interest in discussing Internet policy challenges on a collaborative, multistakeholder basis.

New National and Regional IGF Initiatives (NRIs) are developing at a steady pace. The many different NRIs, including the IGF-USA, are helping enrich and expand worldwide dialogue on Internet policy issues by feeding national and regional experiences into discussion at the annual IGF.

The United States supports open, transparent, and inclusive conversations among the IGF community about how to continue to improve the IGF and we very much look forward to participating in the 11th IGF this December in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Another opportunity for 2016 and beyond, and one of our primary global challenges, is closing the digital divide. It is both an economic and moral imperative that information and communication technologies be developed and deployed in ways that reduce inequality and spread opportunity. For humanity to fully benefit from the Internet, it needs to be accessible to all people.

Many speakers today, including Under Secretary Novelli this morning, talked about the Global Connect Initiative, which aims to bring an additional 1.5 billion people online worldwide by 2020. We hope you will all join us in this call to action.

We must also focus our attention on making Internet policy discussions more inclusive and accessible to stakeholders from around the world. We need to find ways to engage with diverse voices on internet governance and enable increased participation from the developing world in related international meetings and processes. And in every country, we need to identify and engage young people, entrepreneurs, start-up communities, and the technologically engaged so that they can become internal advocates for the preservation of the global, open Internet.

Finally, we have plenty of stories that support the linkage between Internet openness and economic and social benefits. But what we don’t have is enough data on data. More quantitative analysis and sharper definitions would help us better advocate for a free and open Internet.

The open, global Internet has served us well as a platform to provide anyone connected to it with opportunities to exercise their human rights online, particularly the right to freedom of expression, and enabling them to contribute to political, economic, and social discourse. We believe that this is vitally important and essential to preserve. That’s why the United States was proud to be in the Core Group of countries at the UN Human Rights Council that drafted and defended the strongest Internet Freedom resolution yet, affirming that the same rights that apply offline also apply online and condemning measures by governments to intentionally disrupt citizens’ access to the Internet, a phenomenon that in 2016 is experiencing an alarming spike, which we are closely watching with concern.

Key to the Internet’s preservation as a force for good is our ability to retain its cultural and technological openness as a platform and its interoperability across networks, technologies, and things. These qualities help extend to the world many of the freedoms and values that the United States holds as central beliefs. That is why it is so important for all of us to engage in the global debates and to be mindful of how through our many decisions and discussions around internet governance we steer it on a path that avoids fragmentation and preserves openness.

It’s not easy to measure the impact of conversations like today’s but they are crucial to our collective future. I am deeply grateful to you for engaging it. And I know it will require our collective efforts to take advantage of future opportunities and find ways to solve new challenges. We will succeed. I am sure of it. And I look forward to continuing this conversation with you and working together with you towards our shared goals.