2015 is going to be a busy year for the Internet – and not just in Brussels with the recent arrival of an ambitious new team of Commissioners but globally – with the evolution of Internet governance and the IANA functions Stewardship Transition.
It will be 10 years since the conclusion of the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), a 4 year long process held in two phases which produced a number of declarations and engagements, and created the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) as well as the endorsement that governance of the Internet should be ‘multi-stakeholder’.
Initially the WSIS was to focus – rightly, many would say – on ‘bridging the digital divide’. But the more political discussions usual for a UN setting soon focused on the topic of Internet Governance: who rules the Internet? How can it be controlled?
And there was no clear conclusion on that.
The running of the core functions behind the Internet is coordinated – a better word than ‘governed’ – by a distributed collaborative of processes, mechanisms, and organisations, each distinct and interdependent on one another.
The global and cross-border nature of the Internet challenges the concept of governance by only governments or groups of government. Partly, this is why these various governance processes have evolved organically to be both global and ‘multi-stakeholder’ in nature, resulting in a pioneering democratic effort to tackle these challenges in a novel approach. Many, and we at ICANN, consider the multistakeholder model to be the most effective, open and transparent structure.
So why is 2015 going to be busy?
Well a lot happened this year, paving the way for the unfolding of processes in 2015. The inevitable shift from dialogue to action. The Net Mundial conference of Sao Paulo in April 2014 in particular, came out of the realisation of the need to move to a next level in Internet Governance.
It gathered all stakeholders to draft and adopt through ‘rough consensus’ a series of important principles, starting with the respect of human rights and privacy online, and a roadmap for further improvements and evolutions of the system, including for the Internet Governance Forum, as well as a whole gamut of other aspects.
ICANN itself is in the middle of major evolution, with its globalization efforts, the transition of the IANA functions, together with a review on how to further enhance ICANN Accountability & Governance.
ICANN has gone into a major programme of globalisation over the last two years in particular, with the opening of two operational hubs in Istanbul and Singapore, so that we are able to serve the global Internet community at anytime, anywhere. Already about a third of ICANN’s staff is based internationally, and this is growing.
Likewise, we have embarked on a major effort of engagement of stakeholders around the world, to build capacity and encourage more participation from people from all over the world in ICANN.
We want to ensure that our community is representative of the global nature of the Internet; that is true for our staff, our stakeholders, our Board.
Then there is the topic, which has grabbed the headlines around the world this year: the intention to transition the US Government’s historic role of oversight of the core IANA functions, which ICANN administers, to ‘the global multi-stakeholder community’ by the end of September 2015.
At the end of the process, all those concerned with the Internet, from the technical community and governments to civil society, will have the equal responsibility for overseeing these key functions.
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 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. announcement in March 2014 set into motion two open, public processes. One is for the global Internet community to develop a proposal for this stewardship transition. 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.
This is an important moment in the history of ICANN; a testament to how the organisation and its community have matured.
We now have a multi-stakeholder model of governance and operational mechanisms that are ready to function on their own, led by a community of stakeholders rather than a central, top-down authority, having demonstrated the efficient management and coordination of the Domain Name System by ICANN and the Internet technical community over the past 16 years.
ICANN’s mission is to maintain an open, singular and secure Internet. The global Internet is a unique tool that brings together mankind. It is incumbent upon us all to keep that way: open, unique and global.
Working on increased access to an open, global, interoperable and expanding Internet is good for business and national economies.
And the opposite is true: if we compartmentalise the Internet, we would lose the vast benefits of cross-border exchanges, trading, free flow of information and knowledge, etc. that come with it.
Everybody knows the importance of the Internet – as individuals, as organisations, as societies and as nations, making understanding the current evolution process the more imperative to us all. 2015 will be all about this evolution and how best to serve the global community in relation to the next phase of Internet Governance.
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.
Visit www.icann.org/stewardship to get involved.