NETmundial Seen Setting Stage for Future Internet Governance Meetings, IANA Transition

The Internet governance meeting NETmundial is expected to shape the transition process of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions and other Internet governance-related issues, said stakeholders planning to attend or follow the conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil (http://bit.ly/1lcUzai). Organized by the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee and /1Net, an international multistakeholder forum, the event is Wednesday and Thursday. Few stakeholders we spoke with expect the conference to produce concrete results. The White House and other executive-branch agencies jointly said Monday that they hope conference attendees will stick to a transparent process in considering the IANA transition.

The event could affect the trajectory of the IANA transition and “set the tone” for other Internet governance meetings later this year, said Phil Corwin, founding principal of e-commerce and intellectual property law consultancy Virtualaw. NETmundial released a draft outcome document (http://bit.ly/1nnmZQ7), which highlights “human rights” and “cultural and linguistic diversity,” among others, as guiding principles for the conference. The document is based on comments from Internet governance stakeholders, it said.

NETmundial is “unlike other meetings,” because it includes stakeholders from government, the business community, civil society and technology, who have “reached out to whoever they wanted to invite,” said Christopher Mondini, ICANN vice president-global stakeholder engagement. Mondini expects about 800 participants to attend, he said at an Internet governance event hosted by Georgetown’s Mortara Center for International Studies last week.

Participants have come “a long way” from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s “pounding the podium” at the UN General

Assembly in New York (http://bit.ly/1kXeTOu) after the disclosure of secret surveillance operations by the National Security Agency, said Mondini. “We need to go to these middle countries that are searching for a democratic, open Internet, just like us,” and find “a way out” other than the ITU, has said ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade. NETmundial will “hopefully” begin developing a process for improved multistake- holder solutions for Internet governance, said Chehade.

The transition of the IANA functions to a global multistakeholder body by NTIA and ICANN was announced last month (WID March 17 p1), setting in motion a series of Capitol Hill hearings and proposed legislation to delay or prohibit the transition (WID April 11 p1). The Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) ACT (HR-4342), which seeks to delay any transition proposal until a GAO study is complete, was approved by the House Communications Subcommittee along party lines.

Based on Q1 lobbying disclosure forms, ICANN spent $285,000 lobbying federal agencies, including NTIA and the State Department, as well as members of Congress, on issues ranging from ICANN’s IANA contract to the expansion of generic top-level domains. ICANN paid Jamie Hedlund, assistant to Chehade, $145,000 for lobbying efforts in Q1. The lobbying firms Mehlman Vogel ($80,000) and Kountoupes Denham ($60,000) also lobbied on behalf of ICANN. It spent the same amount in Q4, Q3 and Q1 in 2013. It spent $280,000 in Q2 2013. The deadline for Q1 filings was Monday.

White House Joint Statement

“The purpose of NETmundial in Brazil is to develop a multistakeholder framework for dealing with the Internet governance issues that do not currently have a home,” said ICANN Chairman Stephen Crocker by email. The issues include “cybercrime,” “open access” and “reducing the digital divide,” he said. “The meeting will be a success if we make progress toward such a framework, and I am fully expecting we will do so.” He said he doubts the meeting will produce “definitive results.” It likely “will

set the stage for further meetings and other means of discussion and building of consensus,” said Crocker. It’s “inevitable” that NTIA’s proposed transition of IANA will be discussed, but that “will receive plenty of attention through its own process,” he said. “I hope we do get to spend time on broader and bigger topics.”

The expectation is that NETmundial stakeholders “will use a transparent process to construct a proposal that will maintain the multistakeholder nature of Internet governance institutions while ensuring that they preserve and strengthen their accountability for the proper execution of those functions critical” to the Internet, said NTIA, the State Department and White House jointly on Monday (http://1.usa.gov/1lzoCc6). “No one stakeholder or group of stakeholders, including governments, should have control over the operation or protocols of the Internet or the creativity, innovation, and freedom of expression that it enables.” The statement’s authors, including White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Michael Daniel and NTIA Administrator Larry Strickling, will attend the conference as the U.S. delegation.

There will be a “much higher chance of success” at NETmundial compared with the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) in 2012, said James Lewis, director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), at the Georgetown event. Some experts saw WCIT as a shift away from the multistakeholder model, in favor of a multilateral approach for Internet governance (WID April 7 p1). “Big international meetings only fail if somebody walks out or if there’s a difference that they can’t paper over,” said Lewis. “That’s not going to happen here.”

Between “7.5 hours of introductions” and “7.5 hours of discussions,” there won’t be “much time for decision making” at NETmundial, said Kurt Pritz, Domain Name Association executive director and former ICANN chief of strategy, in an interview. Internet governance forums are “rich in discussions,” but are “designed for no real decisions or changes,” he said. “Registries are IANA’s largest customer,” because each top-level domain “submits a request to IANA about once a year,” he said. “In formulating” the transition, “we think that process should be focused on the customers of IANA,” he said.

CSIS’s Lewis suggested that it would have been “much better” to hold the bargaining “chip” of the IANA transition until the Brazil meeting, which he described as the “diplomacy question of the day.” If “you were about to go to a giant global meeting where everyone was mad at you and you had a chip that you could give away, would you keep it in your pocket or would you give it away before the meeting?” Lewis asked sarcastically. “We gave away a chip for nothing.”

Larger Role for Internet Governance Conferences?

Internet governance meetings are “important” and their “role should be expanded,” said Don Tapscott, executive director of Global Solution Networks, a think tank within the Martin Institute at the University of Toronto. Global Solution Networks receives funding from Accenture, Google, MasterCard, Qualcomm and others, and published two papers (http://bit.ly/ONvecz) on multistakeholder Internet governance last month. The “threat to move control of the Internet,” including the IANA functions, should be “taken fairly seriously,” said Tapscott.

NetChoice will be “monitoring for statements by foreign governments that reveal their true ambitions for ‘globalizing’ ICANN/IANA,” said Steve DelBianco, executive director. Scenarios under which countries like Russia or China could achieve a multilateral model for Internet governance are “pretty remote, especially given the commitment of democratic countries” to the multistakeholder model, said Tapscott.

NETmundial should “set the tone and direction for Internet governance matters in 2014,” said Virtualaw’s Corwin. NETmundial will likely affect the IANA transition process, “despite the desire of the US to have that discussion confined within the ICANN community,” he said by email.
Corwin cited language from the NETmundial’s draft outcome document, which said that the transition “has to take place through an open process with the participation of all stakeholders extending beyond the ICANN community.” Corwin said NETmundial could have a “significant impact on whether ICANN evolves into a more independent and accountable private sector-led entity or marks its initial transition into a litigation-proof Intergovernmental organization where the private sector takes a back seat to governments.” — Joe McKnight (jmcknight@warren-news.com)