printable banner

U.S. Department of State - Great Seal

U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Remarks at the 2014 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
George Washington University
Washington, DC
July 16, 2014


Thank you for the opportunity to speak.

All of us, both here and abroad, are partners working to protect the Internet as it was handed down to us by its founders – free, open, global, and coordinated and governed by everyone with a stake in its future. That operational model has enabled the creation and growth of the world’s greatest drivers for economic, social, and political development since the printing press. This generation, which has benefited so greatly from the Internet, has an obligation to protect and preserve it for future generations.

With that mission in mind, the range of issues we could attempt to discuss today would each take a week long seminar. Instead of trying to provide the answers to emerging Internet related issues or speculating on the future of Internet governance, I think it would be more beneficial to use this opportunity to ensure that we come together as participants from varied stakeholder groups and agree on how we can contribute to the work of the global community to address each of these issues as a matter of process and how we should work with our friends abroad to ensure that we are in agreement, united, and, ultimately, successful.

Given that you will have a session on network neutrality later in the day, I hope we can all agree that this issue should not divide us at the water’s edge. Whatever our extremely capable FCC Chairman and Commissioners decide on this question, neither the person in my job nor any other American should argue that an FCC rulemaking should be read to even imply support for UN authority over international Internet communications, because it does not. We have multiple laws and regulations to encourage the deployment of broadband service in America as well as its uptake and use, ranging from antitrust law, to merger reviews and conditions, to privacy protections for children online, to cross subsidization of broadband deployment through the universal service fund. None of these extremely valuable policy tools change our position on international Internet governance issues and neither will protections for the open Internet. In Istanbul, New York, Busan and other places later this year, the world will continue to debate the state of Internet governance and its future and American stakeholders must stay united in support of the multistakeholder approach.

We know that some government representatives have argued and will continue to argue that the Internet is a form of international commerce and communications that requires centralized control and regulation under intergovernmental authority.

Our response to those claims is that the Internet was born global of voluntary and consensus based cooperation and coordination between many different stakeholders, not just governments. As such, we maintain that the Internet’s stakeholders have a proven track record to justify the continuation of an Internet governance architecture that is diffuse, inclusive of everyone, and not subject to intergovernmental control.

I want to build on that argument here today and emphasize our core messages for our partners, but before doing so, I want to emphasize for those abroad that we do not begrudge other countries who disagree with us, particularly those representing democratic societies. We understand that what they want for their people is to ensure that everyone is connected to the Internet and remains safe while online. We share those goals. However, we respectfully differ with those that believe the answers to those challenges lie in international regulation of technology. And we strongly urge those countries, who often share our fundamental democratic principles and values, to guard against alliances with authoritarian regimes that have no interest in the broader distribution of the service as a tool for human empowerment. Rather, these authoritarian countries seek to manipulate the Internet as tool for economic, social, and political control and would manipulate the Internet infrastructure to ensure censorship and restrict human rights, including freedom of expression.

We also want our friends in the global South to know that we are not arguing that governmental involvement is inherently bad or has no role in economic markets, even as it relates Internet related issues. Governments around the world are stakeholders in the future of the Internet, just like all other users of the platform, and their participation at multistakeholder institutions is vitally important for the system to work. Further, most of us who support the existing system believe that there is a role for governments to play at the national and international level to ensure that the benefits of the Internet are made accessible to everyone and that people have the digital skills they need to make that access relevant to their lives.

Crucially, however, and as I have said, we do not believe that intergovernmental regulation of the Internet’s critical functions, or of what people do or say on the platform, is either necessary or useful. If pursued such concentration of authority would do more harm than good, disenfranchising the existing Internet community, stifling innovation, and putting everything from freedom of expression to the free flow of commerce and access to information at risk.

Centralizing control over the global Internet in the hands of governments risks breaking it. It is not a risk worth taking. It is not something that the world’s Internet users want. And it is not necessary in order to address the real challenges before us.

In short, multistakeholder Internet governance processes work well, so we do not see a need for duplication and will push back against efforts that risk undermining the functions they execute because it is in the global public interest to support the successful multistakeholder approach. People all around the world should have the freedom to speak, organize, create, and learn using the global platform we call the Internet without having to ask a gathering of government ministers for permission and without international technical mandates restricting their creativity or silencing their voices.

Networks should continue to interconnect internationally through commercial arrangements on the basis of consensus-based voluntary standards. And as governments, we should focus on building enabling legal and regulatory environments that encourage and reward investments in broadband infrastructure, in the services that ride over that infrastructure, and in the skills people need to use Internet access for productive purposes.

The United States Government is doing our part abroad by supporting policies and actions, public and private that accelerate the deployment of broadband communications services and applications worldwide. Through efforts such as the U. S. Agency for International Development’s Global Broadband and Innovation program; assistance projects that help develop Universal Service Funds in countries from Kenya to Vietnam to; the public-private Alliance for Affordable Internet; and my office’s Technology Leadership Program, the United States Government is committed and involved in global efforts to connect people in the developing world to the revolutionary force that is the global Internet.

Along with industry and civil society here at home – and with partners abroad as well, the Obama Administration will continue to make the case for the multistakeholder system of Internet governance in as many forums as possible, invite new actors into the conversation from everywhere in the world and from every sector, and work diligently to construct solutions to the digital divide and the cybersecurity challenges in both multistakeholder and intergovernmental settings and processes. It is an effort at cooperation and collaboration without sacrificing principle.

And we believe that strategy is working. The NTIA’s decision to announce its intent to transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community sent a strong message to the world that we believe the multistakeholder community can govern itself, without the symbolic or actual oversight of any single stakeholder, including the U.S. Government.

In part because that message was so well received, the multistakeholder community at NetMundial was able to bring Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Ghana, the African Union, and others into the fold and into agreement on multistakeholder processes as the first principle for Internet governance. And even at the ITU, multistakeholder processes were used in the last year to prepare documents that were then affirmed by governments at the World Telecommunications Policy Forum and at the WSIS+10 High Level Event. All of this is proof that an understanding of the utility and value of deference to multistakeholder expertise and legitimacy is gaining ground worldwide, and we should continue to urge continued and active support for the multistakeholder model going forward.

Many challenges remain; we have still not convinced all our democratic partners and may not convince many authoritarian nations of our arguments for the foreseeable future. But the trendlines are encouraging. I have faith in this community and in this model of international governance. And I believe that through organized advocacy and good faith collaboration, we can and will win the majority of the world over to our side of the table. It is an exciting time and our prospects are positive. But we need your participation, voice, and support going forward.

One area that especially will benefit from your participation, advocacy, and support is the global IGF. The maturity of the IGF has demonstrated that it can be, and indeed increasingly is, a primary venue for the multi-stakeholder community to share opinions, ideas, and problems regarding a range of Internet governance and policy issues. But its continued success is contingent on the commitment of everyone in this room. In order for the IGF to remain a vibrant venue of multistakeholder engagement, we must all commit to active participation, encouraging others to do so well; we must all commit to exploring creative solutions to allow the IGF and its participants to better capture its outputs and tangible takeaways; and we must commit to supporting the Forum financially so that it may be properly staffed and enabled. I urge you all to make these commitments generously so that we can ensure the IGF’s renewed mandate in 2015 and its continued viability.

In closing, let me reemphasize the need for unity. This room and the community that supports the multistakeholder system hold a wide range of views on multiple specific issues. That was evident at NetMunial. But we found that we were strongest when we stood together and came together, respecting each other’s views. Every new form of communications technology carries with it challenges as well as benefits, and there are no magic bullet single solutions to the challenges a digitally interconnected world poses. But the commitment we make here is that that we will work to find those solutions together, on equal footing, and in good faith. Thanks again.

Back to Top

Do you already have an account on one of these sites? Click the logo to sign in and create your own customized State Department page. Want to learn more? Check out our FAQ!

OpenID is a service that allows you to sign in to many different websites using a single identity. Find out more about OpenID and how to get an OpenID-enabled account.