NTIA boss Larry Strickling has come out in support of ICANN and its new top-level domains program, warning that its opponents “provide ammunition” to authoritarian regimes.
Speaking in Washington DC yesterday, Strickling warned that organizations fighting to put a stop to the new gTLD program risk provoking a UN takeover of the internet.
In a strongly worded defense of the six-year-old ICANN multistakeholder process that created the program, he said:
we are now seeing parties that did not like the outcome of that multistakeholder process trying to collaterally attack the outcome and seek unilateral action by the U.S. government to overturn or delay the product of a six-year multistakeholder process that engaged folks from all over the world.
The multistakeholder process does not guarantee that everyone will be satisfied with the outcome. But it is critical to preserving the model of Internet governance that has been so successful to date that all parties respect and work through the process and accept the outcome once a decision is reached.
When parties ask us to overturn the outcomes of these processes, no matter how well-intentioned the request, they are providing “ammunition” to other countries who attempt to justify their unilateral actions to deny their citizens the free flow of information on the Internet.
This we will not do. There is too much at stake here.
Strickling is assistant secretary at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which oversees the US government’s relationship with ICANN and IANA.
He’s made similar remarks in support of the multistakeholder model in the past, but never quite as firmly or directly aimed at opponents of the new gTLD expansion.
While he was diplomatic enough not to single out any one group, he was pretty clearly referring to the recently formed Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight.
But Strickling did sound a note of caution about new gTLDs, saying that he agreed with Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who expressed concern about possible negative impacts of the expansion:
We agree with the Chairman’s concerns over how this program will be implemented and its potential negative effect if not implemented properly. We will closely monitor the execution of the program and are committed to working with stakeholders, including U.S. industry, to mitigate any unintended consequences.
But the minutiae of the Applicant Guidebook was not Strickling’s focus. Instead, it was the wider political picture.
The threat of an International Telecommunications Union takeover of the internet’s policy-making functions has plagued ICANN for almost as long as it has existed.
Strickling noted that the ITU’s World Conference on International Telecommunications is coming up one year from now, and that some nations will attempt to usurp ICANN.
Some nations appear to prefer an Internet managed and controlled by nation-states.
We expect that some states will attempt to rewrite the regulation in a manner that would exclude the contributions of multistakeholder organizations and instead provide for heavy-handed governmental control of the Internet.
For the ANA and CRIDO, Strickling’s remarks are a huge setback.
The ANA has previously said that it planned to use all three branches of the US political system — lobbying Congress and the NTIA, or taking ICANN to court — to achieve its ends.
The Senate clearly wasn’t interested yesterday and the NTIA has now confirmed that it’s on ICANN’s side.
That leaves only one option.