As you might imagine, I’ve been following the ITU’s Plenipotentiary Conference very closely. It was built up to be the great showdown of our time – the pro-‘free and open’ Internet in one corner (comprised for the most part of developed and democratic nations), in the other corner a contingent of totalitarian regimes bent on a fractured, censored Internet – a near battle royale for control of one of the greatest communications tool the world has ever seen.
In fact, the lead up to the past few ITU events has been more akin to an over-the-top sporting event rather than meetings of an international, bureaucratic institution. Sometimes the conferences live up to the hype. WCIT 12 ended in a vote that led to months of bad feeling between countries that signed or didn’t sign the new International Telecommunication Regulations.
However, the current news out of Busan paints the Plenipotentiary as a non-event, at least by its midpoint. Where the hype may have been well-deserved, it appears that the main event won’t live up to expectations.
There were four main Internet-related resolutions going into the Plenipot. One was very broad, on IP-based networks. Another was on internationalizing domain names, and yet another was on IPv6 transition. The one most directly related to Internet governance referenced “international public policy issues pertaining to the Internet and the management of Internet resources, including domain names and addresses.”
Of the four resolutions, it is the final one that caused the most concern in the Internet governance world. Where general governance ends and where public policy starts can be a hazy area and the cause of a lot of the debates between governments. This is where the ‘ITU taking over the Internet’ statements of alarm come from.
Apart from the resolutions on the table in Busan, there were proposals that would have seen the ITU move further into what many, including me, think is more properly the arena of multi-stakeholder governance, but what some governments think is more properly the area of multilateral public policy-making. There was a proposal to have ITU become an IP address registry. There were proposals to have ITU develop international laws and policy on online surveillance to prevent sovereign rights of states being violated (this being the first major ITU conference since the Snowden revelations). There was also a proposal for ITU to investigate a new architecture for the future Internet. All of these proposals alarmed various sectors of the Internet world to different degrees.
In the end, however, rather uncontroversial resolutions were developed by the drafting group to move forward to a vote by the ITU plenary. Does this mean that Plenipotentiary won’t have any affect on the Internet as we know it?
The answer to that is ‘yes and no’. It’s true that the Busan resolutions won’t have a direct effect on the Internet once the Plenipot winds up on November 7. However, this does not mean that certain governments will give up on the proposals they couldn’t get through in Busan. We are likely to see them crop up again at another ITU or intergovernmental meeting in the not-too-distant future.
There is no doubt that the so-called ‘Indian proposal’ to develop a more secure and trustworthy Internet will resurface, as Member States were encouraged on Tuesday to take up the issues raised by the proposal and discuss them in relevant fora.
Debate on what Internet issues are appropriate for ITU to discuss will also be a hot topic on a yearly basis, following a decision have the ITU’s Council Working Group on International Internet-related Public Policy Issues (CWG-Internet) decide at its first meeting of each year what it will discuss and conduct public consultations on for the rest of that year. This means that while new Internet issues may not have made it into the Busan resolutions, they could make it into ITU’s agenda via the first CWG-Internet meeting held each January or February in Geneva. In other words, we now have even more meetings to keep an eye on and even more consultation processes to write responses to.
This year’s Plenipot also saw the election of new ITU leadership. Former Deputy Secretary General Houlin Zhao was elected, unopposed, to the post of Secretary General. Canada’s lone candidate in the ITU’s election, Bruce Gracie, lost out to Malcolm Johnson for the position of Deputy Secretary General. Zhao has made assurances that he has no intention of changing the relationship between ITU and the Internet world, and that he will continue Dr. Toure’s efforts to work in cooperation with entities in the Internet space.
Johnson, on the other hand, does not have a stellar history of working collaboratively with the Internet community, so his election has not been welcomed by some on the inside of the Internet governance world. Time will tell, however. History shows us that Deputy Secretary Generals generally stay in the shadows and let the Secretary Generals lead. If this continues to be the case, Johnson’s election likely will not result in any great change in the way ITU’s leadership will approach their engagement with key Internet organizations.
The Plenipot isn’t over yet. There’s still opportunity for fireworks during the final week, though that’s highly unlikely. And while there is little for those of us on the ‘free and open’ Internet to bemoan, Busan will end without a clear victor. Those who would minimize any declarations that there are states that are using fora like the Plenipot to extend their reach over the Internet will use the outcomes from Busan to support their position. However, I think Busan will end in a tie – while there were no overt actions that extend the ITU’s reach over the Internet, the field has been set for future plays. We’re in a long game, and I’m not sure we’re leading yet.
There was a compelling article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) the other day about ICANN and illegal online pharmacies. The result of a six-month investigation, the reporter, Jeff Elder, calls into question ICANN’s effectiveness in investigating complaints of suspected illegal activity on domain names it has a contractual relationship with.
Elder cites a recent incident where Interpol and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration tried to have 1,300 websites shut down because they were suspected of selling drugs without a prescription. Having no success with requests to the Chinese registrar take the sites down (even with a court order), the law enforcement agencies approached ICANN. While the original take-down requests were sent to the registrar in July 2014, as of earlier this month, ICANN had yet to take any action. This is just one example of law enforcement agencies expressing frustration with ICANN’s process to investigate, and ultimately act on requests to investigate illegal activity online.
While ICANN does not have any specific authority to police websites, it does have the authority, through its contractual relationships with registrars and registrants, to investigate suspected illegal activity. According to the individuals interviewed for the WSJ article, ICANN does not exercise this authority often enough. Elder references a statement from LegitScript, saying that, “of the 4,700 suspicious drug-selling websites that the officials have reported since February, about 4,000 stayed online after reports were filed to the sites’ registrars and ICANN.”
Given the international nature of the Internet – a website can be created in one country, hosted in another, on a domain name registered in yet a third, while selling a product in many jurisdictions – policing online activity is complicated. And without (fortunately!) a central authority to police the Internet, ICANN has been put in the unenviable position of investigating many of these complaints.
It’s worth pointing out that investigating suspected illegal activity is less of an issue for us at CIRA. While an individual can register a .CA domain name and keep their identity private, the same is not true for other entities. CIRA’s WHOIS policy stipulates that all non-individual registrants – corporations, not-for-profits, government departments, and so on – are unable to register a domain name without their registrant data made public. I believe this policy mitigates illegal activity, like that identified in Elder’s article, on .CA websites. A bad actor is not going to register a domain name to conduct illegal activity if their contact information is public and therefore easily accessible to law enforcement.
The article raises an interesting question – is it the responsibility of an organization like ICANN, or even a TLD registry like CIRA, to police content online? The case referenced in the WSJ article is one of a legitimate public health concern. However, similar requests could be made to ICANN regarding other content. Pornography is illegal in many parts of the world, as is content that is critical of certain governments. It’s conceivable that law enforcement agencies would request that content be taken down, just as Interpol and the FDA requested the online pharmacies be removed from the Internet.
Do we really want ICANN to take on the role of arbiter of the online world? I certainly don’t. The Internet is the greatest vehicle for free speech and creativity since the invention of the printing press; a gatekeeper to the Internet would unravel the tremendous benefits it has brought us over the past 20 years.
At CIRA, and at many other top-level domain registries around the world, we consider ourselves to be content agnostic. Our criteria for taking a website down are very narrow – we will only do so in three circumstances: if the website poses harm to children, is damaging to the domain name system, or if we are served a court order by law enforcement. We do not monitor .CA websites. We do, however, perform regular checks to ensure registrants are in compliance with the terms of the agreement they have with us. And, if we were to receive a court order demanding we take down a website that is part of an illegal activity, we would comply, just as we have done in the past.
Elder also draws the line between ICANN’s seeming inability to keep illegal pharmacies off the Web and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) oversight transition. Without transparency in addressing requests like the ones referenced in the article, how can ICANN be trusted without sufficient oversight, like that of the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA)? This is a bit of a stretch. As a party involved in both the IANA oversight transition and ICANN accountability discussions, if anything, ICANN will be held to a greater degree of accountability once the NTIA backs away from its current role.
The fact that the WSJ is critical of ICANN comes as no surprize. Articles and blogs from the newspaper have had a noticeable anti-ICANN bent for a few years now (and, I might add, have been ill-informed about these issues). An article from March 2014 about NTIA’s announcement stated, “Icann [sic] isn’t even ready to regulate itself.” A more recent article references ICANN’s plans to “hand control [of the Internet] over to governments,” and called on Congress to block the IANA oversight transition: “If Mr. Obama persists, Congress should block his plan with a simple message: The open Internet is too valuable to surrender.”
I’ve blogged about the media’s uninformed (and I would argue damaging) coverage of the IANA oversight transition, but in my opinion, the WSJ coverage reaches new levels of shortsightedness. It reminds me of a company making desperate efforts to bump up quarterly earnings at the expense of long-term, sustainable growth. By ignoring the larger issues the globalization of the IANA functions will address, the WSJ draws attention away from the important work we are doing to ensure a sustainable free and open Internet for all of the world’s citizens. Sadly, there are all too many people and organizations that will use this as fodder for their own political gain.
As the Internet continues to become a more ubiquitous part of the social and economic fabric of the globe’s citizens, tensions like the ones in Elder’s article will become more common. We are entering uncharted territory. Never before have all of the world’s cultures been so linked together, and issues that stem from fundamental political and philosophical differences, like pornography, free speech or differences in legal regimes will become more common and pronounced. However, we must resist the temptation to address these issues with short-term solutions instead of focusing on the long game.
If you are as interested in this topic as I am, there are many people and organizations working on solutions to these challenges. In particular, I encourage you to check out the work of Bertrand de LaChapelle at the Internet & Jurisdiction Project.
If we were to apply themes to Internet governance world, the narrative for 2014-15 is definitely ‘change’. The governance ecosystem is knee deep in the IANA transition, with a few meetings and teleconferences of the IANA Transition Coordinating Group behind us, and a ramping up of activity around ICANN accountability and governance.
While the IANA transition and ICANN accountability processes are being conducted in parallel and independently, it’s important to note that not only are they related, they are dependent on one another.
The result is a dizzying array of meetings, teleconferences and conversations, all in a compressed period of time. It’s also a strain on community resources.
To make some sense of it, I’ve put the following slide deck together. It illustrates the inputs into the processes leading up to the September 2015 deadline for a proposal to be submitted to the NTIA for the IANA transition, as well as the known processes on ICANN accountability and governance. The two additional slides show the timeline for this work, and the capacity needs to participate on the various committees and working groups.
Participation in these groups is voluntary – most of us have ‘day jobs’. The challenge we face is whether our community has enough ‘bandwidth’ to get the job done within the tight time constraints we are working under.
A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the importance of the timeline leading up to the September 2015 deadline for the IANA oversight transition proposal. In that post, I explored the nature of U.S. politics and how it can affect the transition if we, as a community, are not diligent in our efforts to meet that deadline.
Since then, the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) has held its first meeting and a conference call, resulting in some new information that necessitates an update to that post.
In doing so, my intent is not to be alarmist, but the facts remain – there is a lot of work to be done, and there is little time to do it in.
When you map the variety of meetings, consultations and work we have to accomplish, it’s daunting. While there is no specific timeline for the work of the ICG set yet (as far as I’m aware), at the IETF meeting in Toronto, Alissa Cooper, the acting chair of the ICG, presented her sense of the key milestones for their work. We’ve borrowed her image and used it as a base for the following graphical representation of the events leading up to September 2015:
The first thing you should notice is that the full proposal from the ICG is due at the end of June 2015, not September. This recognizes the fact that the NTIA needs sufficient time to consult with its stakeholders – government agencies and the like – about the proposal before it is finalized, and this could take several months. The last time the IANA contract was up for renewal in 2012, the NTIA spent more than a year engaged in a process that resulted in it being re-awarded to ICANN. The other date to notice is December 31, 2014, the date the ICG has identified for community proposals to be submitted.
What does this all mean? Our time is incredibly short to complete this important task and the consequences of not finishing it are making me increasingly concerned. I stand by my assertion that we only get one chance to do this. Fact is I feel a sense of unease whenever I hear ICANN community members saying that if we miss the September 2015 deadline, it’s okay, because the IANA contract can be extended.
If you follow U.S. politics, you know how partisan the debate about the IANA transition is. From ill-informed media reports to political grandstanding, there’s no shortage of talking heads bemoaning the ‘president’s decision’ to turn the Internet over to bad actors.
The problem is that it may be extended into the term of a U.S. political establishment hostile to the NTIA backing away from its traditional oversight role. By not meeting the deadlines, we risk having to push the internationalization of the IANA functions through during a time when both houses of Congress could be controlled by the Republicans and a Republican president (after the election in 2016).
Are they uninformed and using the issue for their own political gain? Absolutely. Does that mean that we should ignore them? Absolutely not. They have the authority to affect our processes, from legislation that can delay the process to an outright block of the transfer, and they are watching this process very closely. So far, Rep. Shimkus (R-IL) and Rep. Kelly (R-PA) have put forward bills to impede the process of the internationalization of the IANA function. At the U.S. Internet Governance Forum, Greg Walden presented an impassioned defense of the .COM Act in his keynote.
These are some pretty high-ranking Congressmen that wield considerable power – for example, Walden is the chair of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. They also have some well-defined ideas about what the outcome of the oversight transition process should look like.
Given the current rhetoric in Washington, the internationalization of IANA won’t stand a chance once Obama become a ‘lame duck’ president or has vacated the White House. The IANA oversight transition initiative is the result of his office and his staff. It may not be well known outside of North America, but when there is a change of government in the U.S., all senior public servants are replaced. There is an extremely high probability that most, if not all, of the Obama administration’s advisors will leave their positions at some point in the next two years. Moreover, this exodus of senior-level bureaucrats usually begins the year before as they seek employment in the private sector. So, there is a strong probability that Larry Strickling – among others – will not be around to shepherd any final IANA transition proposal through the corridors of power in Washington (note that this is a personal observation based on historical precedent. I have no knowledge on Larry’s – or anybody else’s – plans).
What happens when the inside champions for the internationalization of IANA move on? Who will be left to push the file through?
My fear is this – if we do not meet the September 2015 deadline, we will have failed. The next administration in Washington will have no appetite to try this process again. It may be viewed as a failure of not only the Internet governance community, but of the efficacy of the multi-stakeholder model itself, and that’s not something we want to put at risk in light of the increasing threats it faces.
We are all aware that prior to the NTIA’s announcement in March there was significant discussion about the extent of the U.S. government’s control over the Internet. It’s been a key driver of the push toward a multi-lateral model for Internet governance. If Congress denies a proposal to internationalize the IANA functions because of our inability to meet the deadlines, it will make U.S. control over the Internet a demonstrable fact in the eyes of much of the world. We do not need to give the opponents of the multi-stakeholder model more reason to call for multi-lateral control.
Yes, this is speculation, but the potential outcomes are real and could derail our entire process. I think we should heed the words of Benjiman Disraeli who said, “I am prepared for the worst, but hope for the best.”
Let’s focus our energies on the IANA oversight transition. It is our most pressing issue at this time – we need to put aside the weight of he perceived wrongs of the past and move forward in trust as a true multi-stakeholder community.
If you read this blog regularly, or if you’re even tangentially involved in the Internet governance world, you know that 2014 is like no other year in the history of Internet governance. Since the National Telecommunication and Information Administration’s (NTIA) announcement of its intent to transition out of its IANA role, contract, the topic has dominated global Internet governance discourse.
Apart from my day job as the head of the .CA registry, I’m the chair of the Country Code Name Supporting Organization (ccNSO), the entity within the ICANN ecosystem that represents the interests of country code top-level domains (ccTLDs). As you can well imagine, I have been knee deep in the discussions around the transition of the accountability function the NTIA has played to this point for the IANA function.
To oversee this process, ICANN has proposed a 27 member Coordinating Group. This group is to be comprised of representatives from IANA’s customers, like ccTLDs and gTLDs, and other key stakeholders. Four of those 27 seats have been allocated by ICANN to ccTLDs, like .CA.
It’s important to note that ICANN asked the ccNSO to select four ccTLDs, not ccNSO members, to join the Coordinating Group. To facilitate this level of inclusiveness, the ccNSO went to great lengths to ensure that the call for applications was sent well beyond our community – through emails to every ccTLD in the IANA database, and by working with the Regional Organizations (ROs) to communicate with their members.
Let me note that I believe the process to choose the community representatives is critical, and not only because we need to ensure the best possible representation on this important group. Trust in the process is a crucial component to ensuring acceptance of the outcomes. We need to get the process right if we are to be successful in our work.
The ccNSO established a five member selection committee at the recent ICANN meeting in London and set out the criteria we felt that would enable the representatives to effectively represent the global ccTLD community. I was a member of that Selection Committee, along with four other selected individuals, including ccNSO members, an RO-appointed member, and one non-ccNSO member.
The communications regarding the call for nominations to this committee included the broadest outreach possible. We worked in many languages, and sent emails to every ccTLD in the IANA database. By working with the ROs in our outreach, we were able to expand our reach to every corner of the globe. Every effort was made to make the communications as inclusive as possible, and I think the ccNSO Secretariat did an excellent job in this regard.
We received about a dozen applications, and we were pleased that all of the nominees met the selection criteria and had the skill level and expertise to effectively represent the ccTLD community. We were faced with a very difficult task – balancing a wide variety of criteria to ensure effective representation of the diverse ccTLD community – 248 total worldwide. Among the considerations:
- High-level skills and expertise: the importance of the Coordinating Group cannot be underestimated, and to make sure ccTLDs receive the best possible representation on that group, we had set minimum standards of skills and expertise for nominees.
- Time: we also had to ensure that the nominees had sufficient time to devote to this process, and that they had the support of their host organization to do so.
- Diversity of the ccTLD community: ccTLDs organize themselves in many different ways. Most (151, or 60 per cent) are members of the ccNSO. Those 151 represent 70 per cent of all registered ccTLD domain names. Others are members of their respective ROs, and some are members of both the ccNSO and an RO. Others are non-aligned, choosing to not organize with any group(s) whatsoever. All of these groupings were considered in order to ensure the broadest possible reach among the nominees.
- Geographic diversity: ICANN has five defined regions: Africa (AF), Asia/Australia/Pacific (AP), Europe (EU), Latin America/Caribbean (LAC), and North America (NA). From the Selection Committee’s report: “The Committee members agreed that building on and in addition to the quality of the nominees on the shortlist, the geographic region of the nominee should be considered, also in the context of the composition of the full coordination group. Based on this consideration the committee agreed that out of the four ccTLD members on the Coordination Group, no more than two should be from the same Geographic region.” With only four seats on the Coordinating Group, it was clear from the outset that true geographic representation was not going to be possible. Furthermore, to ensure no one region would dominate the ccTLD representatives, the Selection Committee set a limit of no more than two nominees per region.”
- Registry size: ccTLDs range in size from a few thousand domain names under management to a few with tens of millions under management.
- Governance structure: some ccTLDs, like .CA, are member-based and/or not-for-profits. Others are government departments, and some are privately held
- Business models: while some ccTLDs are not-for-profits and generate income only to reinvest it in their host nation’s Internet community, others are run as for-profit business. There are a number of ccTLDs that are subsidized by other entities, such as governments.
Given the criteria we had to balance, there were no ‘reserved’ seats for any one group. The fact is four seats only allowed us to ensure some – not all – of the criteria were met. The discussion was difficult and the outcome was not unanimous. We did, however, reach consensus. In paring this list down to the final four, we balanced the selection criteria – balance being the keyword here. Geographic diversity is a good example of this – while there are five ICANN-defined geographic regions, we only had four seats on the Coordination Committee. Therefore, we knew from the outset not every objective would be fully realized. The goal was to balance all of the criteria and produce a slate of nominees that would best b representative of the key interests of global ccTLD managers and operators. I am confident we have done that.
There were many good candidates among the applicants, and making a final decision meant a long and challenging discussion. In the end, we put forward four names for which we reach agreed consensus – but not unanimity:
- Martin Boyle, .UK, European Union region
- Keith Davidson, .NZ, Asia Pacific region
- Xiaodong Lee, .CN. Asia Pacific region
- Mary Uduma, .NG, Africa Region
Did we meet the all of the criteria set out at the beginning of the process? No, but given the constraints we were facing – four seats to represent a community as large and diverse as ccTLDs – I have no hesitation in endorsing each of them for their ability to be representative of the global ccTLD community – both ccNSO members and non-members – effectively.
Opinions in the ccTLD community can be as diverse as the ccTLDs themselves. But, at the end of the day, we are all ccTLD managers and operators who have a common interest in an excellent, high-performing and accountable IANA function.
We made our best efforts to be as inclusive as possible. That spirit of inclusiveness will extend to the consultations and discussions in the broader ccTLD community as this process moves forward with specific transition proposals. We are at the high water mark of the current Internet governance ecosystem.
The work we are doing today will affect the ways in which the Internet develops in the future. We need to get the process right, and we need to ensure that we are adhering to what are very important deadlines. With these four nominees, we are headed in the right direction.
The transition of the IANA contract oversight is, of course, the topic du jour at ICANN 50 in London. From the sessions to the hallway banter, it’s the hottest topic I can recall in ICANN’s history.
It’s an inherently over-the-top political topic, merging partisan politics in Washington with Internet governance. On numerous occasions in Singapore, Larry Strickling raised the domestic politicking on the part of the Republican Party regarding the IANA oversight transition, cautioning us of the discourse fuelled by opportunism.
He was right.
We now have two Republican-backed amendments that have passed the House of Representatives that are intended to delay, if not block, the transition of the IANA contract oversight. Phillip Corwin has published some excellent posts on CircleID on the topic, detailing the amendments and how they can impact our process.
Are the amendments simply political posturing? Or do they represent the true feelings of the Republican Party? If they do, there is a risk as we are heading into mid-term elections this Fall. The Republicans have the opportunity to control both the House of Representatives and the Senate, effectively cutting President Obama off at the knees.
Regardless, it’s good politics on the part of the Republicans. We’ve all seen the headlines – Obama is giving the Internet over to either communists or terrorist or some combination of the two. The IANA transfer has basically allowed the Republicans to stick a political fork in Obama’s eye, and they are all too happy to do as much damage as they can in the process.
No big deal, right? After all, both Larry Strickling and Fadi Chehade have characterized the September 2015 date as a goal and not a deadline. It’s more important that we do it right, they say, than to do it quickly. It is possible to extend the contract, if necessary, to make sure the outcome will meet all of NTIA’s criteria and to encompass the reviews necessary to alleviate the concerns of the Republicans.
While I agree with the sentiment (of course it needs to be done right), I’m not convinced it is helpful to characterize the date in such a manner. Though I’m not hearing much in London about the amendments, I think they are something we ignore at our own peril.
Geographic proximity and personal interest have made me an observer of American politics, and I can tell you I can see a few things that may affect our process.
First over the next year the Democrats in Washington may effectively be frozen. If the Republicans take over both houses, Obama will be a lame duck president of the highest order, making it incredibly difficult to push the IANA transition through in political ecosystem.
Second, history shows us that key staff exits Capitol Hill in the final year of a president’s term, knowing that the next regime will bring in their own staff. (To be perfectly clear, this is a general political observation – I have no personal insight whatsoever into the future of any senior officials in the U.S.)
This could very well mean that the architects and supporters who are in positions of influence could likely be long gone before the end of Obama’s presidency in 2016, leaving the IANA transition without a champion in any influential positions.
The upshot of this is clear in my thinking – if the Democrats are stripped of power, the likelihood of seeing the IANA oversight transition become a reality if we miss the September 2015 date is significantly reduced. And, without champions in influential positions on the Hill, it’s far less likely that the process will be taken up under a new regime in 2016. Who would want to reinvigorate a failed process and all of the political risks that go with it?
Pierre Trudeau, a former Canadian prime minister, once said “The essential ingredient of politics is timing.” We should heed his advice. In part, we are playing a political game with the IANA contract, and the stakes are high. Let’s consider the September 2015 date as a deadline. We now have external pressures, such as the Republican’s delay tactics, to deal with.
As the global community who are committed to seeing the Internet succeed (and the transition of the IANA contract and the USG oversight role is something most of us agree is a big step in the right direction), let’s work together to ensure we meet that deadline.
We made an exciting announcement at CIRA last week with the release of the names of the organizations that will receive funding through our new Community Investment Program (CIP). In 2014, 28 organizations from across Canada will share in more than $1.2 million to help build a better Internet for Canada.
As the stewards of .CA – Canada’s online identifier – CIRA occupies a unique and important space. While our number one priority is the safe and secure management of the .CA top-level domain, we also have a mandate to do ‘good things’ for the Internet in Canada. In the past, this has meant working with organizations in the Canadian Internet ecosystem on a variety of issues, from establishing Internet Exchange Points to building digital literacy skills for young Canadians.
The new CIP allows us to take a major step forward in advancing Canada’s Internet. Take Simon Fraser University (SFU), for example. With $47,000 in funding from the CIP, a team at SFU are developing a web-crawler program that can identify images of child sexual abuse. It will enable law enforcement to identify child pornography online, without the tedious – and gruesome – task of viewing photos and videos of abuse online. This new technology, called Child Exploitation Network Extractor, will make the Internet a safer place for Canadians. I’m proud CIRA was able to play a role in its development – as a parent, keeping kids safe from predators is very important to me.
SFU’s initiative has already received a fair amount of media attention – check these articles here and here.
This is just one example of how we are supporting Canada’s Internet through the CIP. There are 28 more, and as those projects evolve we’ll be sure to share their stories with you. These initiatives run the gamut from local level access projects to infrastructure development, from surveillance and privacy initiatives to digital skills development and online service provision. And while the funded initiatives represent a wide variety of sectors and Canadian geography, they have one thing in common: they are all innovative projects that advance the Internet in Canada.
I’d like to say a special thank you to CIRA’s Board of Directors and the Community Investment Committee (CIC) for their hard work on the CIP. The CIC, an arm’s length committee of CIRA Board members and industry experts, were responsible for reviewing nearly 150 applications for funding. They truly went above and beyond with their work on the 2014 CIP.
By working with organizations that are ‘on the ground’ in Canada’s Internet ecosystem, we believe these projects are well-positioned to achieve the goal of the CIP to enhance the Internet for the benefit of all Canadians. For a complete list of funded projects, please visit our announcement.
The final report from the Panel on Global Internet Cooperation and Governance Mechanisms was released today. I spent the past six months working with this group of bright and committed individuals to come up with a set of recommendations to evolve the Internet governance ecosystem and position it for the future. The Internet is at a critical point in its development – reforming the institutions that govern it has never been more important.
When we started out as a newly formed panel six months ago, we had high expectations and lofty goals. The panel was prepared to come out strong on the internationalization of the IANA contract and a set of principles to guide the Internet governance discourse for several years.
At that time, those goals seemed almost like pipe dreams. Sure, we would recommend them and believed them to be critical to the continued success of the Internet, but we were concerned about how to sell the transitioning of the stewardship of IANA functions away from the U.S. government in in the short term.
Then, midway through our process, the NTIA made their landmark announcement to not renew the IANA contract when it expires in September 2015.
And, the NetMundial conference was a great success, producing a set of principles to guide the evolution of the Internet and its governance structures. None of us in the governance world had foreseen it happening – both are good for the Internet, but unexpected.
It was kind of like we had poured the foundation for a new house only to find out that the construction site had moved. The recent past has been like no other in the history of the Internet governance ecosystem. With NTIA’s announcement and the outcome document from NetMundial, I think the Internet ecosystem evolved more than any of us could have anticipated in such a short period of time.
That said, I’m proud to have played a role on the panel, and I’m proud of the report we released today.
The work of the panel has had, and I believe will continue to have, an impact in the Internet governance world. I was definitely pleased to see the panel’s submission to the NetMundial conference reflected in the principles in its output document. And, the principles contained in our report will contribute to the global discourse as we endeavour to maintain a free and open Internet while adding two billion users online over the next few years.
What struck me about the process were the people involved. The panel was comprised of a group of individuals representing the geographic and multi-sector diversity encompassed by the Internet. Simply put, it wasn’t just the usual suspects from the Internet governance world.
That diversity can also be a challenge –a plethora of opinions comes with it, leading to many robust and healthy discussions. What we did have in common, however, was a passion for representing our community effectively and a commitment to the free and open Internet.
It was a privilege to work with this group of great thinkers on a report that I believe will be instrumental in the development of the Internet governance systems and structures.
I encourage you to read the report, and let us know what you think.
The Internet is not new. It has existed, in one form or another, since the 1960s. Since that time, it has been primarily the domain of the engineers and the other technology-minded individuals that built it.
The organizations that were put in place to govern it predate the huge growth in end users the Internet experienced in the 2000s. These organizations were set up by the technology community to deal with technological issues. They are able, in structure and capacity, to deal with technological issues.
The issues facing the Internet in 2014, however, are very different from those in 1998. Issues of cyber-crime, online surveillance, copyright and trademark protection, and so on, are issues of public policy, not governance. Even IPv6 and DNSSEC have primarily moved from the technology sphere to the policy sphere with their current challenge of adoption and implementation.
Fundamentally, the Internet governance ecosystem has moved from discussions of ‘how it works’ to ‘how it’s used’, and structures like ICANN do not have the capacity, or mandate, to deal with these issues. However, the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), created in 2006, is an annual multi-stakeholder forum for discussing Internet policy issues. While it has no binding outcomes, it is widely regarded as an important part of the Internet ecosystem.
It’s no secret that the IGF has struggled with a lack of funding for a number of years. I firmly believe that if we don’t step up and provide financial support to IGF today, we will have an important missed opportunity.
That’s why at the recent NETmundial meeting in Brazil, CIRA joined a group of ccTLDs to financially support the IGF. Together, we committed a minimum of $100,000 per year for several years. Participating registries include .AU (Australia), .DK (Denmark), .CN (China), .NL (Netherlands), .UK (United Kingdom), .BR (Brazil) and .MX (Mexico). I expect other ccTLDs to join us soon.
The IGF provides the ideal venue to discuss issues of how the Internet is used – public policy issues – in an open, multi-stakeholder and inviting forum. It provides an arena for discussions that have no other place. Because it is a United Nations-coordinated entity, it is approachable for newcomers to the governance ecosystem – the developing world, those two billion people we are about to bring online.
Let’s face it, fora like ICANN are easy for those of us on the inside. Our organizations, primarily based in the developed world, have been participants since the early days of the public Internet. However, what is easy for us may not be as inviting, or comfortable, for those who are not coming to the table with the same political and philosophical groundings – the governments and other representative bodies from the developing world. We need recognize the fact that the decisions we make today about the structures that govern the Internet need to work for both the newcomers and those of us who have been on the inside of Internet for many years.
The IGF bridges this gap.
The group of ccTLDs CIRA has joined believe the IGF is a critical entity in the Internet governance ecosystem. We are prepared to demonstrate our commitment to it with financial support. I’d like to call on other organizations that have benefitted from the IGF, and from the free and open Internet, to join us in our support.
Governments, the private sector and others have reaped the benefits of the work of the IGF, and now it’s time to give something back. I was pleasantly surprised at the level of support expressed for the IGF at NETmundial. The draft outcome document from NETmundial even calls for a strengthened IGF, including, “ensuring guaranteed stable and predictable funding for the IGF is essential.”
If your organization expressed support for the IGF at NETmundial, or has benefitted from fora like the IGF, I call on you to put their ‘money where their mouth is’. Join us by providing multi-year financial support for this important entity.
Today James Moore, the Minister of Industry, released the long-awaited digital economy strategy. As you will likely recall, in the summer of 2010, the federal government embarked on a consultation with Canadians about Canada’s digital future. In our submission to the consultation (.PDF), we made 19 recommendations to the government that we believed would help build a strong Canadian digital economy. Digital Canada 150 (.PDF), the strategy launched today, is grouped under five main thematic areas:
- Connecting Canadians
- Protecting Canadians
- Economic Opportunities
- Digital Government
- Canadian Content
There is some good content in Digital Canada 150. In particular, I was pleased to see that the government is committed to expanding broadband access in Canada to 98 per cent. While the target speed goal, five megabits per second, is not exactly ambitious, this will remedy the digital divide we reported in the .CA Factbook a couple of weeks ago. While broadband is available to 100 per cent of urban Canadians, only 85 per cent of Canadians in rural and remote areas have access. This divide is even more pronounced in the Canadian North, so I commend the government on this initiative.
In our submission, we called on the government to develop a strategy to deal with online threats and security issues, and invest in technologies that safeguard online transactions. We also called on the government to work to build trust and confidence in the Internet, online transactions and the digital economy. It appears that Digital Canada 150 delivers on this recommendation, as it states that the government will “take action so that the communications networks and devices that connect Canadians will be secure from threats, protecting the privacy of Canadian families, businesses and governments.” As the head of an organization that works at the very heart of the Internet in Canada, I would like to offer our support to make this happen.
I also find the commitment of $200 million from the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) to support small and medium sized businesses with digital technology adoption promising. Unfortunately, this sector has been slow to adopt technologies like the Internet. While Canadians are among the heaviest users of the Internet in the world, only 41 per cent of Canadian small businesses have a website. I’m hopeful that this number will increase with the support of the BDC.
However, there are a number of areas where the strategy comes up short. Putting aside the recommendations we made in our submission to the consultation, I am most disappointed with what Digital Canada 150 doesn’t do.
Building a strong national digital economy is not easy. It takes collaboration with a wide variety of actors, including governments, the private sector, NGOs, and academia to address the issues in a robust manner. I believe it is the role of the federal government to take on a leadership position in this work by first developing a vision toward which all actors can concentrate their efforts – a common goal. I don’t see this in Digital Canada 150; what I see is a list of activities in the digital sphere. Individually, many of them are important to build a strong digital economy. However, without a cohesive vision to guide the work of the many stakeholders toward a common goal, I’m afraid I have to say that Digital Canada 150 comes up short as a digital economy strategy.
Yes, there are challenges in a country like Canada – from our relatively small population and vast geography to our proximity to the United States and its influence, we are unique in the world. However, as Minister Moore pointed out in his speech today by referencing the building of the railway, we have been able to overcome these obstacles before in an effort to build our nation. However, we only need to look to other nations to see what can happen when a true digital strategy is enacted.
In 2000, Sweden had an Internet penetration rate of 45.5 per cent. As of 2010, that number has risen to 92.5 per cent, the result of a concerted effort on the part of the Swedish government that included a robust digital strategy. In 2006, South Korea was the first country in the world to achieve an Internet penetration rate over 50 per cent, yet only six years earlier their rate was a meager 15 per cent. Today, they have one of the highest Internet penetration rates in the world. Again, this is the result of a broad and robust digital strategy.
In 2000, Canada was a digital leader, ranking at the top of almost every indicator by which one would measure a digital economy. In my business, a critical measure of success of a nation’s digital economy is a mix of broadband speed and price. Broadband speed and price are a nation’s ‘digital currency’, making it a more attractive place for start-ups and investment. On that measure, Canada now ranks in the bottom third compared to its OECD counterparts, 19th out of 34. Sweden and South Korea, on the other hand, have been in the top five for years now. Furthermore, we now rank 16th globally for Internet penetration, a measure we once dominated.
The digital economy, and Canada’s digital future, is too important to be left to a series of activities that may or may not relate to one another. We have seen time and time again what happens when leaders get too focussed on day-to-day activities instead of focussing on a strategic direction. Some of Canada’s best and brightest companies fell victim to it – think Blackberry or Nortel. Canadians are an innovative people. We built a nation out of one of the largest and most unforgiving lands in the world by building a railroad. We can do the same in the digital world.
Do you have any thoughts about Digital Canada 150? Please let me know in the comments.