Nominet is the Internet domain name registry for .uk.
We welcome this consultation and look forward to the developing discussion. As an initial draft input of ideas in response to the questions, I would like to contribute the following thoughts:
Governance of the Internet
• Is there a need to move toward one global principle-based framework?
We would welcome the development of a coherent set of international principles for the Internet. Such work should, where possible, use existing international principles and agreements, and not seek to apply a special framework for the Internet that could not be justified in the physical world. In particular, such a framework should be at a sufficiently high level and should be appropriate for international applicability: we should not try to solve national issues through an international framework.
Similarly, we should not set international Internet principles for issues where there is already an accepted framework for such discussions.
There have been a number of separate initiatives aimed at developing principles. In addition to the examples of principles cited in the paper, there have been proposals from the Council of Europe and the Internet Governance Forum Dynamic Coalition on Rights and Responsibilities. The International Cyber Conferences have also looked at the development of norms and standards of behaviour and there is work from the UN’s Group of Government Experts. Any future work should try to build on these initiatives.
• Are we on the right track towards a system of governance on an equal footing?
Considerable progress has been made since Tunis. The relevant international organisations have all sought to improve and increase the engagement of governments. In addition, there has been considerable improvement in the international accountability of the relevant international organisations.
We recognise that further work needs to be done. Very few governments are actively engaged: governments do need to use the opportunities available to them to shape the future development of the Internet ecosystem and to further improve the way that international public policy issues are addressed. The focus on governments should be for international public policy issues and on identifying globally applicable principles.
While we believe that it is appropriate to maintain the current arrangements of specialised organisations focussed on specific issues, we do recognise that the number of organisations involved can be seen as a barrier to engagement for some governments. There does need to be more clarity about what is happening and about the background to issues. This is important to enable involvement not just of governments but of all interested stakeholders. As such we welcome the Commission’s Global Internet Policy Observatory (GIPO) initiative.
• Does the process of internationalisation of ICANN go far enough?
We recognise the need to internationalise the management of key Internet functions. Since Tunis, the internationalisation of ICANN has developed significantly.
The Affirmation of Commitments (AoC) and the introduction of a regular review process was a major move towards increasing internationalisation of the organisation. Much still needs to be done, but the development of mechanisms that can be used to hold the organisation to account is a vital first step in the process.
The first AoC review cycle has taken place and has led to some significant improvements in the way ICANN works, not least in the engagement of governments. However, with the second accountability and transparency review, we are concerned at the fairly low engagement of stakeholders, and in particular of governments.
The introduction of interpretation in some meetings and the translation of some texts is important in making ICANN more accessible. We generally welcome the creation of international offices and developing a more internationally oriented organisation. We hope that these new approaches will help increase participation in ICANN and its processes.
Nevertheless, there is still a strong legal tie between ICANN and the US. Given that the US Government does not have a dominant say in ICANN’s decisions, but is just one voice among many, this is more an issue of perception than of real advantage. There is the opportunity for all governments to be able to help shape the organisations work.
The US Government currently does appear to have the final say, should ICANN not maintain reasonable processes of accountability and responsibility. A clear process to ensure that ICANN does meet its obligations is needed before any definitive break from the US Government. We would also be concerned if there were ambiguity about the legal jurisdiction for the company, given the operational and contractual functions of the organisation.
IANA, which is a function carried out under contract to the US Government, is of particular importance to Nominet as a country-code top-level domain registry. Given the US Government’s commitment to the Tunis Agenda, and in particular to paragraph 63 (“Countries should not be involved in decisions regarding another country’s country-code Top-Level Domain”), we were pleased to see the development of the current contractual arguments for the IANA. In particular we welcome the increased transparency of the process and the management of the IANA as a service. This opens the way to a direct relationship with the national organisation, without the involvement of other parties.
We would not welcome inter-governmental oversight of the IANA function: we believe that this would lead to politicisation of a process that should solely be a national matter. Any further internationalisation of the IANA should be through developing direct accountability.
• How can a move from unilateral to multilateral accountability be realised?
We believe that ICANN provides a framework for government engagement and, coupled with the Affirmation of Commitments, this engagement should give governments a strong role in ensuring the accountability of ICANN. However, it is not clear how governments in the Governmental Advisory Committee would exercise this role, perhaps because there has been no need to exercise it.
We would be concerned about a purely multilateral accountability: accountability should be to the wider multi-stakeholder community. We would welcome greater engagement between the GAC and other stakeholders in ICANN to ensure good understanding of the issues and necessary safeguards.
• How do you see the role of governments within the GAC?
As noted above, we believe the GAC has a key role to play in ICANN. There are significant issues about the way the GAC operates which need to be addressed urgently:
1. The GAC has been most effective when it has worked at the level of identifying public policy principles. While the GAC can help ICANN in understanding the principles, the responsibility for implementing policy based on these principles is ICANN’s and ICANN should not expect the GAC to tell it how to address them.
2. The GAC should be aware of its own responsibility to provide a stable, proportionate, predictable and consistent framework that facilitates efficient investment and sustainable growth.
3. The GAC (in common with a lot of ICANN’s stakeholder groups) tends to work in a silo. There needs to be a significant effort to engage properly in the discussions about policy issues and to do so early so that it can help shape thinking.
4. There are many issues where the approaches adopted in different countries differ significantly. We welcome that the GAC works by consensus. We also recognise that this will occasionally make it impossible to reach any meaningful compromise. The GAC needs to identify ways in which it can communicate the scope of concerns so that implementation is not delayed, but where the implications of decisions are properly understood, and if possible mitigated.
• Do such calls pose a risk to the 'One Internet' principle?
We believe that investment in local infrastructure – including Internet exchange points, mail systems, DNS providers (the national registry, but also the registrar network) and local ISPs – is important: it helps the development of the local information economy, in enabling the development of local content and applications and helps keep Internet prices down.
Similarly the investment in new infrastructure – in particular in additional interconnections between countries and between continents – adds capacity and resilience to the Internet infrastructure.
However, much of the economic and social benefit from the Internet cones from its nature as a global network of networks: a country that cuts itself off from the global Internet will cause itself significant economic harm.
• To what extent are the current debates on Internet governance sufficiently focusing on who controls key physical and logical resources (e.g. where does the majority of the traffic go to, who controls major Internet exchange points, how do key standardisation efforts influence the balance of power among stakeholders?
There has been considerable discussion over the years about the “control” of resources and over calls to specify routing of traffic. We believe that the management of the infrastructure is and should be neutral to the traffic flowing over it.
We would note that the Internet was not designed as a secure network. Recent discussions are useful in that they remind us of this fact and of the importance of designing security into the critical applications and data that passes over the network.
All standardisation processes – whether in international standardisation bodies, the IETF or the ITU – are open to commercial and political pressure. What is important is that the standards enable interoperable working. Informed stakeholder engagement can help reduce the risks, which is why an open standards-making forum is preferable to those restricted to membership and/or vested interests. In this light the current framework for Internet standards serves very well.
• How can the risk be limited that separate network infrastructures co-exist or can be isolated from one another, thus undermining the One Internet principle?
It is probably impossible to prevent some countries making political decisions to isolate their networks or to block interconnection. We should seek to avoid inter-governmental organisations being used to justify such decisions. For as long as the Internet provides a neutral platform that is open for innovation and investment, isolationism brings more disadvantages than benefits.
The multi-stakeholder approach
• Do you think that the current multi-stakeholder model has enough legitimacy – both regarding process and stakeholders - given the fundamental impact of the Internet on our societies?
The current implementations of multi-stakeholder models are imperfect. The underlying model should be to use partnerships between stakeholders to achieve common or shared goals of public interest. Legitimacy in this comes from openness to engagement. Well implemented, the multi-stakeholder model should lead to better informed decisions that benefit societies.
• How can capture of the process by vested interests be prevented?
By openness to interaction and transparency in processes and decisions. As noted in the previous discussion about ICANN, there does need to be a clear accountability mechanism.
• Where does the model need to be improved?
A number of the “multi-stakeholder” models or approaches are not multi-stakeholder. Multi-stakeholder is *not*:
1. Single-stage and short consultations feeding into a closed decision-making process. The aim of engaging with wider stakeholder groups is to identify how people can work together and collectively make better decisions.
2. Multi-silo! Learning is by engaging with other interested parties, other backgrounds. For example, as noted above, ICANN does need to develop its model to improve interaction between communities early in the discussion process – in particular in engaging with the GAC.
3. Blocking decisions. During the discussions, the different stakeholders need to identify solutions. And at the end of a process, it is important that all stakeholders are able to take appropriate action either in partnership or independently, building on what they have learnt through the process. If decisions are needed, multi-stakeholder cooperation should help make properly informed decisions.
4. A closed group whereby participation is by paying membership fees or by other limited selection criteria. For practical reasons, there might be selection of representative bodies to coordinate input from different stakeholder groups. But the selection process and the proceedings need to be transparent to ensure a proper understanding of the process.
5. A treaty-making or legislative process with observers. The process needs to allow for engagement between different stakeholders looking for solutions to clearly identified problems. And in many cases for Internet-related issues there is no single “right” answer: soft solutions might be more appropriate than legislation. It would be better to do this dialogue before deciding to start a regulatory process.
The Internet as a legal space
• In your view, is the current framework of international law sufficiently suited to the Internet?
By and large, yes. There are only a few cases where the Internet might be seen as overturning established practices, all mainly to do with law enforcement across borders or in the case of electronic warfare. Both of these examples require inter-governmental agreements.
• Which possible areas for improvement do you see as the most urgent?
1. Improving appropriate engagement of governments in the relevant international organisations and using that to help inform decisions.
2. Ensuring appropriate accountability and transparency mechanisms to enable ICANN to become an international multi-stakeholder organisation.
3. Improving multi-stakeholder engagement models and in particular understanding properly the benefits and problems and setting realistic expectations for the process.
• How do you think that discussions and solutions to these challenges should be designed?
It would be good if the European Commission were to lead a multi-stakeholder dialogue in the EU to develop its input into Rio, Plenipot-14 and WSIS+10. This should not be a closed process but should show the EU leading the way in developing multi-stakeholder cooperation on Internet governance issues.