Some developing countries feel they have insufficient
influence over the management of the Internet's key infrastructure, a
complaint that we in the developed countries must listen to. The unique
role that the US government still plays in part of the naming and
addressing system is also a matter of concern for some, as is the role
This leads to the question of the view of the EU on the role
of ICANN. I should perhaps state at the outset that I can only speak on
behalf of the European Commission, but I think most of what I will say
reflects the majority view of Member State governments as well.
In many ways, ICANN is a unique experiment in self-regulation.
This is not surprising. The history of the Internet is unique in itself
and this has called for innovative arrangements in governance. The
expectation among governments at the outset was that ICANN would
provide a neutral platform for consensus-building between the key
actors who operate the naming and addressing infrastructure. It was
also hoped that ICANN would provide a way for the US government to
withdraw from its supervisory role. In this way, we could achieve a
greater internationalisation and privatisation of certain key
While ICANN has had its successes, it has yet to fully deliver on either of these objectives.
We know for example that progress on the country-code names
supporting organisation (ccNSO) has been slow. Many European
country-code top level domains (ccTLDs) have yet to join. Some have
even indicated that they are unlikely to do so in the near future. I am
pleased that dot-NL has taken the lead among European ccTLDs in this
respect, and I hope others will follow, but there is clearly some way
to go before the rest of the Community are fully integrated in the
This is worrying for two reasons:
Put simply, ccTLDs cannot have it both ways either ICANN works or governments will need to step in.
- Firstly, European country-code top level domains
(ccTLDs) account for a significant majority of country-code top level
domain names world-wide. ICANN will have a problem establishing
legitimacy in country-code top level domain matters while most of the
large ones stay outside the country-code names supporting organisation
- Secondly, policy makers will understandably be
surprised and concerned when the organisation that they have helped set
up to further self-regulation is not being supported by the
organisations who were supposed to do the self-regulating.
The absence of any clear picture about the longer-term intentions of the US government for ICANN is also not helpful.
That said, ICANN has turned out to be an effective mechanism for
co-ordination of many of the key functions of Internet naming and
addressing. Many of the other constituencies have less problems than
the country-code names supporting organisations (ccTLDs) do. ICANN also
provides an opportunity for governments to participate in the
governance process via the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC). The
high levels of participation at ICANN meetings can be seen as a sign
that there is a need and a demand for such a body.
The experiment therefore continues. It has not failed, nor has
ICANN completely achieved all of its targets. However there is enough
promise for us to continue with the project. But ICANN needs to
continue to improve. It must strengthen its role as a facilitator of
global co-operation between the numerous bodies that manage the naming
and addressing infrastructure, such as SIDN. As part of a
self-regulatory mechanism, the naming and addressing bodies themselves
will need to judge how successful ICANN is. But governments will
inevitably be watching too.
We will play our part to ensure that ICANN receives the
support it needs from public policy makers to do its job. The critics
of ICANN are numerous however, and include governments not convinced
that self-regulation is the best model for governance. Those who wish
to continue to support self-regulation need to make sure that ICANN
works and delivers an inclusive and efficient mechanism for
self-regulation. This challenge is for the private sector, governments
and ultimately for ICANN itself.
But Internet Governance means more than just ICANN. In the
world of the country-code names supporting organisations (ccTLDs), the
vast majority of operational and policy decisions are made by the
ccTLDs themselves at local level. This is how it should be.
Country-code names supporting organisations (ccTLDs) should be
responsive to the needs of their local Internet communities, including
their local governments and ICANN's role is to provide a mechanism for
global co-ordination when problems cannot be dealt with at national
In many ways this is analogous to the political EU principle
of subsidiarity only do things in the center when there is a clear need
to. To a large extent, this also allows national governments to decide
for themselves what kind of relationship they want with their ccTLDs. I
note that in Europe a variety of models exist, with some governments
running their ccTLDs and others maintaining an arms-length relationship
with a private sector operator. Both approaches seem to work, which is
a endorsement of the principle of subsidiarity in this area of Internet
How does this all relate to dot.eu ?
- Firstly, it represents a good example of governance
at the regional level. ICANN have been informed of our intentions, but
the decision-making process has been carried out in its entirety here
in Europe, in consultation with the local Internet community and the
various public institutions.
- Secondly, dot.eu has been about finding a balance
between public policy objectives and self-regulation. To achieve this,
our approach has been to provide a set of public policy parameters
within which a private sector operator could manage the registry. This
we will achieve when EURID finally sign the contract with the European
Commission in the coming weeks.
- Thirdly, dot.eu is an example of governance involving all the stakeholders.
EURID will need to take account of the public policy rules
defined by governments and legally be answerable to the European
Commission under the terms of its contract, but its registration policy
will be defined in conjunction with the local Internet community. This
multi-stakeholder approach based upon public-private partnership is, I
believe, the cornerstone of all good Internet governance.
This is an approach that we will also propose other governments to accept in the UN process.
Good governance is about fairness, transparency and
accountability. It is also about making the right decisions in the
interests of those being governed. The role of governments is to:
- ensure that public policy interests are protected in any governance structures for the Internet. And to:
- make sure that the private sector is allowed to
innovate and develop the Internet further. And this without any undue
hindrance from inappropriate regulation.
We also need to keep the bigger picture in mind. A lot of
attention is paid to the problems that occur on the Internet,
particularly regarding content. This can distract us from the
Internet's key impact on society. It is an amazing technology. Its main
impact by far has been overwhelmingly positive. Its contribution to
productivity, rates of innovation, communication and learning is
unprecedented. Its potential to contribute even more to economic and
social development is abundantly clear. When we talk of Internet
governance, our main objective must be to ensure that this potential is