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U.S. Ambassador to the OECD Karen Kornbluh

on Foreign Policy for the Internet

Principles of Internet Governance:

An Agenda for Economic Growth and Innovation

at the Brookings Institute

January 11, 2012

Washington, D.C.


Thank you Darrell West and his team.  I am honored to be speaking with Larry Strickling who has assembled such a strong team at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).  All of our work has been the result of strong teamwork with Ambassador Phil Verveer’s Office, Alec Ross and Chris Painter at State, Danny Weitzner, Phil Werser in the White House and the Federal Communications Commission and NTIA. 

It’s  appropriate that we’re talking about this here at The Brookings Institution, because Brookings, going back to its founding in 1916, is dedicated to the proposition that if you spread ideas, that leads to the increase of freedom and democratic values, and also to economic growth. 

When we think back to the printing press we recall that whether it was the spread of the Renaissance, the Industrial Revolution and eventually democracy, so much of that wouldn’t have been possible without the printing press that allowed individuals to get access to information.  

The Internet too is an amazing technology for getting information into the hands of individuals. 

It has already had a huge impact in terms of jobs and economic growth. In fact, in the first 15 years of the Internet’s growth, it’s had more of a job impact than in the first 50 years of the Industrial Revolution. 

It’s a prime job producer and growth producer in the developed world. It produces far more jobs than it displaces. It’s also, as you know from the Arab Spring and other examples, a tool for democratic aspirations, and that’s why Secretary Clinton has talked about freedom to connect, the Internet freedom agenda, because of the importance of the Internet as a place where people can assemble, can learn, can express ideas.  

And there are countries like Iran that would like to put that genie back in the bottle, would like to wall off, for example, Iranian cyberspace from the rest of the world. But the Internet’s power lies in the fact that it’s this global platform, that it’s end-to-end communication across the globe, it’s a single platform. 

And so if individual countries decide that it’s in their interest to regulate their piece of it and to cut their piece of it, you wind up, as Darrell said, with a lot of mini Internets, and you hurt the innovation potential, the job potential, the growth potential, and, of course, the democratic potential of the Internet.

The key thing about the Internet’s growth so far -- and this is, I think, what Larry Strickling is going to be talking about -- is that as it’s developed, there hasn’t been a need to get permission, no central authority to share ideas. Instead, there’s been a decentralized system of public and private actors collaborating to ensure how it functions and how it expands. But this means, as I said, that if there’s a heavy-handed approach that’s taken to regulate it, it reduces the value for everyone. 

And so what the administration came to see is that collective action is needed to protect the Internet.  A foreign policy that accounts for the Internet has become absolutely essential. And that’s why the President issued the U.S. International Strategy for Cyberspace, which is an agenda for safeguarding the single Internet. And, as I said, Secretary Clinton developed her groundbreaking Internet freedom agenda. 

These were designed around the idea that we need to work together with other countries to protect this international, global treasure. 

And it’s also why the U.S. was supportive of the idea that the OECD have a high-level meeting in June. When the U.S. started to look at why we would use the OECD, a key reason was that it involved stakeholder organizations, an Internet and Technology Advisory Council, a Business and Industry Advisory Council and Civil Society Advisory Council. Plus it played a key role in the history of the Internet. It adopted the international e-commerce guidelines. It’s got the international privacy guidelines. It does the broadband rankings. So this also led credibility to these principles. This is an organization that’s played a role in the shaping of a consensus about how you approach the Internet. 

And then it is a place dedicated to economic growth. So it was another statement that not only is this kind of approach important for human rights, important for democracy, but it’s also important for economic growth. 

At the high-level meeting 40 countries and representatives of industry, civil society and the technical community, including some of the founders of the Internet, met.  There was a lot of debate, discussion, negotiation.  The principles were agreed by 35 countries, the Business Advisory Council and the Technical Advisory Council.  These are high-level principles, that are not a step-by-step prescription, but are supposed to guide our thinking about how you can both preserve the free flow of information, and at the same time protect some of these policy concerns that every nation has for protecting intellectual property, for protecting privacy, children, consumers, that you don’t have to impinge on the openness and the Internet to address these kinds of things. 

Highlights of the principles:

  • Promote and protect the global free flow of information
  • Promote the open, distributed, and interconnected nature of the Internet
  • Co-operate in multi-stakeholder policy development processes
  • Ensure transparency, fair process and accountability
  • Promote creativity and innovation, in which we discussed intellectual property
  • And limit Internet intermediary liability 

There are important repercussions of the fact that these principles were adopted, are twofold. One is that it said that this is what it means to be an open, democratic, developed country. If you want to get on the growth train, if you want to get on the democratic train, this is what you should subscribe to, this kind of high-level principle that says you can use a multi-stakeholder process, be transparent and still protect values. 

Now, the OECD, in December, took a further step, and it adopted these principles, this communiqué that came out of the high-level meeting in June, as a formal OECD recommendation. And what that means is that not only is it a further formal statement, that these are important to the countries of the OECD, but also that countries that want to join the OECD are going to be asked, how do you comply with these? What’s your stand? 

And interestingly enough, the next country that’s on the path to joining is Russia, so that will be a very interesting conversation that we’ll have, and we’re all looking forward to that.  

We hope that we can now build consensus around these as a norm,  In the process there are three challenges we seek to address.  Danny Weitzner and I laid this out in an op-ed. There are three kinds of problems that we were trying to solve. One was that there are some countries that would like to take the pre-Internet world of telecom regulation and impose it on the Internet. So they would like to take some of the rules that say that an individual government can control the regulation of telecommunications and impose them, perhaps through an organization like the U.N. on the Internet.  

This is a statement that you don’t need to go to another organization. Countries can come together; they can meet in a multistakeholder organization. They can devise some principles and then they can go out and do it.  

Another challenge: countries have the need to address certain public policy concerns that they have on the Internet. These a very legitimate concerns, as we know: intellectual property, children, consumers, law enforcement concerns, and privacy, of course. And there’s always some question, how do you strike that balance? How do you address these concerns? Do you need to impose rules in a non-transparent way? And what these principles were a statement of was, no, you don’t. 

A third challenge: Countries that would like to wall off the Internet. These Internet policy principles are a consensus-building device to work with other countries, and in the proposition, to get consensus around the proposition that there is another way to go. 

Countries that are fence sitters, if you will, between the countries that would really like to gain control and more democratic countries can see here is how you can protect your values in this space and encourage innovation in a transparent process.  

We’re going to talk about in the panel later is what do we do next? How do we take these principles, increase consensus, increase the knowledge about their importance and reach out to countries that are not as knowledgeable, that haven’t been online, that are not rich countries, and explain how this is in your benefit, this is how you can grow, this is how the Internet can work for you? For many of these countries, this isn’t obvious. The Internet unleashes all kinds of things that they’re not familiar with. 

So one of the things we’re looking at right now very actively, and we can have a discussion about this, is how do we find the next countries that we can sign on to this blueprint, work together with them and build a foreign policy that really respects the values that we all hold dear? 

One of the things that Hillary Clinton said in her speeches on the Internet is that we want to ask other countries to join us in a bet on the open Internet. These principles and the actions that we’re going to be taking with them, the consensus that we’re going to be building, is doing just that, is asking other countries to join us in a bet on the open Internet. 

We have a number of countries, a number of stakeholders that have already joined us in this bet. We’re extremely excited about it, very proud about it, and we really look forward to working with all of you. Thank you very much.

About the U.S. Mission to the OECD

The United States is a founding Member of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an international organization composed of 34 democratic countries with market-based economies. Through its cross-country economic research, policy recommendations, and peer reviews, the OECD provides the United States a tool for extending best practices and establishing global standards.

For more information, contact Zoë Mezin,, +33 6 07 90 43 84.