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ICANN calls on APAC to help end US stewardship

Asia-Pacific nations must help shape the future of the internet and facilitate the development of multi-stakeholder internet governance, says ICANN, as it readies its proposal for US stewardship transfer.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

With the administrative functions for the world's web traffic still under US jurisdiction, ICANN is urging Asia-Pacific nations to take a more active role in "facilitating the development of multi-stakeholder internet governance".

It underscored the region's sizeable and increasing online presence, and called on its governments to ensure the global internet infrastructure would continue to support critical functions and businesses. In a statement Friday, ICANN added that it continued to focus on plans to push the stewardship transfer of key internet functions.

The US was originally scheduled to relinquish control and approve the transfer plan by end-September last year but there had been doubt this transition, which had been in discussions for the past 16 years, would move according to the deadline. September 30, 2015, was the date the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) contract, procured by the U.S. government, would have expired and key internet domain name functions carried out under this agreement would be handed over to ICANN. These include technical and administrative functions related to the DNS root zone such as process checks and changes to the root zone file.

However, the US Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) said in August 2015 that the IANA contract had been extended by a year under US administration to provide more time for the stewardship transfer proposal to be ready.

"It has become increasingly apparent over the last few months that the community needs time to complete its work, have the plan reviewed by the US government and then implement it if it is approved," NTIA's administrator Lawrence Strickling had said then. He added that, beyond September 2016, it would have "options" to further extend the contract for up to three additional years "if needed". The US department is responsible for overseeing the IANA functions.

In its statement, ICANN said this "long-awaited" proposal to end the US government's stewardship over vital internet technical functions was "almost complete" and slated to be presented in "a few weeks' time".

"We expect to present a proposal that the global internet community has been working on for almost two years to the US government [and], if accepted, it will mark a historic point in the evolution of the internet," said Theresa Swinehart, ICANN's senior advisor to the president on strategy.

The industry body further underscored the need for Asia-Pacific leaders to drive the transition and facilitate a multi-stakeholder environment, to ensure the internet infrastructure would evolve to support the region's specific requirements.

ICANN Asia-Pacific Vice President and Managing Director Low Jia-Rong explained: "Asia-Pacific has traditionally been a 'price-taker' in internet governance, but we've seen this changing over the past two years. The strong participation from our community has demonstrated an increased confidence and readiness to step up to the global table."

He added that the region was home to an estimated half of the world's online population, totalling just over three billion. "For the internet to continue evolving for our benefit, it must adapt according to the needs of its stakeholders," Low said. "It is, thus, important to ensure the wide participation of stakeholder groups in multi-stakeholder internet governance."

In particular, this "free and open internet" stewarded by the global multi-stakeholder community would be essential for the Asia-Pacific e-commerce industry, which clocked US$877.61 billion in sales last year, accounting for 52.5 percent of the world's e-commerce expenditure. Citing figures from eMarketer, ICANN said this marked a significant growth from just 35.7 percent in 2014 and the first time the Asia-Pacific region became the largest digital retail market globally.

This growth had been driven by rising middle-class consumers in China, India, and Indonesia, as well as the growing adoption of mobile devices across the region. Furthermore, the next billion online users were expected to come from developing nations, including several Asian countries.

"E-commerce is growing rapidly, especially in China, as a result of faster internet service and greater mobile uptake in the region, but we often forget e-commerce is successful because of one global internet network," said Lee Xiaodong, president and CEO of China Internet Network Information Center.

"A breakdown of this network will surely result in significant losses for businesses and impact the region greatly," Lee cautioned.

In addition, almost 3,000 languages were spoken in the Asia-Pacific region, stressing the need for native language support on the internet, ICAAN said. Developing the necessary standards and multiple scripts in domain names, though, required the active participation of multi-stakeholders of local communities, including linguistic, code, and policy experts.

Izumi Okutani, policy liaison for Japan Network Information Centre, said: "We have a growing number of internet users in our region, but our voices in the global arena are not proportional to its growth and the number of internet users. We need to make sure the internet is evolving adequately to support our region's needs."

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