The US Department of Commerce will release this week its White Paper on Internet Governance, which establishes a private non-profit group headed by an international board to oversee domain name management, according to Ira Magaziner, US presidential advisor on the Internet.
Besides offering that tidbit of news, Magaziner outlined US President Bill Clinton's Internet and technology policies at the Harvard Conference on Internet & Technology here and also held an impromptu press conference where he discussed a range of topics, including progress on the international front regarding Internet regulation and policy.
Magaziner told reporters that he could not offer specifics about what changes have been made in the paper, which has gone through some 17 drafts and is posted on the Internet. The administration also sought e-mail comments on the draft proposal and those, too, have been posted.
"The preponderance of opinion is what we followed," to prepare the White Paper, he said.
Attorneys from the U.S. departments of Justice and Commerce are reviewing the final version to make certain that the legal basis of the document is clear and that it can withstand any court challenges. If the document is legally weak, then court challenges could lead to judicial decisions that wind up establishing a legal framework that subverts the administration policy, he said.
Another major stumbling block has been that the domain-name registration process was established through government contracts, so U.S. tax dollars were used. There are stringent regulations in place regarding the transfer of programs established with tax dollars to a private entity, such as the organization that will oversee domain-name management. The transfer to the new organization, expected to occur by Oct. 1, has to follow those stipulations, Magaziner said.
In his remarks to the conference, he also delivered a reprise of a recent Department of Commerce report showing that more than one-third of real growth in the economy has been from IT, largely driven by Internet growth. IT has further helped to keep the inflation rate low and continues to provide jobs that pay more than the average in other industries.
The private sector must take the lead because "the digital economy ... moves too fast and requires too much flexibility" for the slow, bureaucratic nature of government to be effective. The administration also is committed to respecting the nature of the Internet and the need for policies that are technology neutral and decentralized.
The leadership position of the U.S. has not pleased some nations and the Green Paper that preceded the upcoming release of the White Paper on Internet Governance irked some who have argued there must be more international input on such matters.
At the press conference, Magaziner said he believes that the U.S. and other developed nations are no longer far apart when it comes to a cluster of important issues, including domain-name management and privacy concerns. If the Internet can be pushed into "effective self regulation" in the next few months, then the U.S. can appeal to the European Union to make a case that such regulation can succeed.
Because of that, Magaziner isn't terribly worried about what might happen come October when the European Privacy Directive is to take effect, particularly because the various nations involved will administer and enforce the directive differently.
"How they do it in Denmark is different from how they do it in France," he said.
Encryption policy and key recovery technology continue to be sticking points, but Magaziner said those areas also are being worked on and the administration is confident that there will be some resolution to those issues -- though precisely how such matters will be resolved is still uncertain.
The recent World Trade Organization (WTO) decision to keep the Internet duty free for at least one more year is yet another indication that accord is being reached on key points, Magaziner said.
"We think we made substantial progress," he said, calling the agreement, "very significant."
Developed nations that want a duty-free Internet will continue the education process with developing countries to encourage their support. At the end of the duty-free period, Magaziner said he believes the WTO will have a difficult time reversing its position and imposing Internet tariffs.
"We don't view these international discussions we're having as trade negotiations where we're trying to tell them what to do," Magaziner said.
As for U.S. turf, a bit of a tussle seems to be emerging between the administration's hands-off policy when it comes to Internet regulation and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which in a recent report to Congress left open the possibility of imposing regulations on Internet telephony.
Asked about the FCC's regulatory authority and the whether or not it remains a relevant body given the fast pace of technological change and the convergence of voice and data communications, Magaziner politely backed away from the issue, noting that he wouldn't want to say that the FCC is no longer necessary.
Instead, he offered this: "I think they're going to have to evolve ... I think they're going to realize (regulation) is not the right way to go."
Additional information on the White Paper on Internet Governance, including e-mail comments from the public and trade groups, can be found at http://www.doc.gov/. Information on the Clinton administration can be found at http://www.whitehouse.gov/.