U.S. advocates for a free global Internet need to reach out to other nations to encourage their participation in open governance bodies like the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization's president and CEO said.
Defenders of a free and open Internet are "facing a pretty dangerous time right now," as countries that want censorship and control of the Internet push their agendas at the International Telecommunications Union and other forums, ICANN leader Fadi Chehad said late Tuesday.
"I want to lean into this community," Chehad said. "This is a time of engagement."
During December's World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), members of the ITU were close to passing resolutions that would have given the ITU ICANN's duties and giving nations calling for censorship a greater voice in the coordination of the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS), Chehad said.
Representatives of many nations at the WCIT meeting couldn't decide to vote with the U.S., western Europe and their allies, or with China, Russia and other countries calling for censorship and ITU control of Internet governance, Chehad said during the Computer and Communications Industry Association's 40th anniversary celebration.
In many cases, Internet policy officials in developing nations haven't had significant interaction with their counterparts in the U.S. and European nations, Chehad said. Meanwhile, the Chinese government built and paid for a $200 million African Union complex in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which opened in early 2012, he noted.
Some African nations have seen the power of the Internet and transformed their economies, said Chehad, a citizen of Egypt, Lebanon and the U.S. Other Africans see potential, but engagement from U.S. and European Internet activists can help drive the progress, he said.
For many Africans, "it's not about Internet freedom only," he said. "For them, it's about Internet opportunity."
The leader of ICANN since last October, Chehad told the CCIA crowd of U.S. tech policy leaders he had visited 11 countries in the past month. In some countries, officials at telecom providers had no previous interaction with ICANN, he said.
ICANN is also breaking up its Los Angeles headquarters into three, and moving some headquarters functions to Singapore and Istanbul in an effort to better engage the Internet community worldwide, Chehad said.
Chehad, a tech entrepreneur and former IBM executive, said global governance issues can help drive the continued growth of the Internet or end its success. It's important for activists now to engage on a global level, he said.
"I truly believe the Internet is one of the last things that unites us all," he said.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is email@example.com.