A bipartisan consensus has solidified on Capitol Hill as Members of Congress seek to monitor a transfer of authority over the Internet. The U.S. Department of Commerce has long had oversight over the Web’s basic structure of Internet Protocol addresses and domain names, but last year the Obama Administration signaled that it planned to shift that power to a private organization. Among concerns raised by Members of Congress is the worry that a foreign government could attempt to fill the power vacuum and undermine Internet freedom.
Earlier this month Republicans and Democrats on the House Energy & Commerce Committee came to an agreement on the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act (H.R. 805) to insert Congressional review into the Commerce Department’s process. This bill, authored by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), would require the Executive Branch to certify to Congress that the “transition plans meet the United States’ objective of global Internet openness” and it would give Congress 30 legislative days to evaluate the Administration’s plan before it is carried out.
That bipartisan legislation sailed through the House of Representatives this week by a vote of 378 to 25. Congressman Greg Walden (R-OR), Chairman of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, asserted, “This legislation makes clear that the Administration shall not proceed without first answering to Congress.” Rep. Shimkus added that this proposed transition is “far too important to rush.” He said, “We get one bite at the apple on this and we need to make sure it’s done correctly."
A companion bill sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD), Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), Senator Roger Wicker (R-MI), and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) advanced out of the Senate Commerce Committee this week as well. Concerned that the current DOTCOM bill is not strong enough, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) offered an amendment during committee consideration that would mandate that Congress vote on the Administration’s final plan before it goes into effect. However, Chairman Thune recommended against Senator Cruz’s proposal. He noted that time for congressional review and a number of certifications were already built in as requirements in the DOTCOM bill. In addition, Chairman Thune expressed concern that Senator Cruz’s amendment would likely risk the bill’s signature into law by the President. The Committee rejected the amendment by a vote of 21 to 3. The bill’s next stop will be the Senate Floor.
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: June 26, 2015