Debate Over Internet Authority Transition Appears Poised to Heat Up

While much press attention this week was rightly centered on the ongoing fallout from Facebook censorship allegations and the company’s efforts to rebuild public trust, there are indications another long-simmering internet battle is heating up. At issue is the Obama administration’s plan to relinquish America’s technical oversight authority over the internet’s basic domain name structure. While there is wide agreement that the internet has flourished without government interference, concerns have been expressed with this plan, particularly that it could open the door for a foreign government to attempt to fill the power vacuum and undermine internet freedom.

Last year’s omnibus appropriations bill included a prohibition on any movement by the federal government toward transitioning its oversight authority during fiscal year 2016, which ends on September 30. Still, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) submitted a transition plan to the U.S. in March, and that plan is now under review.

Of note, the House Appropriations Committee this week released text of a fiscal year 2017 spending bill that would continue to forbid such a transition for another year. In addition, in advance of a hearing on the subject slated for next week in the Senate Commerce Committee, The Hill reports that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has been gathering signatures on a letter urging the Obama administration to delay its plan in light of outstanding questions about human rights and giving governments "new power and authority." Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), another Commerce Committee member, also has been active on this issue and has pushed for Congress to require that it have an up or down vote on any internet transition plan before it goes into effect. He, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) have also had some pointed questions for ICANN and its relationship with China, a country top Obama administration officials called to account on internet governance this week.

In March, before a related hearing in the House Energy & Commerce Committee, Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.), and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) issued a joint statement warning, “This final step of removing U.S. government oversight of the IANA functions is irreversible and we must be sure the transition will not harm the internet or the millions of Americans that rely on it. There are no do-overs. Once the U.S. relinquishes its role in IANA, that’s it, there’s no going back. We must get it right."

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: May 20, 2016

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