Internet Authority Battle Escalating

Internet Authority BattleWhile the Obama Administration is ready to hand over the keys to the internet on October 1, Republicans in Congress are cautious or outright opposed.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced last month that it was satisfied with a transition plan offered by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The agency plans to relinquish America’s longstanding supervisory role over the internet’s fundamental framework of domain names and addresses, “barring any significant impediment.”

NRB has long expressed concern that a repressive government could attempt to fill such a power vacuum and undermine internet freedom. Notably, a number of Members of Congress have similar concerns and have declared that, among other issues, ICANN’s transition plan gives foreign governments an increased role in its deliberations. For example, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Vice Chair of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, stated on the House floor Tuesday, “We have heard the administration's plan to cede control of this… and they have assured us: ‘Trust us.’ They have said: ‘It is all going to be fine.’ But now we know they are contemplating… UN control contrary to what had been reported and planned and promised.” She warned, “Think about this: We cannot allow control for Russia or China over U.S. free speech.”

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), Chairman of House Commerce Appropriations Subcommittee, is also displeased, particularly because it appears to him that NTIA is not acting in accordance with a congressional mandate in last year’s omnibus appropriations bill, signed by President Obama, prohibiting agency movement towards such a transition. Chairman Culberson told Morning Consult this week, “I intend to enforce the prohibition in my bill by using every legislative tool available to me.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who has been a champion against the internet hand-off, this week announced a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Oversight Subcommittee, which he chairs, next Wednesday. More information and a livestream of this hearing, titled “Protecting Internet Freedom: Implications of Ending U.S. Oversight of the Internet,” will be available on the Judiciary Committee website here.

NRB supports the Protecting Internet Freedom Act (H.R. 5418/S.3034), sponsored by Sen. Cruz and Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), which would prohibit the Executive Branch from allowing its oversight over internet domain functions, including the authoritative root zone file, to lapse or be relinquished unless specifically authorized to do so by an Act of Congress. It also would require certification that the U.S. has exclusive ownership and control over the vital .gov and .mil domains.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: September 9, 2016

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