Internet Authority Handover Debate Grows

Following a hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) this week led a group of his fellow committee members in calling for the Obama administration to delay its planned handover of authority over the internet’s basic domain name structure. Among other issues, they expressed concern that a transition plan offered earlier this year by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) actually creates new powers for governments – powers that could be misused by some state actors. In their letter, Sens. Rubio, Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) recommended an extension of the current arrangement to ensure against “unforeseen problems or consequences that could jeopardize the security, stability, and openness of the internet.”

At the Commerce Committee hearing on Tuesday, several senators, apparently subscribing to the adage that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” questioned what was wrong with the current system. The hearing witnesses defending the transition seemed to focus on a political issue rather than a technical problem. For example, Steve DelBianco, Executive Director of NetChoice and a policy leader for ICANN, warned that a delay in the internet transition would embolden those who want to centralize power over the internet in the United Nations or another multinational body. He said that “would signal that the US government does not actually trust the multi-stakeholder model” and countries like China “would surely note our hypocrisy.” However, Brett Schaefer, the Jay Kingham Fellow in International Regulatory Affairs at the Heritage Foundation and also a participant in ICANN’s transition working group, noted numerous areas of concern that still need to be explored. “The transition to a multi-stakeholder global system is too important to get wrong and too important to rush,” he said.

Democrats on the committee largely seemed supportive of a quick transition; however, most of the Republicans seemed more wary. Sen. Rubio was particularly critical of the “notion that if we somehow don’t do it on this accelerated timeframe, then the world is going to rebel.” He added, “I honestly don’t believe that proceeding cautiously on this is to our detriment and I think fully understandable, given the scope of what we’re talking about here. And, I would say also that while we still control the process and the timeline, once we move past a certain point, there is no leverage to pull back.” For his part, Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) also seemed open to a delay.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: May 27, 2016

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