Hearings Highlight Internet Governance Concerns

This week two hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives focused on the future operation and governance of the Internet.  Fueling both is the Obama Administration’s plan, announced last spring, to relinquish the U.S. Department of Commerce’s longtime oversight role over the Internet’s basic structure of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses and domain names.  Members of Congress have numerous concerns, including the worry by some that a foreign government could attempt to fill the power vacuum and undermine Internet freedom.

At the beginning of the House Communications & Technology Subcommittee hearing on the subject, Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) stated, “I’ve had very serious concerns about the potential risks associated with the move. We’ve said time and again that this is far too important to rush, and that we must carefully consider all of the consequences and outcomes before we ring a bell that cannot be unrung.”  In focus was the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act (H.R.805), authored by Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL), which would require a study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) before the Administration took any action to transfer its oversight authority. 

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) also expressed wariness during his panel’s hearing specifically on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the group to which Internet oversight authority would be transferred.  He declared that he must assume the Executive Branch “has concluded that ICANN is not merely likely to conduct itself in a predictable, open, transparent and accountable manner in the future but that it generally exercises sound judgement and conducts itself in this manner already.”  Chairman Goodlatte had his doubts, though, particularly after the uproar over ICANN’s approval of the “.SUCKS” domain name and the result of “trademark owners being shaken down for $2,499 or more annually to protect their brands.”  He also asserted, “In at least one instance, the Obama Administration actually aided and abetted efforts within ICANN to expand the influence of foreign governments at the expense of American companies.”

Notably, in the bill to provide FY2016 funding for the Department of Commerce, the House Appropriations Committee this week approved text that would prevent the Administration from moving forward with its planned transfer of authority.

By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations

Published: May 15, 2015

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