The Obama administrations plan to turn over U.S. control of the Internets architecture to a group of international stakeholders isnt going over well on Capitol Hill.
Republicans want to review any handover agreement, while members of both parties are saying the California nonprofit that manages the Internets addressing system needs to do a better job protecting American copyrights before President Barack Obama relinquishes control.
Whos going to be there when something goes wrong? asked Rep. Joe L. Barton, a Texas Republican, at a House Energy and Commerce hearing last week. Ive yet to hear this vaunted multi-stakeholder process come up with an enforcement mechanism.
In March 2014, the Commerce Department, which manages the contract with the California group, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, said it would surrender the contract to a group of corporate executives, nonprofit Internet experts and government officials. The handover would occur in September 2015, when the current contract runs out.
Before that happens, though, the stakeholder group that would assume the contract needs to develop a transition plan and no one thinks it will be ready in time.
The fallback plan is for the Commerce Department to extend the contract until the transition plan is ready.
Republicans last week made clear they want to have a look at it before any handover. The Houses Commerce Department spending bill, for the second year in a row, includes a provision that would bar the department from spending any funds on the transition.
Weve 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, said Rep. Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican and chairman of the Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology panel.
Commerce says it will require the transition plan garner wide stakeholder support, retain the multi-stakeholder governance model, and ensure the security and stability of the domain address system and the continued openness of the Internet.
But Republicans are wary of allowing foreign governments, especially those that restrict Internet access within their borders, to have a say in Internet governance. They worry that without the U.S. contract in place, foreigners could demand the Internet be placed under the control of the United Nations.
Advocates for the transition argue the current U.S. role is untenable, given the Internets global nature, and by allowing stakeholders that are not governments to oversee the Web, foreign governments will not be able to stake a claim.
Weve entered into a process that cant be reversed, said Brett Schafer, a witness at the Energy and Commerce hearing and a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. If we try to reverse it, the very likely outcome is not that were gonna have the same situation in place going forward, but the oversight of ICANN is going to be taken over by the ITU, the United Nations telecommunications agency.
That point of view will likely win the day, even among Republicans. But Congress is still going to demand its say.
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