More time is needed for the U.S. government to hand over its oversight role of the Internet domain name process, most panelists at a House Judiciary Committee hearing said Wednesday.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who leads the subcommittee on courts, intellectual property and the Internet, noted language was inserted into the Commerce Department’s 2016 budget that would bar the agency from appropriating funds for the transition.
“In other words, until the end of the fiscal year 2016 this transition would not be allowed to go forward,” he said.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is also debating legislation that would put off a transition until the Government Accountability Office can review the move’s implications.
The appropriations language was added to the department’s 2015 budget as well. When that happened, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), housed in the Commerce Department, said it would adhere to the ban, but would continue to monitor discussions and participate in meetings about the transition with other stakeholders.
While many of the eight panelists said more time would be needed, at least one hinted at concerns about Congress’s appropriations move.
“Possibly the earliest is next spring of 2016. It might well likely leak into much later in 2016,” said Steve DelBianco, the executive director of NetChoice. “And yet Commerce needs to have enough leeway to spend the resources necessary to answer your questions, and to make sure the stress tests have been applied and to make sure their conditions have been met.”
NTIA has oversight of the process allowing Internet users to easily search for websites using unique addresses, which is coordinated by the Internet Assigned Number Authority (IANA). NTIA has historically contracted the role out to the nonprofit group, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
Last year, the agency announced a long-planned transition fully away from government oversight. It has tasked ICANN to lead the transition.
But some lawmakers and others have worried that the process could be undermined by foreign governments. Critics specifically point to ICANN’s separate process of rolling out to a host of top-level domain names, apart from standard ones like “.com,” “.org” and “.gov.”
The hearing itself focused on the “.sucks” domain name that was auctioned off last year to a Canadian firm called Vox Populi. The firm has allowed businesses and celebrities to buy up their .sucks web addresses for thousands of dollars. The company will later allow the general public to purchase names that have not already been sold.
Lawmakers and others compared the business model to “extortion,” which the firm has strongly denied. And ICANN has asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into the legality of the practice.
Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said ICANN’s failure to police the matter itself “demonstrates the absurdity and futility of ICANN’s own enforcement processes.” Others have insisted on more accountability before the transition goes through.
The e-commerce giant Amazon on Wednesday specifically pointed to a fight between the company and Brazil and Peru over ownership of the “.Amazon” domain name. The company said ICANN “disregard[ed] its rules and procedures” to deny its ownership of the domain name under pressure from governments.
“This blemish is disqualifying, at least until cleared,” said Amazon’s Paul Misener, who added ICANN “is not free from government control.”
The Commerce Department has said it would only approve a transition that maintains security, stability openness of the Internet. And the agency has promised to reject any proposal based on inter-government control.
The Commerce Department’s contract with ICANN expires in September. The department could extend that for another four years.