At a hearing Thursday to explore the decision, Assistance Secretary of Commerce Larry Strickling tried to assure that a plan to move oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to an independent international body would not result in countries such as Russia or China taking overt control of the Internet.
"No one has yet to explain to me the mechanism by which any of these individual governments could somehow seize control of the Internet as a whole," Strickling said.
"For 15 years ICANN has operated without one government or any government capturing the decision making," added ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé. "I agree that people will talk about capturing, but they haven't."
As part of the deal announced last month, the U.S. would only relinquish its oversight to an independent entity formed specifically for this purpose, not the United Nations-controlled International Telecommunication Union, where Russia and China have more sway.
But members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Communications and Technology Subcommittee weren't convinced.
"Make no mistake: Threats to the openness and freedom of the Internet are real," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., the subcommittee's chair. "Leaders such as Vladimir Putin have explicitly announced their desire to gain control of the Internet.”
"If there are not sufficient safeguards in place to prevent foreign government intrusion, then this concept should go no further," he said.
Walden and other House Republicans are moving legislation that would block the transfer of authority, set for when the current contract between ICANN and the U.S. expires in 2015, until the Government Accountability Office can complete a study. Republicans in the Senate, meanwhile, have sent a letter to the administration pushing for more information.
"Do you really think that Vladimir Putin isn't going to figure out some way to get control?" Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La. "China and Russia can be very resourceful.”