Internet chief allays fears over ICANN transition

A House panel voted to advance a bill that would halt the Obama administration's plan to transition U.S. government control over key Internet regulation to a private group.
By Gabrielle Levy  |  April 10, 2014 at 6:25 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 10 (UPI) -- Fears over control of the Internet came into sharp relief Thursday as lawmakers voted to stall a plan to relinquish U.S. government oversight of a key Internet regulation.

After the Obama administration announced last month its plan to hand off control of oversight responsibility when its contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers ends next year, Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., introduced the DOTCOM Act bill, which would delay the transition until the Government Accountability Office could examine the plan.

On Thursday, the House Commerce Committee Subcommitee on Technology voted 16-10 along party lines to send the bill to the full committee.

"We should at least pause long enough to have an independent nonpartisan body we all respect look over whatever [the administration] comes back with and say, 'What effect does it have?'" Walden said at the hearing.

But Rep. Anna Eshoo argued Republicans were directly contradicting a bill that passed unanimously in the House last year to endorse the multi-stakehoulder model, which gives power to companies, non-profits, academics and engineers.

According Lawrence Strickling, the Department of Commerce's Assistant Secretary of Communications and Information, the independent group created for the job would be the final piece in the original 1998 plan that always intended to transition full responsibility from the DOC's National Telecommunications and Information Administration to the global multi-stakeholder community.

The administration said the transition would only be made once stakeholders came up with a plan that met strict guidelines to insure its independence and to protect the openness of the Internet.

While the debate in Congress remains between keeping the U.S. oversight role in place or transitioning to the yet-unformed independent organization, a third alternative, favored by Russia and China but considered a non-starter by both ICANN and the U.S., would place control over the domain name system in the hands of the U.N.'s International Telecommunications Union.

Members of the technological community, including companies such as Google and Cisco as well as ICANN, have announced their support to move oversight more firmly into the hands of the multi-stakeholder system, as the Obama administration said it wants to do.

But members of Congress have expressed fears that an move to relinquish oversight would allow other countries an opening to exploit it as an opportunity to grab control.

"It is clear that the U.S. has served as a critical and responsible backstop against censorship and as a promoter of openness and free speech on the Internet," said full committee Chair Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. "The reality is that once we surrender our unique possession, it will be impossible to take it back if something goes awry."

Fadi Chehadé, the president and CEO of ICANN, assured the committee that ICANN's internal structure and external checks make it so that it would be impossible for a group to hijack its governing authority.

And while he agreed that the new authority should be subject to extensive testing and held to the highest standards to insure it would remain incorruptible, he warned that Congress's hesitancy could send a message to the rest of the wold that could undermine trust in the multi-stakeholder model.

ICANN, a corporation based in California, has managed the Internet's system of addresses since 1998. Its contract with the United States government has given ICANN the authority to keep that control.

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