House GOP leery of bid to end domain authority

Lawrence Strickling

In April 2 testimony, NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling reiterated his pledge not to relinquish the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority function to foreign powers or the International Telecommunications Union.

A U.S. move to cede its supervisory authority over the domain name system, one of key pieces of management architecture that makes the global Internet work, is raising hackles among some Republicans who worry that it could lead to the United Nations or foreign powers gaining more control over what does and does not appear online.

At issue is the current Internet Assigned Numbers Authority contract. Currently the National Telecommunications and Information Agency, a Commerce Department component, contracts with the U.S.-based non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to make sure that registered domain names in .com map to the assigned numerical slots. NTIA recently moved, as part of a long-standing policy with backing of the executive branch and Congress, to allow for an international, multi-stakeholder group composed of private industry, governance groups and other institutions, to take over management of the key IANA function.

At an April 2 House hearing, NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling reiterated his pledge not to relinquish the IANA function to foreign powers or the International Telecommunications Union, a U.N. technology agency.

"The neutral and judgment free administration of the technical DNS and IANA functions has created an environment in which the technical architecture has not been used to interfere with the exercise of free expression or the free flow of information. Any transition of the NTIA role must maintain this neutral and judgment free administration, thereby maintaining the global interoperability of the Internet," Strickling told the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. "NTIA has repeatedly said that we will not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or inter-governmental organization solution."

The proposed transition has wide support from industry, with AT&T, Verizon, Microsoft and the Internet Association all backing the move to privatize the U.S. government role in overseeing the global address book for the Internet. The government has plans dating back to the 1990s to cede control of the IANA function. In 2012, the House and Senate passed concurrent resolutions backing the NTIA's plan to, "continue working to implement the position of the United States on Internet governance that clearly articulates the consistent and unequivocal policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free from government control and preserve and advance the successful multi-stakeholder model that governs the Internet today."

Nonetheless, there is an abiding concern among some members that the transition could empower foreign governments, particularly Russia and China, to expand their control over the architecture of the Internet, or help fuel a push to put key functions under U.N. control.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) is among the members concerned that the NTIA might be moving too quickly -- and might be too trusting of an international multi-stakeholder process. "In a perfect world, ICANN and IANA would be fully privatized," she said, while expressing concern that once the U.S. relinquished its authority, it would not be in a position to guarantee the free flow of information across the Internet.

"If things do go astray, is there a path back for NTIA?" asked subcommittee Chairman Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican.

Blackburn and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) dropped legislation this week with an eye to putting the brakes on NTIA's plans. The measure would require a Government Accountability Office report on any transition proposals offered by NTIA. In reality, NTIA has two years to come up with a workable plan before the IANA contract expires, so the bill, even if signed into law, might not have much impact on the scheduled transition.

About the Author

Adam Mazmanian is a staff writer covering Congress, the FCC and other key agencies. Connect with him on Twitter: @thisismaz.

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