Does the U.S. have new clout over the global internet?

A former NTIA administrator told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee that the handover of internet address book functions to an international group gives the administration new bargaining cred.

Shutterstock image (by Jozsef Bagota): Global networks.
 

President Trump's administration will better be able to help U.S. companies with internet naming issues since transferring U.S.'s control of internet architecture at the end of September to a global, multi-stakeholder group, according to former head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

That move has strengthened the federal government's ability to help U.S. companies in their bid to obtain domain rights, said John Kneuer, a former administrator at NTIA at a Feb. 2 House hearing.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is tasked with reauthorizing the NTIA, which saw its last congressional authorization in 1992. At the hearing of the panel's Communications and Technology Subcommittee, Kneuer said that the U.S. has more leverage in global internet naming rights now than it did when it administered the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority -- essentially the backbone of the global internet's address book.

Since offloading IANA at the end of FY2016 to a global stakeholder-based institution, the U.S. is poised to press claims on behalf of American companies.

For example, e-commerce giant Amazon has long sought the use of dot-Amazon as a top-level web domain. A group of Latin American countries blocked the company's use of the address in 2013 saying it could be confused with the geographic Amazon region.

Kneuer told the committee that it would be "absolutely" appropriate for President Donald Trump or other U.S. official to back Amazon's effort to obtain a dot-Amazon top level domain name.

"With the conclusion of the transition of the IANA contracts … the U.S  government can take, counterintuitively perhaps, a more proactive role for domestic companies…" Kneuer said. "When the U.S. government had its exclusive contractual relationship with ICANN, there was some hesitancy to be perceived as abusing that authority or overplaying that role."

Some Republican lawmakers were highly critical of the transfer and sought to block it, calling it essentially a giveaway of U.S. power.

The panel asked former NTIA managers what changes they would make to the administration to modernize it and make it more efficient at moving spectrum out to commercial markets as well as keep federal users happy.

Meredith Baker, president and CEO of the wireless association CTIA, said changing the NTIA administrator's title from the current assistant secretary level to an undersecretary-level position would give it more clout with agencies making spectrum decisions. 

That change would be consistent with the undersecretary title of the head of National Institute of Standards and Technology, NTIA's sister agency at the Department of Commerce, she said.

A stronger NTIA administrator, she said, would be a more successful arbiter of commercial and federal spectrum needs.

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