Senators still have questions about IANA transition

Senators heard from experts who want to tap the brakes on the pending transition of a key piece of global Internet architecture from U.S. control to a global multistakeholder organization.

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The plan for the U.S. to cede control of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority to a global, multi-stakeholder community has been a long-term one, and a witness panel testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee on May 24  largely agreed that the transition is inevitable. However, the witnesses were split on the best course of action – whether to begin the transition this year, as planned, or to push for a "soft extension" to delay it two years.

The IANA function – essentially serving as the address book of the Internet -- has been under U.S. control since the inception of the global Internet. Plans to devolve control to a non-governmental stakeholder group have been in the works for years, and were accelerated by the Snowden surveillance revelations of 2013.

Proponents of a quicker transition see timely passage of the plan as a sign of American leadership, and fear that a U.S.-driven delay will be perceived as going back on a long-promised plan.

A delay "sends the signal the U.S. is not serious about the entire multi-stakeholder process that we charged with the mission of coming up with a transition proposal," said Steve Delbianco, executive director of NetChoice. "We would indicate we want to relitigate this… That's a direct slap in the face to a community that has worked for two years on this proposal."

However, those advocating for a "soft extension" are not convinced a delay would come across so poorly, feared the transition was taking place sooner than it needed to and said they wanted to verify this plan through a series of tests.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R.-Fla.) said, "What I do dismiss is this notion that, if we don't do it on this accelerated timeframe, the world is going to rebel and say, 'we knew you were lying to us this whole time'" and incite international acrimony.

Internet Architecture Board Chair Andrew Sullivan did not see the benefit in testing the proposal, and tried to clear up confusion on what exactly the plan seeks to accomplish.

 "You can't do a partial test of this. The key piece, of course, is taking out the U.S. government oversight," said Sullivan. "If you don't take that out, you haven't tested anything… If you do that, what you will do instead is introduce delays that don't tell you what you need to know."

Part of the argument against a timely transition was based in fear of nations' increasing authoritarian actions, namely those of China and Russia. Schaefer argued that the transition "will only whet the appetite" of authoritarian nations who might try to take greater control over the Internet.

However, Sullivan explained that a fear of another government taking control of the Internet was outside of "the wildest fantasy."

 "The whole system is designed to prevent that kind of thing. Countries can do things inside their own borders, but they cannot subvert the Internet's design in order to cause other people to do things," Sullivan said. "That's the reason we need to get the governments out of this business, because it sends this message that it can be controlled, when it can't be. It's designed not to be. They can't take it over."

NTIA expects to release a review of the proposal June 10, and the proposal could be decided by November.

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