WASHINGTON, DC — Today, the Senate Commerce Committee approved legislation that would require the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to inform Congress of its plans for transferring control over a core Internet governance function to ICANN, the multistakeholder body that has coordinated the domain name system since 1998.
NTIA currently contracts with a private company to run the Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA), the database that ties the Internet together by ensuring that top-level domains like .COM work the same way around the world. The same legislation passed the House on Tuesday by a veto-proof, bipartisan majority. Four Republicans supported an amendment offered by Sen. Ted Cruz that would have required Congress to approve the transfer.
“Sen. Cruz is right: Congress should have final say over the transfer, but in the end, blocking the DOTCOM bill because it requires only Congressional notification would be a mistake,” said Berin Szoka, President of TechFreedom. “Really, Senate Democrats should be the ones pushing this issue: 31 of them just joined Cruz in voting to block Fast Track Authority out of concern that giving Congress an up-or-down vote on trade deals didn’t go far enough.”
“Senate Democrats should also want Congress to at least vote on whether to approve the Administration’s decision to give up the last bit of leverage the U.S. government has to ensure that ICANN remains accountable to its diverse stakeholders,” continued Szoka. “That would help ensure that ICANN finally implements the procedural safeguards necessary to prevent ICANN from being co-opted by foreign governments or special interests, most notably intellectual property rights holders. In principle, a congressional approval requirement would help, not hinder, those who will push for greater accountability and transparency at ICANN in ICANN’s own multistakeholder process in the coming months.”
“Sen. Cruz deserves credit for trying to strengthen the bill, but now, this is up to Senate Democrats,” concluded Szoka. “Having a Congressional approval requirement would definitely help to bolster the push for ICANN reform, allowing the President and Congress to play good cop, bad cop. It’s unfortunate that Democrats on Committee didn’t support Sen. Cruz’s proposal, but the bill shouldn’t be held up over the his amendment. Having no clear role for Congress at all will only embolden opponents of ICANN reform and repressive foreign regimes. And the good news is that the bill was strengthened in the House to at least give Congress enough time to consider legislation that would require NTIA to demand further process reforms from ICANN before agreeing to the deal.”
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