Obama Administration Opposes Bill to Delay Transfer of Internet Powers

The Commerce Department warns the House GOP bill would embolden authoritarian regimes.

Scientists walk inside the main room of the CERN's LHC Computing Grid computer on its inauguration day, on October 3, 2008 in Geneva. The Worldwide LHC Computing Grid combines the power of more than 140 computer centres in 33 countries that can process more than 15 million Gigabytes of data every year produced from the hundreds of millions of subatomic collisions expected inside the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) every second.  AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
National Journal
May 6, 2014, 2:20 p.m.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion has come out against le­gis­la­tion that would tem­por­ar­ily keep cer­tain In­ter­net man­age­ment func­tions un­der U.S. con­trol.

The U.S. gov­ern­ment plans to trans­fer over­sight of the In­ter­net’s ad­dress sys­tem to the “glob­al com­munity” next year.

Re­pub­lic­ans fear the move could al­low Rus­sia, China, or oth­er au­thor­it­ari­an re­gimes to seize power over the In­ter­net and even cen­sor web­sites. The House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee is set to vote Thursday on the DOT­COM Act, which would block the In­ter­net power trans­fer pending a study by the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice.

In a let­ter Tues­day, the Com­merce De­part­ment said Con­gress is “well with­in its right to re­quest a GAO re­port” even without le­gis­la­tion, but that the ad­min­is­tra­tion op­poses the DOT­COM Act be­cause it could de­rail the In­ter­net over­sight trans­fer.

Kelly Walsh, the Com­merce De­part­ment’s gen­er­al coun­sel, ar­gued that the trans­ition is part of the long-stand­ing po­s­i­tion of the United States to sup­port the “multi-stake­hold­er” mod­el of In­ter­net gov­ernance, in which de­cisions are made by an ar­ray of non­profits, com­pan­ies, aca­dem­ics, and en­gin­eers.

By giv­ing up au­thor­ity over the In­ter­net Cor­por­a­tion for As­signed Names and Num­bers — the non­profit group that man­ages the In­ter­net’s ad­dress sys­tem — the U.S. is strength­en­ing the multi-stake­hold­er mod­el and un­der­cut­ting au­thor­it­ari­an re­gimes that are ar­guing for more gov­ern­ment con­trol of the In­ter­net, she ar­gued.

“By sig­nal­ing a lack of con­fid­ence in the multistake­hold­er mod­el, this le­gis­la­tion ad­versely im­pacts the abil­ity of the United States and its al­lies to counter at­tempts by au­thor­it­ari­an re­gimes to ob­tain a great­er role in In­ter­net gov­ernance,” Walsh wrote.

She said the bill “sends the wrong sig­nal to the glob­al In­ter­net com­munity” and “re­in­forces the mis­ap­pre­hen­sion that the U.S. gov­ern­ment ‘con­trols’ the In­ter­net.”

She em­phas­ized that the U.S. won’t com­plete the power trans­fer un­til IC­ANN out­lines a plan for In­ter­net man­age­ment that is free from con­trol by any gov­ern­ment.

The House com­mit­tee is ex­pec­ted to ap­prove the bill along party lines Thursday, but it’s un­likely to go any­where in the Sen­ate.

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