House Panel Votes to Halt Obama’s Internet Power Transfer

Republicans worry Russia or China could seize control of the Internet.

 Ethernet cables lead to a server at the Rittal stand at the 2013 CeBIT technology trade fair the day before the fair opens to visitors on March 4, 2013 in Hanover, Germany.
National Journal
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Brendan Sasso
April 10, 2014, 7:27 a.m.

A House pan­el voted along party lines on Thursday to delay the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan to give up over­sight over cer­tain tech­nic­al In­ter­net man­age­ment func­tions.

Re­pub­lic­ans are wor­ried that the pro­pos­al, which would trans­fer power to an in­ter­na­tion­al non­profit group, could open the door to an In­ter­net takeover by au­thor­it­ari­an re­gimes.

The Re­pub­lic­ans on the House Com­mu­nic­a­tions and Tech­no­logy Sub­com­mit­tee over­rode vo­cal Demo­crat­ic op­pos­i­tion to ad­vance the DOT­COM Act, which would in­struct the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice to in­vest­ig­ate the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan. The bill would block the trans­fer of In­ter­net powers for up to a year while the of­fice pre­pares a re­port.

The bill now heads to the full En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee for con­sid­er­a­tion.

Sub­com­mit­tee Chair­man Greg Walden, an Ore­gon Re­pub­lic­an, ar­gued that giv­en the “mag­nitude” of the is­sue, the United States should care­fully study the pro­pos­al be­fore mov­ing for­ward.

“We should at least pause long enough to have an in­de­pend­ent non­par­tis­an body we all re­spect look over whatever [the ad­min­is­tra­tion] comes back with and say, ‘What ef­fect does it have?’ ” Walden said.

He warned that if the U.S. gives up its role over­see­ing In­ter­net ad­dress func­tions, that could al­low Rus­sia or China to seize power.

“We know what China has done to si­lence dis­sent, and we’ve read the state­ments of Vladi­mir Putin, who wants to use the powers of the [In­ter­na­tion­al Tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions Uni­on] to con­trol the In­ter­net,” Walden said. “These threats are real.”

But Demo­crats ac­cused Re­pub­lic­ans of be­ing para­noid, and ar­gued that the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s plan would only con­tin­ue the long­time po­s­i­tion of the U.S. gov­ern­ment to sup­port the “multi-stake­hold­er” mod­el of In­ter­net gov­ernance, in which power rests with private com­pan­ies, non­profit groups, aca­dem­ics, en­gin­eers, and oth­ers.

“There is no plan to turn the In­ter­net over to rogue gov­ern­ments. The plan is to stick with the plan,” Rep. Anna Eshoo, the sub­com­mit­tee’s top Demo­crat, said. “It is not a con­spir­acy or a di­git­al black heli­copter.”

Last month, the Com­merce De­part­ment an­nounced it will give the In­ter­net Cor­por­a­tion for As­signed Names and Num­bers, an in­ter­na­tion­al non­profit group, con­trol over a set of tech­nic­al pro­ced­ures that al­lows com­puters around the world to con­nect to Web ad­dresses.

Al­though the In­ter­net was in­ven­ted in the United States, the U.S. gov­ern­ment has nev­er “con­trolled” it. And IC­ANN has ac­tu­ally man­aged the In­ter­net’s ad­dress sys­tem since 1998. But IC­ANN’s au­thor­ity stems from a con­tract it re­ceives from the Na­tion­al Tele­com­mu­nic­a­tions and In­form­a­tion Ad­min­is­tra­tion, a Com­merce De­part­ment agency.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials say they won’t end the con­tract un­til IC­ANN pro­duces a cred­ible plan for how it will man­age the In­ter­net func­tions go­ing for­ward, and that any plan that would give power to oth­er gov­ern­ments would be dead-on-ar­rival.

At Thursday’s sub­com­mit­tee vote, Demo­crats said they are not op­posed to hav­ing the Gov­ern­ment Ac­count­ab­il­ity Of­fice, Con­gress’s audit arm, study the is­sue. But they warned that the Re­pub­lic­an bill would tie the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s hands and de­rail the trans­fer of In­ter­net over­sight au­thor­ity.

Eshoo ar­gued that the Re­pub­lic­ans are vi­ol­at­ing le­gis­la­tion that the House un­an­im­ously passed last year, en­dors­ing the multi-stake­hold­er mod­el of In­ter­net gov­ernance.

“I sug­gest mem­bers go back and read what they voted for,” she said. “You are un­rav­el­ing what you voted for.” 

She said the DOT­COM Act (which she called the “Dot Con Act”) is a “source of em­bar­rass­ment to a com­mit­tee that has mostly ac­ted in a bi­par­tis­an way.”

Rep. Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Demo­crat, ar­gued that re­lin­quish­ing over­sight of the In­ter­net ad­dress func­tions will ac­tu­ally help to bol­ster In­ter­net free­dom. He said coun­tries such as Rus­sia and China point to the unique U.S. role as evid­ence that the United States doesn’t ac­tu­ally sup­port private-sec­tor con­trol of the In­ter­net. Those au­thor­it­ari­an re­gimes use that ar­gu­ment when they push the United Na­tions and oth­er in­ter­na­tion­al bod­ies to give them more in­flu­ence over the In­ter­net, Doyle said.

Walden said he would be open to short­en­ing the delay from one year to six months, but that Con­gress should be able to fully re­view the trans­fer be­fore it oc­curs.

“The whole pur­pose here is to have the in­form­a­tion be­fore the ad­min­is­tra­tion takes its ac­tion,” he said.

Re­pub­lic­ans re­jec­ted four amend­ments from Demo­crats that would have scaled back the bill.


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