May 232014


The issue of whether the US Government should continue to enjoy direct and unilateral oversight over the Internet root through the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) function has become extremely political in America.

The US Energy and Commerce Committee has just voted in measures to prevent the technical control of the Internet root from being transferred away without a fight.

Following the US Department of Commerce’s decision to transition the IANA function oversight to “the global multistakeholder community”, Republicans have been up in arms about what they see as the Obama administrations handing over the Internet to Russia and China.

On May 22, 2014, an amendment to the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters aka… I kid you not… the DOTCOM act, was voted in. Energy and Commerce Committee chairman Fred Upton, a Republican, showed just how political the situation is by commenting on the amendment vote.

“Today the U.S. Congress signaled that we will do all we can to ensure the Internet continues to serve as the greatest engine of economic activity, job creation, and social discourse the world has ever seen. Nations like Russia, China, and Iran would like nothing more than to wrest control of the Internet. Including the DOTCOM Act in this must-pass legislation is the right decision as we continue pushing for the administration to hit the pause button and allow for independent review before it makes any move to relinquish NTIA’s oversight role of critical Internet functions.”

So what exactly does the amendment mean? “It would require the Government Accountability Office to develop and deliver a report to Congress on the IANA functions transition that addresses the pros and cons of surrendering the US role,” explains Phil Corwin, Founding Principal of Virtualaw LLC.

The timelines involved would probably push the clock on the IANA transition back a couple of years and would therefore mean an extension of the current contract (which expires in September 2015).

But the amendment and the bill as a whole may not even become law. “To become law a bill must pass both the House and Senate in identical form,” says Corwin, who does not expect the bill to be enacted this year.

That won’t stop Republicans from trying to derail the IANA transition, as Corwin reveals: “As early as next week, the Appropriations bill for the Commerce Department will be on the floor of the House and it, using Congress’ “Power of the Purse”, would slash the NTIA’s budget for the coming fiscal year by $14.3 million, from $51 to $36.7 million, for the specific purpose of depriving NTIA of any funds with which to carry out the IANA transition. Again, I do not expect the Senate to accept that provision so long as it is controlled by the Democrats.”

That may well change after the mid-term elections this November. Republicans are odds-on favourites to win back control of the Senate during those elections.

  2 Responses to “Will US politics derail the IANA transition?”

  1. Stephane:
    Thanks for the mention. However, just to clarify, while the DOTCOM Act had already been reported from the Energy and Commerce Committee, it has now passed the full House of Representatives as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which sets a total spending level of $601 billion for US military operations in FY 2015. The vote on the amendment offered by Representative Shimkus was quite partisan — it passed by a vote of 245 to 177, with 228 Republicans and 17 Democrats voting in favor and 177 Democrats opposed. However, the final vote in favor of passing the full bill as amended was quite bipartisan at 325-98. The Senate is still working on its version of the bill, and once it passes the differences in the two bills must be reconciled before a final version is sent to President Obama for signature.
    Putting aside the partisan politics, remember that both NTIA head Larry Strickling and ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade have stated repeatedly that September 2015 is a goal but not a deadline for completing the IANA transition, and NTIA has set multiple conditions on what it would view as an acceptable plan. The big question of the moment seems to be whether ICANN can create a process for developing a transition plan that does not appear to be unduly self-interested and that is acceptable to the ICANN and global multi-stakeholder community. I’d say the jury is out on that question based on strong initial pushback to ICANN’s original proposal.
    Very best, Philip