Congress Speaks Out on Internet Governance: Transition Must be Done Right

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On Wednesday, Congress will take a look at how to Preserve the Multistakeholder Model of Internet Governance.  The Senate Commerce Committee hearing comes one year after the Commerce Department National Telecommunications and Information Agency (NTIA) proposed a plan to transfer control over key Internet mechanisms maintained by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to a multistakeholder managed entity.

Tomorrow, the Committee will focus on lingering concerns that the loss of U.S. involvement over the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) could empower foreign powers who do not share the U.S. commitment to free expression, and to examine the potential benefits and preparedness of non-governmental actors to protect Internet governance functions from attempted interference by foreign governments.

Tomorrow’s hearing follows unanimous Senate approval two weeks ago of a resolution by Senators Hatch (R-UT) and Blunt (R-MO) signaling the Senate’s intent to provide oversight of the Administration’s proposed transition. The resolution called attention to “the importance of designing accountability and governance reforms to best prepare ICANN for executing the responsibilities that it may receive under any transition of the stewardship of the functions of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.”  The resolution also put the international community on notice that the U.S. is united on getting any transition right rather than doing it quickly.

A responsible transition might well prove to be in the U.S. long-term interest in keeping the Internet free, but there must be a rigorous evaluation of the technical soundness of the proposal chosen by NTIA, perhaps even a stress test on how it would maintain the security, stability and resiliency of the Internet Doman Name Server system.  That is, no transfer of ICANN authority to a proposed new governance structure should occur if it interferes with the exercise of free expression or the unfettered flow of information, or one that replaces the U.S. role with a government-led or an inter-governmental organization solution.

SIIA supported the Senate resolution, and we applaud the Senate Commerce Committee for taking a closer look at the progress, with the clear message that the transition must be done right, or not at all.

David David LeDuc is Senior Director, Public Policy at SIIA. He focuses on e-commerce, privacy, cyber security, cloud computing, open standards, e-government and information policy. Follow the SIIA public policy team on Twitter at @SIIAPolicy.