Will the great Obama Internet giveaway happen this year?
Congressional committees could be informed as soon as Sunday, August 16 by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) whether the Commerce Department will be relinquishing oversight of Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
That is because in the omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2015 Congress directed “NTIA to inform appropriate Congressional committees not less than 45 days in advance of any such proposed successor contract or any other decision related to changing NTIA’s role with respect to ICANN or IANA activities.”
Since the base contract ends on September 30, that means any decision related to relinquishing NTIA’s role — including extending the contract to provide more time to complete the transition — must be reported by the agency to Congress 45 days prior, which falls on August 16.
In December, Congress prohibited NTIA from relinquishing stewardship of Internet governance to ICANN this fiscal year.
But it did not say anything about what would happen after September 30.
Since then, the House has renewed the prohibition on the transition extending through fiscal year 2016 in the Commerce, Science and Justice Appropriations Bill in an amendment offered by U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), but the Senate has so far failed to act.
Congress’ last chance to stop or delay the transition, then, will come in the continuing resolution or omnibus legislation likely to come up before September 30.
Because, after that, the Obama administration has already said it believes, correctly or not, that it has all the legal authority it needs to proceed with the transition.
Fortunately, thanks to the August 16 reporting requirement, Congress will know ahead of time whether NTIA plans to complete the transition on September 30, or if it will be delaying that decision until 2016.
If the former, then it forces the issue next month. But if NTIA chooses to delay until next year, then there could be another opportunity to revisit the issue, particularly if a continuing resolution for the upcoming fiscal year only extends a few months.
The question for Congress is whether they even want to fight over this issue. It has been sending mixed signals.
Another measure that passed the House on June 23, the so-called Dotcom (Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters) Act, goes in the opposite direction, instead granting Obama the authority to proceed with the transition.
It does so deceptively, by pretending it will “prohibit the National Telecommunications and Information Administration from relinquishing responsibility over the Internet domain name system…” that is, “Until the date that is 30 legislative days after the submission to Congress of [a] report” by NTIA making certain certifications that everything will be okay with the transition.
In other words, the very bill that purports to “prohibit” turning over the administration of vital Internet functions — governing the assignment of domain names and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses — actually authorizes their giveaway to the international community. All the Obama administration would have to do is turn in a book report to complete the transition.
That is, if the administration even complies with the minimal reporting requirement involved. In the omnibus there was another reporting requirement that “NTIA shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations within 45 days of enactment of this Act regarding any recourse that would be available to the United States if the decision is made to transition to a new contract and any subsequent decisions made following such transfer of Internet governance are deleterious to the United States.”
In response, NTIA told Congress that “Our preliminary answer is that the criteria for the plan that NTIA established in its March 2014 announcement will ensure an outcome that is not ‘deleterious’ to the United States.”
NTIA continued, “Nonetheless, NTIA understands the concerns of Congress in this regard and will regularly revisit this question during the planning process and when evaluating the ultimate ICANN-submitted proposal to ensure that the final plan is not deleterious to the interests of the United States and its Internet stakeholders.”
That’s it. NTIA was supposed to present its contingency plan should anything go wrong with the Internet transition. Instead, it just offered Congress an empty assurance that the transition simply will not be deleterious to U.S. interests.
All the more reason for Congress to abandon the Dotcom Act and its easy-to-get-around reporting requirements and stick to the Duffy defund. Control over Internet governance for the entire world is too important to be given away to a single organization, however constituted, that neither shares U.S. interests nor our commitment to free speech and a free and open Internet.
Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.