US Congress votes to slow ICANN transition

The DOTCOM Act would add new requirements to the move away from the NTIA

This is ICANN's logo.

This is ICANN's logo.

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to require ICANN, which coordinates the Internet's domain name system, to jump through several hoops before a government agency ends its oversight of the organization.

The House voted 378-25 late Tuesday to approve the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act, a bill intended to safeguard Internet users and ensure a smooth transition away from U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) oversight of ICANN's key domain-name functions.

The DOTCOM Act gives Congress 30 days to review alternative governance models for ICANN before a transition occurs, said Representative John Shimkus, an Illinois Republican and chief sponsor of the bill. "This allows us to hear from our constituents and consult with outside experts before we decide if ICANN's proposal is satisfactory," he said on the House floor Tuesday.

If Congress decides ICANN's new governance model doesn't "protect the free and open Internet," lawmakers can then stop the transition or require more safeguards, Shimkus added.

The DOTCOM Act is a better alternative than a House vote earlier this month to defund the transition, said Representative Frank Pallone, a New Jersey Democrat. Unlike the appropriations bill, the DOTCOM Act "provides a real opportunity for congressional oversight," he said.

The House action on the DOTCOM Act sends the bill to the Senate for consideration.

The NTIA announced in March 2014 that it planned to end its oversight of ICANN's Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) late this year, but many Republicans resisted that move, fearing other governments would attempt to take control of ICANN. Most Democrats supported the move, saying it's time to show the rest of the world that the U.S. doesn't exert undue influence over the organization.

IANA is responsible for the global coordination of the DNS Root, IP addressing, and other Internet protocol resources.

The DOTCOM Act was promoted as http://docs.house.gov/meetings/IF/IF16/20150610/103602/BILLS-114-805-S000364-Amdt-1.pdf that would give Congress some control over the transition, while allowing it to move forward.

Although the bill passed by a wide margin, one conservative group called it an "Internet giveaway."

The DOTCOM Act allows the transition to happen "upon a meaningless report being submitted by the Obama administration," Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government, said by email.

U.S. oversight of ICANN protects free speech on the Internet, and there is "simply no reason" to give that role up, he added.

The NTIA had originally planned to let its IANA contract with ICANN expire in September, but the DOTCOM Act would require the agency to renew the contract while the organization puts together a new community-based governance model. The transition will now likely happen in mid-2016.

Renewing the contract makes the pressure off to rush the transition, Shimkus said. "We get one bite at the apple on this, and we need to make sure it's done correctly," he said.

Adding to NTIA requirements for the transition, the DOTCOM Act would require the NTIA to submit a report to Congress certifying that the transition plans meet the U.S. government's objective of global Internet openness.

The bill would also require NTIA to certify that its proposed changes to ICANN's bylaws, meant to ensure multi-stakeholder control of the organization, have been implemented, and that safeguards to make ICANN more accountable to the Internet community are in place.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's email address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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Tags governmentinternetlegislationICANNU.S. National Telecommunications and Information AdministrationU.S. House of RepresentativesJohn ShimkusFrank PalloneAmericans for Limited GovernmentRick Manning

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