House Republican decries ‘hostile step’ on Internet freedom

The Obama administration’s move to relinquish control over Internet infrastructure is a threat to freedom of speech, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said Monday.

“Giving up control of ICANN will allow countries like China and Russia that don't place the same value in freedom of speech to better define how the Internet looks and operates,” Blackburn, the vice chairman on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement.

On Friday, the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced that it would be initiating a process to transition out of its management role of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which is the technical back end of the Internet’s Web address system.

Currently, the IANA is overseen by the Commerce agency but is managed through a contract with the U.S. government by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which also manages the assigning of Web addresses.

The Commerce agency announced Friday that ICANN will bring together Internet stakeholders to devise a plan to remove the U.S. government from its role in managing IANA by September of 2015.

While some applauded the Commerce agency's announcement as a step towards a global Internet, others worried that it would give other governments — especially those that seek to stifle dissent — a chance to play a larger role in Internet governance.

Blackburn compared the move to recent actions by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), including its controversial study of newsroom practices and its decision to rewrite its net neutrality rules, which largely kept Internet providers from discriminating against Internet traffic before being struck down by a federal court this year.

"This decision represents another hostile step by the administration on the heels of net neutrality and the FCC's CIN Study that threatens our freedom of speech,” Blackburn said.