Republicans vote to stop US from relinquishing Internet oversight

The House Energy and Commerce Committee voted over Democratic opposition Thursday to stall the Obama administration’s plan to relinquish its Internet oversight role.

Once the administration relinquishes the role, it will never “get it back, so we better get it right,” said Rep. Greg Walden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications.

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The bill from committee member Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) would keep the Commerce Department from handing off management of the Internet’s Web address system until the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducts a study on the oversight transition.

Advocates hailed the Commerce Department’s plans to transition out away from the Internet oversight role as a step toward a more global Internet.

On the other hand, critics — including House Republicans — say the move could open the door for oppressive governments to seek more control over the free Internet and have called for a government study before the Commerce Department can move forward with its plans.

“Shouldn’t this great committee have the opportunity, before an unelected agency operates, to have our shot at it,” Walden asked.

Republicans said the bill they approved would simply require additional review before the U.S. government hands over its oversight role.

“We need to go slow. We need to do due diligence. We need to have transparency,” Shimkus said, defending his bill as “just an audit … just a review.”

The vote to move the bill out of committee came over opposition from Democrats, who said the Republican bill threatens the free Internet.

“The threats against Internet openness are real, but claiming this bill does anything to help them is false,” said ranking member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

"How exactly would GAO’s examination help convince Russia to give up its attempts to wrestle Internet control" from the current oversight system, he asked.

Democrats accused committee Republicans of making a “U-turn” from their previous support of a bottom-up model for Internet governance.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, pointed to previous committee votes in favor of the global, multistakeholder Internet governance model.

She introduced an unsuccessful amendment that would include the language from those votes in the Republican bill in front of the committee Thursday.

“A vote for my amendment is a reaffirmation of the vote that every member of our subcommittee took last year supporting the multistakeholder model,” she said.

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) also introduced an unsuccessful amendment that would call for a GAO study of the Commerce Department’s Internet oversight transition, but would not make the Department’s actions contingent on the study.

The Republican bill “reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the U.S. government’s role in Internet management,” he said.

Rather than being controlled by governments, “the Internet is governed by the technologies that allow it to operate,” he continued.