House votes to delay Obama's Internet shift

The House voted Thursday to delay the Obama administration’s plans to relinquish the United States' oversight of fundamental Internet functions.

In a 245-177 vote — including 17 Democrats — the House approved a Republican amendment that would halt the administration’s plans to end its contract with the company that coordinates Internet addresses.

The measure was introduced by Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed Thursday.

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Shimkus’s amendment would require the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study before the Commerce Department can proceed with its plans to hand off its oversight role of the system.

When the Commerce Department announced in March its plans to make this shift, advocates hailed it as a step toward a more global Internet, while Republicans and other critics warned that the move could open the door to oppressive governments to take control of the Internet.

The administration has defended its plans, pledging to ensure that the new oversight mechanism will be structured to keep governments and multi-government groups from controlling the Internet.

In a floor speech touting his amendment late on Wednesday, Shimkus pushed back on those assurances from the Commerce Department.

“While the administration says it won’t accept a proposal that puts the Internet in the hands of another government or government-led entity, there’s no guarantee that won’t happen after the initial transfer takes place,” he said.

“But one thing is for sure: Once our authority is gone, it’s gone for good.”

Earlier this year, the House Energy and Commerce Committee considered Shimkus’s measure as a stand-alone bill.

Democrats objected, saying the bill will make other governments more likely to seek control over the Internet, but the committee passed the bill.

During the hearing, Republicans defended the bill as a requirement for a government study. Democrats pointed to previous unanimous votes promoting a global, bottom-up, multistakeholder model of Internet governance.

“I didn’t, and I still don’t, have an objection to the concept of mutistakeholder Internet governance, but that structure must be insulated from government influence,” Shimkus said Wednesday.

“We know bad actors will certainly try to interfere with whatever overseer takes our place,” he continued.

“So that’s why I’m offering this ‘trust but verify’ amendment today.”