House Dems fight back on measure to hamstring Internet oversight shift

A group of House Democrats is pushing back on a Republican amendment meant to limit the administration’s ability to move ahead with its plans to relinquish oversight of key technical Internet functions.

In a letter to Democratic members on Thursday, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) urged members to vote against an amendment from Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) to the Commerce Department’s appropriations bill that would limit the ways the agency can use its funding.

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“We strongly urge you to oppose the Duffy Amendment and stand up for a global Internet free from government control,” the lawmakers wrote.

The amendment would “greatly increase the likelihood of authoritarian control of the Internet, exactly the opposite outcome its author seeks and that we share as a nation,” they said.

Waxman and Eshoo are the ranking members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Commerce subcommittee on Technology, respectively. Both have vocally supported the Commerce Department’s plans to relinquish its oversight role of the technical side of the Internet’s Web address system, announced earlier this year.

In March, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced it would be stepping back from its oversight role of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).

While supporters said the move was a long-planned step toward a more global Internet, critics expressed fears that the decision could give oppressive governments an opportunity to seize control of the Internet.

House Republicans have advanced multiple efforts to limit the administration’s ability to carry out its Internet oversight transition plans.

Last week, the House approved the National Defense Authorization Act, which included an amendment that would require the Commerce Department to hold off on its transition plans until the Government Accountability Office completes a study on the shift.

The appropriations bill, expected to pass late on Thursday, contains limited funding for the Commerce Department over lawmakers’ concerns about the oversight transition. 

Duffy’s amendment, which would explicitly keep the Commerce Department from using any of its funding for the transition, mirrors a bill he introduced earlier this year.

In their letter, Waxman and Eshoo said Duffy’s amendment does more to threaten than save an open, global Internet.

“At its worst, the Duffy Amendment could interfere with NTIA’s ability to actively participate in and be at the table during the IANA transition process and increase the likelihood of a transition plan that replaces the U.S. government role with an inter-governmental solution espoused by Russia and China,” the pair wrote.

They pointed to previous, overwhelmingly bipartisan votes to support the global, bottom-up approach to Internet governance.

Approving Duffy’s amendment would send the “detrimental and irresponsible message … that the United States is backtracking on its support for the multistakeholder process,” they wrote.