GOP pushes delay of Internet power transfer

House Republicans are pushing the Senate to approve legislation that would delay the Obama administration's plan for relinquishing oversight of the Internet.

Speaking at an event on Internet governance Wednesday, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) touted a House Republican bill that could pump the brakes on the Commerce Department’s plans to step back from its oversight role of the Internet’s Web address system and encouraged the Senate to take it up.

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“I wouldn’t give up this very important asset, if you will, of the world, and just turn it loose without knowing the implications,” said Walden, who is chairman of the House Commerce subcommittee on technology.

Walden talked up the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM Act), a bill from Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) that would require a congressional study before the administration could continue with its planned Internet oversight shift.

The bill “simply ensures the U.S. government undertakes its basic responsibilities to” grasp the details of its plan to step back from its key Internet oversight role “and understand fully its implications for users,” Walden said.

“It’s basically look before you leap.”

In March, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced its plans to cede oversight of the technical side of the Internet’s Web address system.

That system — the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) — is now run by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) under a contract with the U.S. government.

Under the Commerce Department’s plan, the IANA contract will be overseen by a group of international stakeholders convened by ICANN, rather than by the U.S. government.

While some hailed the Commerce Department’s decision as a long-intended step toward a more global Internet, others — including House Republicans — slammed the Obama administration, warning that stepping back from its oversight role could open the door for more oppressive governments to clamp down on the open Internet.

“Any actions that we take must ensure that oppressive regimes are not given the opportunity to bend the Internet to fit their agendas,” Walden said Wednesday, pointing to recent attempts by foreign governments to quiet Internet networks and certain social media platforms.

The DOTCOM Act passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee over objections from Democrats and passed the House as an amendment to the Commerce Department’s funding bill. 

The language was then removed as the Senate considered the funding bill.

On Wednesday, Walden urged the Senate to take up the bill. 

“We will continue to press for results,” he said.