Domain bill author pushes back against critics of transition

The lawmaker behind a bill giving Congress oversight of the transition shifting control of the Internet domain name system away from the U.S. said Wednesday he disagrees with critics who question whether the transition is entirely legal.

Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) pushed back against four Republican lawmakers who sent a letter last month asking for a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of whether the government has the legal authority to complete the transition.

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Signed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the letter questioned whether the transition would involve handing over United States property. In particular, they questioned whether the root zone file — a part of the domain name system — was property of the United States. 

“Yeah, I don’t agree with that analysis,” Shimkus said during a taping for C-SPAN’s “The Communicators” program. “Because we’re not giving up that root address. That’s the basis of their argument, is that the root address will be given up. Well, we’ll still maintain the root address. So I don’t agree with their analysis of, in essence, the ownership rights of the government, because we’re keeping what we have.”

The authors of the letter asked for a GAO report on the legality of the transition — a proposal Shimkus rejected.

“By the time the GAO report comes out, this could already be resolved,” he said. “I mean, a GAO report is going to take at least a year to do that.”

Currently, the domain name system is managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) through a contract with the Department of Commerce. The transition is designed to shift authority over the system to an international group of stakeholders.

Shimkus’s bill, the DOTCOM Act, would give Congress time to review the change. Cruz has placed a hold on the version of the bill in the Senate and has said that lawmakers should be able to have an up-or-down vote on the transition.

Though he said he hoped the legislation would eventually pass, Shimkus said it had already been successful in slowing down the transition process.

“The big benefit was we slowed down the process and we had the high tech community also get involved to look at this process and with this delay we think we’ll get a better process,” he said.