Cruz touts bill as 'last chance' to delay internet domain handoff

Cruz touts bill as 'last chance' to delay internet domain handoff
© Greg Nash/The Hill

Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzThis week: Senate races toward ObamaCare repeal vote McConnell allies confident in healthcare win GOP’s message on ObamaCare is us versus them MORE (R-Texas) is circulating a new bill that would prevent the government from handing off oversight of the internet domain name system without approval from Congress. 

Cruz began circulating the legislation last week to colleagues with background information that called it "our last chance to save internet freedom." The legislation, a copy of which was obtained by The Hill, is titled the Protecting Internet Freedom Act.

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The bill would also require the Obama administration to certify that it has secured "sole ownership" of the top-level domain names used by the federal government and the military, which end in dot-gov or dot-mil.

Cruz's legislation is the latest move in his long-running criticism of the Obama administration's plan to hand off its oversight of some of the technical functions that underly the internet. Those functions help pair up numerical IP addresses with their familiar web addresses so users can more easily navigate online.  

In 2014, the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced it would begin a long-planned transition to give up its oversight to a global multi-stakeholder community. The department is slated to finish reviewing a transition proposal this month. 

The U.S. government's oversight role has historically been contracted out to a California nonprofit called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which was tasked to help organize the transition. 

Cruz's legislation, however, would not allow the U.S. government's responsibility over that system to "to terminate, lapse, expire, be cancelled, or otherwise cease to be in effect unless" a law is passed by Congress granting permission. 

The NTIA has repeatedly said it will not approve any plan that does not guarantee internet openness and security. It has also said it would reject any proposal that would allow other governments to gain increased control over the system. 

But the current safeguards have not assuaged a number of Republicans' concerns. 

"The United States cannot allow authoritarian regimes to increase their influence over the core operating functions of the Internet," Cruz's office says in the background info on the legislation. 

It is unclear whether Cruz's bill will gain traction. Other Republicans such as Sens. Mike LeeMike LeeThis week: Senate races toward ObamaCare repeal vote McConnell allies confident in healthcare win GOP’s message on ObamaCare is us versus them MORE (Utah), James Lankford (Okla.) and Marco RubioMarco RubioElection hacking fears turn heat on Homeland Security Will Republicans stand up to the NRA's insurrection rhetoric? The Hill's Whip List: Senate ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (Fla.) have similarly called to delay the transition. But a similar move by Cruz last year failed overwhelmingly in a Senate Commerce Committee vote. 

Republicans over the past few years have attached policy riders to major spending bills that blocked funds from being used to complete the transition.House lawmakers are pushing a similar provision this year. 

Officials have hoped to complete the transition by Sept. 30. But the Obama administration has options to extend its current oversight contract for three more years.

Last week, Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz (Hawaii) said the GOP position on the transition is hard to understand. 

"I think they've got themselves twisted in knots on this one," he said. "The governments that oppose this transition are primarily China and Russia. And that should tell you something about what interests are behind trying to keep government control over the internet."