Senate panel advances Internet domain bill over Cruz objections

Senate panel advances Internet domain bill over Cruz objections
© Greg Nash

The Senate Commerce Committee advanced a bill Thursday that would give Congress 30 legislative days to review a final transition plan for the government to hand over its oversight of the Internet domain name system. 

The Senate panel passed the bill, which was overwhelmingly approved by the House this week, by voice vote over the objections of Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzLawmakers spar over surveillance flight treaty with Russia Senators voice support for Iran protesters but stop short of taking action Prisons chief: FBI investigating whether 'criminal enterprise' played role in Epstein death MORE (R-Texas), a presidential candidate who wanted stronger protections. 

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"If it is a good idea consistent with U.S. national security interests to hand over — to give away — the Internet, then Congress should debate that and approve it," Cruz lamented.

Commerce Committee Chairman John ThuneJohn Randolph ThuneSenators grill safety regulator over self-driving cars Tensions rise in Senate's legislative 'graveyard' Overnight Health Care: GOP senator says drug price action unlikely this year | House panel weighs ban on flavored e-cigs | New York sues Juul MORE (R-S.D.) shot back: "One of the more practical issues we have to deal with right now is that this is a fairly delicate thing that the House passed with a large margin." 

Republicans have been critical of the transition of the domain name system, which allows users to easily search for websites using unique addresses. The GOP blocked the transition through the appropriations process in the 2015 fiscal year and threatened to do the same in 2016. 

Most Republicans have said the compromise approved Thursday could alleviate those concerns. The government would have to tell Congress why the plan does not harm global Internet openness and does not hand oversight over to a government-led body. It would also require accountability measures to take effect within the organization leading the transition. 

Cruz offered an amendment that would have required Congress to vote to approve the transition, rather than the current bill that allows the hand-off to go forward after 30 days if Congress does not act. 

"Here is a look into what will happen: The report will be submitted to Congress, 30 days will pass, Congress will do nothing and the Internet will be handed over. We should act affirmatively to protect the Internet," Cruz said.  

His amendment was overwhelmingly voted down on a 19-5 vote, according to the committee. Thune said Cruz's amendment would have killed support from Democrats and attracted a presidential veto. 

"Because I want to see this thing signed into law, I want to encourage my colleagues to oppose the amendment," he said. 

The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration has had oversight of the Internet’s domain name system. The government has historically contracted that role out to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a non-profit group. 

When the government decided to go ahead with a long-established plan to transition away from government oversight, it tasked ICANN with leading the move. ICANN officials have said a final plan could come later this year and a final transition could happen in 2016. 

But Republicans in particular had been wary of the move, fearing the transition could give bad actors or foreign governments more control of the process. They had also questioned ICANN’s structure and ability to handle the move. 

— This post was updated to reflect the correct vote count on the Cruz amendment.