Pressure builds from GOP to delay internet domain transition

Pressure is building among a core group of Republicans to delay a transition of the internet domain name system, which will involve the U.S. government handing off oversight responsibilities. 

On Tuesday, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) urged his colleagues to sign a letter to the Obama administration expressing concerns over the transition. He said more time is needed to snuff out unforeseen problems before the United States gives up its leverage. 

{mosads}”While we still control the process and the timeline, once we move past a certain point, there is no leverage to pull back,” Rubio said during a Senate hearing. “If this thing goes off the rails — if it in fact gets used in a nefarious way — what leverage do we have to pull back on it?”

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has historically had oversight of the internet’s domain name system, which helps pair up numerical IP addresses with their familiar web addresses so people can easily navigate the internet. 

The Obama administration is currently reviewing a plan to hand off that oversight to a global group of stakeholders. The review is expected to be finished next month, and officials want to complete the deal by the end of the fiscal year. 

Republicans in Congress have long been skeptical of the handoff, warning against any plan that could give other countries — specifically those with a bad track record on internet openness — from capturing more control over the process. They are calling for a delay. 

Proponents of the handoff warn that if the transition does not go forward, it will create distrust among stakeholders and other countries. Advocates say a delay could cause countries like China or Russia to seek greater authority over the internet at other places, like the United Nations. 

“I think irrespective of what we do, China is going to move forward,” Rubio said, pushing back on those arguments. 

Other Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee like Dan Sullivan (Alaska) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) expressed similar concerns: “Why do we need the transition?” Johnson asked experts while testifying on Tuesday. Even Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said a delay is not an “unreasonable proposal.”

On the House side, Republicans have tried to extend a provision to block funds to complete the transition until at least through 2017.  

The U.S. government has historically contracted its oversight role of the domain name system to the nonprofit group Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which help organize the transition. Officials had hoped to finish the transition without extending the government’s contract with ICANN, which ends Sept. 30. 

Proponents of the transition such as NetChoice’s Steve DelBianco have said the transition has long been planned and there are numerous accountability measures in place. 

The Obama administration has said it would reject any proposal that gives more power to other nations or threatens the open internet. 

“It is neither sustainable nor necessary for the U.S. government to retain its unique role forever,” DelBianco said. “And, in fact, retaining that role increases the risks you are worried about.”

— Updated 9:05 a.m.

Tags Domain name system ICANN John Thune Marco Rubio National Telecommunications and Information Administration Ron Johnson

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