Senate Hearing Looks at Future of Internet Governance

Senate Hearing Looks at Future of Internet Governance

BY IEEE-USA Staff Posted: 13 Apr 2015

In a hearing held 25 Feb., the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee heard from representatives of ICANN, the Internet Governance Coalition, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) on the proposed handover of responsibility for Internet domain name services (including the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority or IANA functions) from NTIA to ICANN, with a focus on preserving a multistakeholder model of Internet governance.

The Obama Administration announced the planned transition last year, contingent on adoption of process that:

  • Supports and enhances the multistakeholder model, which engages non-governmental and civil society organizations and other interested stakeholders along with nation-states in governing the Internet;
  • Maintains the security, stability and resiliency of the Internet Domain Name System (DNS);
  • Meets the needs and expectations of the global customers and partners of the IANA services; and,
  • Maintains the openness of the Internet.

Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) opened the hearing by noting that everyone there shared the same essential goal – one global internet that is not fragmented or high-jacked by authoritarian regimes.

ICANN President and CEO Fadi Chedade testified on the importance of the DNS transition to ICANN to preserving support amongst nation-states for a multistakeholder approach.  He noted:

“Without a completion of this transition, we risk not only the continued vitality of the multistakeholder model, but the ability to maintain a unified, global Internet free from governmental interference.  The global community now sees this transition effort as a fork in the road for the multistakeholder model of Internet Governance;  we are being watched closely.  The timely transition will encourage governments to participate in the multistakeholder model with the private sector, with the technical community, civil society and academia to keep one,  global, non-fragmented, stable and resilient Internet.  This will benefit U.S. businesses and end users and will promote the long-­standing U.S. objective of maintaining a single open, free, innovative global Internet.”

NTIA Administrator Lawrence Strickling reviewed the progress made toward privatizing the Internet, going back to a Clinton Administration’s first directive in 1997.  He strongly endorsed the multistakeholder approach, noting that:

“The multistakeholder model of Internet governance is the best mechanism for maintaining an open, resilient and secure Internet because, among other things, it is informed by a broad foundation of interested parties and it is adaptable to innovation and changing conditions. This model includes all parties – including businesses, technical experts, civil society, and governments – arriving at consensus through a bottom-up process regarding policies affecting the underlying functioning of the Internet domain name system.”

Strickling reported that the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG), representing more than a dozen Internet stakeholder communities, was developing a transition plan that encompasses the proposals of the various Internet community stakeholders.  ICG anticipates that the plan will cover three primary functions:  the protocol parameters, numbering, and domain name-related functions.  Two of the three functional plans have been submitted and are under review, while ICANN’s Cross Community Working Group continues to work on its proposal regarding Internet naming related functions.

Regarding timing of the process and proposed transition, Strickling testified that:

“NTIA has not set a deadline for the transition. September 2015 has been a target date because that is when the base period of our contract with ICANN expires.  However, we have the flexibility to extend the contract if the community needs more time to develop the best plan possible. It is up to the community to determine a timeline that works best for stakeholders as they develop a proposal that meets NTIA’s conditions, but also a proposal that works.”

Ambassador David Gross, a former U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy at the State Department, testified on behalf of the Internet Governance Coalition, an industry group with broad representation from the communications, Internet and related industries.   Gross endorsed the proposed transition, the contingent principles, and the multistakeholder model, and called for a deliberate transition process.  He noted:

“It will be critical that NTIA continue to engage the multistakeholder community as it develops its transition plan. While the expiration of the current IANA functions contract is approaching, it is important that the transition process not be rushed and that NTIA take the necessary time to ensure that any transition proposals ensure the continuation of a safe, secure, open, interoperable, and sustainable Internet. In this regard, we welcome the commitment of Assistant Secretary Strickling to extend the current contract if the global community requires additional time.”

Strickling received several pointed questions from Senators Dan Sullivan (R-Ala.) and Ben Nelson (D-Fla.) regarding NTIA’s compliance with congressional measures designed to constrain and direct the transition process.

At issue was whether the IANA database constitutes federal “property” that would require specific federal legislation to approve transfer of its ownership.  In response to a question by Senator Sullivan, Strickling responded:  “There is no government property that is the subject of this contract. All the contract does is designate ICANN to perform the IANA functions. They were given no assets of the United States with which to perform these functions.”

Sullivan then asked whether NTIA had received a legal opinion on that issue, which Strickling affirmed.  When asked for a copy, Strickling responded “I’m not in a position to say yes or no but I will [take your request back].”

In the FY 2015 omnibus appropriation bill passed last December, a rider was added that prevents NTIA from spending funds on the transition of the IANA contract before 30 September 2015.

Senator Bill Nelson probed the appropriateness of NTIA’s current activities based on the omnibus restriction, to which Strickling responded: “We have interpreted that resolution or interpreted that language to prevent us from allowing the transition to occur before 30 September… In consultations with members and staff up here on the Hill, we sought to clarify whether that would in any way restrict our ability to monitor the transition planning process which is going on in the community, and is not subject to any restrictions in the legislation and, in fact, as you know the rider imposes reporting requirements on us. It was clear Congress intended us to continue to monitor the process and report back on what’s happening.”

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