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US NTIA's plan to end ICANN contract puts Internet freedom at risk, critics say

Grant Gross | April 11, 2014
The freedom and openness of the Internet are at stake after the U.S. government announced plans to end its contractual oversight of ICANN, some critics said Thursday.

The freedom and openness of the Internet are at stake after the U.S. government announced plans to end its contractual oversight of ICANN, some critics said Thursday.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration's announcement last month that it will end its contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to operate key domain-name functions could embolden other nations to attempt to seize control, some Republican members of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee said.

"All hyperbole aside, this hearing is about nothing less than the future of the Internet and, significantly, who has the right, the ability and the authority to determine it," said Representative Bob Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican. "Should it be decided by a few people in Washington, Beijing, Moscow, Sao Paolo or even Silicon Valley or should it be determined by those who use and stand to benefit from it?"

Goodlatte suggested that other countries would try to control ICANN after the U.S. ends its contract. The U.S. can "rightly take credit for the freedom that exists the Internet today," he said during a hearing. "When we let go of that final link, will that institution be safer from those efforts to regulate the Internet, or will it be more exposed because it no longer has the protection of the United States?"

The Internet engineers, companies and civil society groups involved in ICANN wouldn't allow a government takeover of the organization, supporters of the NTIA's plan said. "I cannot imagine the Internet engineers that I know agreeing to do any of the parade of horribles that people are concerned about," said Representative Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat.

Separately, the technology subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted Thursday to approve the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act, which would require a U.S. Government Accountability Office study about the effects of the transition before it happens. Members of that committee raised similar concerns in a hearing last week.

President Barack Obama's administration opposes the bill because it raises questions about the U.S. government's long-term support of a multistakeholder governance model at ICANN, said NTIA Administrator Larry Strickling.

Strickling assured Judiciary Committee members that the agency would not give up oversight of ICANN unless it is satisfied that the organization has a transition plan in place that prohibits a government takeover.

Several Republicans committee members questioned NTIA's move to end its contractual relationship with ICANN as soon as late 2015, but Strickling defended the plan, saying one of the main reasons for the change is to remove the perception in some countries that the U.S. has too much control.

While the NTIA's contract for ICANN to operate the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions is largely "symbolic," the move would show the world that the U.S. supports a multistakeholder governance model at ICANN that it has advocated since 1998, Strickling said.

 

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