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CRomnibus turns out to be the Grinch that shortchanges a free and open Internet

I saw an article recently that declared that the “IANA transition” has “reached the halfway point.” By now, of course, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) has become comfortably ensconced within the global Internet lexicon, whether pronounced on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, in the hallways of Istanbul, or the airport hangar-sized convention halls of Busan, Korea.  If this is indeed the halfway point – which many doubt (me among them), then it’s probably a good time for an assessment of where we are, and what strategies the  information and communications technology (ICT) industry can deploy to ensure a successful outcome.

One of the most surprising developments thus far came over the weekend.  It has now become a holiday tradition for Congress to pass some form of emergency funding legislation just prior to the U.S. government running out of money and then leaving for the year.  This year’s edition was labeled a “CRominbus” bill, which NBC News cleverly characterized as the “love child” of a “continuing resolution” and an “omnibus” bill. 

Omnibus is a useful metaphor, because such bills often get so loaded up with stealthy “passenger” provisions that it often takes weeks, if not months, for people to figure out just what exactly was snuck in there.  One provision, however, has already caught ITI’s collective eye: Section 540. This subsection essentially prohibits the U.S. Department of Commerce from using any funds appropriated by the “CRomnibus” bill to relinquish responsibility “with respect to Internet domain name system functions, including responsibility with respect to the authoritative root zone file and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority functions.”  In other words, the functions under the contractual jurisdiction of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names, better known as ICANN. 

So what is the practical implication of this legislative prohibition, which goes through September 30, 2015?  The intention is to force the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which oversees the ICANN contract, to extend the contract beyond September 30, 2015.  NTIA has that option, per the terms of its agreement with ICANN, but what if it doesn’t do so?  As it stands now, the contract still expires and, presumably, ICANN proceeds as though “business as usual,” only without what has historically been NTIA’s very light-touch oversight. 

Another possibility is that NTIA does use CRomnibus funds to continue its ongoing due diligence and ensure that ICANN acknowledges and, more critically, actsresponsibly in addressing legitimate concerns regarding accountability and transparency (ITI’s recommendation can be found here). This past spring ICANN President Fadi Chehadé himself told Congress, “It’s more important to get it right than to rush it.” 

We at ITI absolutely agree.  The NTIA, with Congress’ support, should use all of its leverage to ensure a responsible outcome.  The stakes are far too high to do otherwise.

I wish to reconfirm ITI’s belief that congressional oversight is, and will continue to be, an essential part of this very important and necessary process. Even so, we do not believe that creating legislative constraints is the best strategy. The ICT industry strongly supports a smooth transfer of the IANA and other functions, which we believe is consistent with – and will reinforce – America’s commitment, to private sector-led, multistakeholder governance of the Internet.  In 2015, ITI will be expanding its engagement with Capitol Hill, the Obama Administration and, for that matter, governments around the world, to continue to advocate for an open, free and unfettered Internet for the benefit of all of the citizens of the global community.

Public Policy Tags: Internet Governance