Cyber & Technology

Congress and the IANA Transition—A Bipartisan Agreement

By Paul Rosenzweig
Tuesday, June 9, 2015, 10:24 AM

The United States is in the midst of a transition that will, when completed, give up its contractual control of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). That authority is currently conducted by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) under contract to the Department of Commerce. Current plans are for Commerce to end the contract in September 2015, and let ICANN manage the IANA function on its own. Some, including me, favor the transition but are concerned that it will occur without an increase in accountability and transparency at ICANN.

Yesterday, at the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Chairman Walden, Ranking Member Pallone, and Mr. Shimkus announced that they have agreed to an amendment in the nature of a substitute, to the Shimkus DOTCOM bill. In its prior incarnation, the DOTCOM act would have postponed the transition pending a GAO report -- and it was strongly opposed by both the Administration and Congressional Democrats. The new bill (whose only similarity to the old one is in the name) is different. It seems to me to represent a responsible bipartisan path forward that empowers the multistakeholder process without abrogating Congress' oversight of NTIA.

According to the announcement the subcommittee will markup the bill tomorrow, where they expect the subcommittee will favorably report H.R. 805 to the Committee with bipartisan support. Unlike other bills floating in Congress, this one has the support of the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In other words, it has support of both Democrats and Republicans and, implicitly, is likely something the Administration would accept. Thus, though one can never be sure in these matters, I assess it as reasonably likely that this bill will become law.

On the merits, my own sense is that many in the ICANN community will welcome the provisions of this bill. First, and foremost, it puts Congress on record in favor of the overall goal of having the transition happen, thus laying to rest concerns that some in Congress might seek to short-circuit the process. In more detail, the bill provides:

1. There will be 30 legislative days (i.e. working week days) after notification to Congress prior to the transfer going into effect. This will allow Congress to review the terms of the transfer. To stop it, however, would require a separate bill enacted into law.

2. It requires NTIA to certify that the proposed transition meets the five criteria set by the NTIA at the start of the process. This seems a very modest requirement, since if our proposal did not meet that set of requirements, NTIA would not approve it in the first instance.

3. It also requires NTIA to certify that ICANN has approved and implemented all required bylaw changes contained in the final report of the CCWG and the CWG before the transition occurs, i.e. ICANN has to follow through and complete the bylaw revision process before the formal termination of the contract.

On the whole, a good, solid step forward that seems to prove that reports of Congressional lassitude are a bit overstated.