IANA Transition Bill Puts Community in the Driver’s Seat

Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) is back again with legislation that would set the ground rules for the federal government’s relinquishment of the last vestiges of oversight of the private sector’s administration of the Internet domain name system.

Kelly’s latest IANA transition bill supports, rather than supplants, the ongoing multistakeholder process now developing the IANA functions stewardship transition proposal.

Let me explain.

The Defending Internet Freedom Act of 2014 (H.R. 5737), introduced in the 113th Congress, set out a long list of policy prerequisites that must be contained in the IANA stewardship transition proposal before the National Telecommunications and Information Administration could lawfully relinquish its traditional stewardship role.

H.R. 5737 didn’t even mention the existence of the ICANN community groups already at work on the transition proposal.

Instead, H.R. 5737 had its own ideas about what an acceptable IANA transition plan might look like. Back in 2014, Kelly wanted an “IANA Consortium,” run by the registries -- not ICANN -- to manage the root zone files, and it called for an “Internet Freedom Panel” to sit in judgment of the entirety of ICANN’s operations.

On the topic of accountability, H.R. 5737 would have allowed the transition to take place even though ICANN had not yet implemented numerous accountability measures specified in the bill. In Section 2 (“Requirements for NTIA Relinquishment of DNS Responsibilities”), the bill would have allowed the IANA transition to take place if the NTIA certified that ICANN’s bylaws “will be amended” to provide a number of accountability measures spelled out in the bill.

I understand “will be amended” to mean amended at some future, post-IANA transition date.

Contrast this with the latest version of the Defending Internet Freedom Act (H.R. 2251), introduced May 12 in the 114th Congress.

In H.R. 2251, there is no more wiggle room on the accountability measures. H.R. 2251 provides that the NTIA may not relinquish IANA functions stewardship responsibilities unless ICANN’s bylaws “have been amended” to provide for the accountability measures spelled out in the bill.

These are largely the same accountability measures contained in H.R. 5737. However, there is new language in H.R. 2251 that requires – prior to the transition taking place – that ICANN adopt “all additional measures recommended by the multistakeholder community through the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group, the Cross Community Working Group on Enhancing ICANN Accountability, and the Cross Community Working Group to Develop an IANA Stewardship Transition Proposal on Naming Related Functions.”

H.R. 2251 also drops the “IANA Consortium” and “Internet Freedom Panel” stuff contained in H.R. 5737.

H.R. 2251 would put Congress squarely in the ICANN community’s corner when it comes to drafting the IANA functions stewardship and accountability proposals. And it would require ICANN to begin working – soon – on a raft of bylaws amendments to put in place the post-NTIA accountability protections called for in the bill.

That is, if H.R. 2251 ever becomes law.