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Sept. 22 — A U.S. plan to cede oversight of the internet’s technical functions has skirted a potentially huge roadblock—for now.
The Senate Appropriations Committee Sept. 22 released text of a stopgap funding bill that doesn't contain language to block a two-year effort to transition oversight to a nonprofit entity, despite Republican efforts led by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) to include such a provision.
With just days left before the scheduled transition, it is still unclear whether the issue will resurface before lawmakers finish work on the stopgap bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made procedural moves to prevent Senate amendments to the measure amid Democratic opposition to other provisions in it.
Lawmakers will have four days to consider the stopgap before it is put to a vote, according to McConnell.
Philip Corwin, the founder of Virtualaw LLC in Washington who is involved with the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 22 that the “situation is very fluid” and the filed continuing resolution isn't the final word. “If Senate Democrats push to add additional items from their wish list to the continuing resolution, that could revive the horse-trading and put the transition freeze back into play.”
Cruz said in a statement that he is “profoundly disappointed that Senate negotiators appear to have given in to the White House demands to hand over increased control of the Internet to authoritarian regimes like China, Russia, and Iran.” Cruz urged House lawmakers “to continue to stand united to ensure that the government funding bill prevents the Obama administration from permanently undermining free speech on the Internet.”
The transition is scheduled to occur Oct. 1, barring language in the continuing resolution to block it or any other legal impediment. After the transition, a set of accountability measures would take effect that are designed to enhance ICANN's accountability to the global internet community. The measures would enable community members to, among other things, remove individual ICANN board members and recall the entire board.
An ICANN spokesman declined to comment Sept. 22.
The continuing resolution as written provides $1.1 billion in Zika funds and $500 million for disaster-afflicted states like Louisiana. It doesn't include the internet transition rider and offers no assistance to Flint, Mich. to address drinking water contamination.
Jonathan Zuck, president of ACT | The App Association and longtime participant in the ICANN community, told Bloomberg BNA that there is a 25 percent chance the internet transition language will make its way into the continuing resolution, due to “all the horse-trading that goes on in the budget at the last minute.”
Cruz has introduced legislation, the Protecting Internet Freedom Act (S. 3034), in June that would prevent the Commerce Department from carrying out the transition (See previous story, 06/09/16).
Cruz isn't the only GOP lawmaker leery of the transition. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) asked the Justice Department in a Sept. 21 letter for details concerning its input in the transition plan as well as its insight into whether the plan would involve an unconstitutional transfer of government property.
“Simply put, with so many unanswered questions and from what available evidence we do have, this transition is not in the best interest of a free, open, and secure Internet—nor is it in the best interest of the United States,” Goodlatte and Grassley wrote.
—With assistance from Nancy Ognanovich
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