House Committees Taking Aim at IANA Transition Proposal

In an unanticipated move a third Committee of the US House of Representatives has weighed in with concerns regarding the NTIA’s proposed transition of the US role as counterparty to ICANN’s IANA functions contract to one with the “global multistakeholder community”.

On May 13th the House Armed Services Committee Report for HR 4435, the Defense Authorization bill, was released. It contains language referring to the ICANN transition and, in particular, the .Mil top level domain which is administered by the US Department of Defense Network Information Center (NIC, which also runs the g-root authoritative root server — while the h-root server is operated by the US Army Research Lab). The Report language (reproduced at the end of this post) questions whether .Mil, which has always been available solely for US military operations, will remain protected post-transition – and also states that “any negotiations that occur should include verifiable measures for maintaining a separation between the policymaking and technical operation of root-zone management functions and that such protections should be a red line in interagency discussions and U.S. Government positions.” (Emphasis added) The introduction of US national security concerns brings a new element into discussions of the IANA transition.

This latest action follows on the heels of IANA-related steps recently taken by two other House Committees:

  • The Commerce Committee passed the DOTCOM Act (HR 4342), which would delay any final decision on transfer of IANA oversight for up to one year while the GAO studied the matter.
  • Even more significantly, exercising the Congressional “power of the purse”, the Appropriations Committee slashed NTIA’s budget for the coming fiscal year by $14.3 million, from $51 to $36.7 million, with the specific intent of denying NTIA any funds to carry out the IANA transition in FY15.

The House will likely take up The Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for FY2015, which contains that cut in NTIA funding, next week. Further, we have just learned that Rep. John Shimkus, lead sponsor of the DOTCOM Act, has filed the text of that legislation as an amendment to be offered to the Defense Authorization bill that is currently being considered on the House floor, and we expect both it and the underlying bill to pass the House.

All of these prior actions were taken on party-line votes in the Republican-controlled and highly polarized House, and next week’s House floor vote will likely follow that pattern. While such Senate Democrats as Robert Menendez and Mark Warner have expressed concerns about the IANA transition, we’d wager that if these proposals are passed by the House and sent over to the Senate they will never receive a vote so long as Harry Reid is the Democrat’s Majority Leader. Senate Democrats will also likely resist accepting the House provisions if a conference committee is appointed to seek resolution of the different positions on the appropriations bill.

However, given that the earliest goal for completing the IANA transition is September 2015, when the current contract term expires (although the US has the option of extending it for two more 2-year terms) the situation could change dramatically if Republicans succeed in gaining control of the Senate in the November 2014 elections. Most pollsters and election analysts give them a slightly better than even chance of doing so, given President Obama’s current low approval ratings as well as the historic trends for mid-term Congressional elections in a President’s second term. Yesterday’s primary results, in which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other “establishment” GOP candidates defeated “tea party” challengers probably enhance that possibility of Republican Senate control in 2015-16.

ICANN’s initial proposal for both the process and scope of IANA transition discussions has already encountered broad and vocal opposition. Its new proposal for a parallel process to determine enhanced accountability mechanisms may prove equally controversial (we’ll be writing more on that shortly). While it remains to be seen how ICANN will respond to criticism of its proposed pathway, the NTIA has made clear that it expects it to convene an unbiased community discussion that results in a transition plan and accompanying accountability provisions that are credible and have broad consensus support. That deliberative process will take some considerable time, and in the interim the US political context could undergo significant alterations.

Here’s the Armed Services Committee Report language—

INTERNET GOVERNANCE

The committee is aware of a recent proposal by the Department of Commerce to start the process of transferring the remaining Department of Commerce-managed Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) functions to the global multi-stakeholder community. The committee is also aware that such a transition is supported by the Administration, many in industry, and the international community.

The committee urges caution in such discussions to understand the full ramifications of any transition of responsibility, since the United States has played an important role in overseeing the stability of the Internet. As noted in recent testimony before the Committee on the Judiciary of the House of Representatives, “Any pledge, commitment, or oath made by the current ICANN [Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers] leadership is not binding unless there is some accountability mechanism in place to back up that promise. Until now, the United States has served that role. If the U.S. Government is no longer providing that stability, an alternative mechanism is needed to ensure that ICANN is held accountable to the public interest.” Additionally, as this testimony points out, “U.S. oversight has served as a deterrent to stakeholders, including certain foreign countries, who might otherwise choose to interfere with ICANN’s operations or manipulate the Domain Name Servers for political purposes. For example, a country may want to censor a top-level domain name or have ICANN impose certain restrictions on domain name registries or registrars.”

Because of the Department of Defense’s equities in a secure and transparent Internet governance system, the committee believes it is important to ensure that any new Internet governance construct includes protections for the legacy .mil domains and maintains the associated Internet protocol numbers. Furthermore, the committee believes that any negotiations that occur should include verifiable measures for maintaining a separation between the policymaking and technical operation of root-zone management functions and that such protections should be a red line in interagency discussions and U.S. Government positions.

Note: This is an updated version of a story that first appeared at http://www.circleid.com/posts/20140515_house_committees_taking_aim_at_iana_transition_proposal/ .

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