House Communications Subcommittee Approves DOTCOM Bill

On a pure party line vote following a markup with plenty of partisan debate, the House Communications Subcommittee favorably reported the DOTCOM (Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters) Act to the full committee. The vote was 16 to 10.

The bill would require the GAO to complete a report on the National Telecommunications & Information Administration's planned hand-off of some oversight of the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) domain naming system. Democrats say that is a mostly ceremonial function, that the plan has always been to transfer that to a multistakeholder model, and that not to do so sends the wrong signal.

Republicans say that they don't want to give the administration carte blanche to make the transfer without the NTIA plan getting a vetting from the Government Accountability Office.

Democrats countered that they were OK with a GAO study but not as a delaying tactic to the NTIA transfer.

Approval came after a number of Democratic amendments were defeated, again along party lines. One, from Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) would have replaced the bill with language from a House-passed resolution championing the multistakeholder model, a resolution that all but one member of the subcommittee had voted for.

Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said he still stood by that resolution, but that all the DOTCOM bill was doing was making sure that the transfer to a multistakeholder model didn't mean a transfer to other governments like Russia and China.

Democrats suggested that was a simply a red herring—Eshoo tabbed it the DOTCON Act—and that NTIA had made it clear that the transfer framework would be unacceptable if it involved government stakeholders taking charge. They pointed out that the reason they backed the NTIA transfer was that it removed the false signal that the U.S. was trying to control the Internet, a signal the DOTCOM bill would continue to send.

That amendment was defeated by the Republican majority, as was one from Rep. Ben Lujan (D-N.M.) that would have required the GAO to study whether U.S. ISPs were a similar threat to take control of the net as rogue nations.

The recently bipartisan tone, even on bills where there is disagreements, was not evident, a point made by Eshoo. Walden talked about not trusting the imperial presidency, which is why the DOTCOM bill was needed to verify the administration's intention. Eshoo called the bill a source of embarrassment and said Walden had mischaracterized the Democrats' position on the GAO study. "I don't know what has happened to this committee," she said.

The bill may well pass through the full committee and even the House, but would have little to no chance in the Democrat-controlled Senate, where even last year's bipartisan bill on the multistakeholder model got hung up.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.