House Subcommittee Starts DOTCOM Bill Markup

House Democrats and Republicans were squarely in opposite camps on the DOTCOM (Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters) Act. The proposed law would not allow the National Telecommunications & Information Administration's oversight role in the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers)  Internet domain naming system to be transferred to a multi-stakeholder model until the Comptroller General had reported to Congress on the impact of such a move.

That was clear from opening statements in the House Communications Subcommittee markup of the bill.

Republicans said the bill was simply a "trust but verify" move to insure that hand-off of U.S. responsibility to a multistakeholder model was not a hand-off to a process controlled by governments like China and Russia.

Democrats pointed out that NTIA has said no government-led process would be acceptable, but Republicans wanted to make sure that's the case. Democrats contend the study would delay the process and send the wrong signal -- that the U.S. was inserting a government review into what was to be a multistakeholder process.

"[T]he Obama Administration is lunging down a path that is perilous and uncertain," said Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.). "The legislation before us today is simple: it tells the administration to pause and evaluate."

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said in a perfect world the NTIA role in ICANN could be fully privatized, but said that Russia and China have a different view of "perfect." She said Russia's Vladimir Putin should not be allowed to turn this transfer into another land grab. Blackburn also asked the committee to take up her bill, the Internet Freedom Act, which would prevent the FCC from redrafting its network neutrality rules.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), ranking member of the parent Energy & Commerce Committee, said the bill creates "partisanship and division where we should be seeking unity."

The bill's author Rep. john Shimkus (R-Ill.), pointed out that former President Bill Clinton had issues with NTIA's transfer of responsibilities, and even the head of ICANN had said he supported the bill "conceptually."

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who opposes the bill, weighed in at the end, reading into the record a tweet from that ICANN official saying that he did not support any particular legislation.

The markup of the bill, which means any amendments and, ideally, a vote on whether to refer to full committee, continues on Thursday (April 10) at 9 a.m.

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.