Republicans: IANA Hand-Off Could Be Unconstitutional

The Obama Administration continues to get pushback from Republican lawmakers over its plans to relinquish oversight of the Internet domain naming conventions to a multistakeholder model.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) joined with House Judiciary Committee chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on a letter to the General Accounting Office asking for advice on whether the handoff would be an unconstitutional transfer of government property (Article IV, Section 3).

They point out that the transfer includes management of the root zone file, which was developed at DOD with taxpayer money and that is designated a "national IT asset." The Constitution gives Congress the sole authority to transfer government property, they said, so transferring it without government authority could be unconstitutional. "The Commerce Department’s contracts with the organizations that administer Internet name and address system policies explicitly state that the root zone file is 'the property of the U.S. government,'" they wrote GAO, "and changes cannot be made to the file without government approval.  Congress has also passed legislation blocking federal funding for efforts to relinquish stewardship of the domain name system, including the root zone file."

The U.S. contract to provide what Democrats and the Obama Administration have characterized as principally ceremonial oversight of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) expires Sept. 30, but last month was extended by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration a year—with an option to extend it another three if necessary—while a transition to that multistakeholder model is finalized and reviewed by Congress.

The contract is with ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), a nonprofit created by the U.S. in 1997.

The House passed a compromise bill, The Dotcom Act (and Republicans were not the only ones with some reservations about the hand-off) that would give Congress 30 days to review a final transition plan, after which it could take action to block it if the plan did not pass muster.

Sen. Cruz, proposed an amendment, which did not pass, that would have required Congress to sign off on the plan before it could be implemented, rather than allowing it to take affect unless the Congress acted to block or modify it.

The bill passed out of the Senate Commerce Committee in June but has not gotten a vote in the Senate.

The Internet Governance Coalition (IGC), whose members include Comcast and Time Warner Cable, supports transitioning U.S. oversight to a multistakeholder model, but only so long as the following bedrock principles are preserved: 1. "Support and enhance the multistakeholder model;" 2.  "Maintain the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet DNS;" 3.  "Meet the needs and expectation of the global customers and partners of the IANA services;" and 4. " Maintain the openness of the Internet."

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.