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Rubio: Go Slow on ICANN Domain Name Hand-Off

Senate Republicans, including former presidential candidate Marco Rubio, were pushing back Tuesday on the planned handoff of domain naming oversight from the U.S. to a UN multistakeholder model.

Following a Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the handoff and the National Telecommunications & Information Administration's vetting of the ICANN plan for the transition, Rubio—joined by Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.), and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska)—urged the Obama administration to extend the current U.S. oversight for the time being.

NTIA signaled two years ago that it wanted to move to a multistakeholder model, suggesting its oversight was primarily ceremonial. But Republicans, and some Democrats, have been wary of the move, citing the possibility of bad actors hijacking that multistakeholder oversight.

In a letter to NTIA chief Larry Strickling, the senators commended the multistakeholder effort but said they wanted more certainty that the result would have sufficient accountability measures and were concerned about the "expanded role of governments" in the transition plan. "Therefore, we respectfully request that you consider an extension of the NTIA contract with ICANN."

Strickling has long pledged that NTIA would not turn over the internet naming function to a government-led or controlled model.

At the hearing, Rubio said China would try to take over the internet, one of the reasons he wanted NTIA to proceed with caution. "Once we move past a certain point [letting the contract expire in three months], there is no leverage to pull back," he said.

NTIA is relinquishing oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers' (ICANN) IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority), which oversees domain naming conventions.

NTIA currently oversees IANA under a contract that was to have expired Sept. 30, 2015, but was extended a year—with an option to extend it three more years—because the transition plan was not ready. In 2014, NTIA concluded that no single nation, including the U.S., should be overseeing domain names for the internet and set the transition in motion.

In March, the ICANN plan was eventually presented to NTIA, which signaled it could be done vetting it by June.