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Sen. Cruz Remains Committed to Delaying, Blocking IANA Handoff

Following a marathon (over three hours) hearing on the U.S. government transition of domain naming oversight—where the hand-off was billed as either a blow for internet freedom and openness or a strike against the First Amendment and U.S. control of the .gov and .mil extensions—Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Oversight subcommittee, remained convinced it was the latter.

He said testimony had convinced him that the transition would increase the power of foreign governments and decrease that of the U.S., particularly since IANA would no longer be governed by the free speech protections and rights under the U.S. Constitution, calling the U.S. "the only entity able to fight to vindicate the First Amendment."

Cruz had convened the hearing in advance of the National Telecommunications & Information Administration's termination of its contract for oversight of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which deals with domain names and is transitioning to a multistakeholder model.

Cruz has said, and did again at the hearing, that the U.S. would be abdicating a roll that would be filled by authoritarian actors like Russia and China.

NTIA chief Larry Strickling, in testimony before the subcommittee, told the committee that delaying the privatization of IANA was what would be the gift to those regimes, saying that "failing to follow through on the transition or unilaterally extending the contract will only embolden authoritarian regimes to intensify their advocacy for government-led or intergovernmental management of the Internet via the United Nations."

Jonathan Zuck, president of ACT The App Association, agreed with ranking member Chris Coons (D-Del.), who said NTIA was not handing over the "keys to the kingdom" to authoritarian regimes hostile to free speech but was instead demonstrating good will and reducing the threat of a parallel structure for the domain name system (DNS).

Zuck said U.S. influence is based on our "integrity and good behavior and keeping promises," like promising to hand over IANA to a multistakeholder model.

Some witnesses said they supported the transition in theory but had issues with how it was being done in practice.

That included Berin Szóka, president of TechFreedom. "I do not believe the U.S. government should be involved in the editing of the root zone file, the technical heart of the Internet. But I also worry about what will happen after the Transition. And I’m skeptical of the Administration’s assurances that all will turn out well."

He supported a staggered transition, but opponents of delay said nothing would be gained by a staggered rollout since it could take years for events to transpire that would test all parts of the framework. Meanwhile, it would send a signal that the U.S. believed government control was still necessary and that stakeholders were not capable of self-governance.