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States Sue to Block IANA Contract Expiration

Attorneys general from four states—Arizona, Texas, Oklahoma, and Nevada—have filed suit against the Obama Administration seeking to block the U.S. hand-off of internet domain-naming oversight to a multistakeholder model.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration's (NTIA) contract to oversee the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) internet domain naming conventions is expiring Friday, despite efforts, primarily by Republican legislators, to delay it.

ISPs are generally supportive of the hand-off, so long as it is to a truly multistakeholder model, not authoritarian governments. NTIA says the former is the case and that keeping the IANA functions under U.S. oversight would send a signal of continued government oversight that could give ammunition to such actors.

According to a copy of the suit, filed in a Texas district court, the AGs target the NTIA handover of its rights under the IANA contract with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) as well as its contract with Verisign related to that oversight and its delegation of authority over internet root zone file changes and otherwise give up functions "vital to the stability and correct functioning of the Internet."

Related: IANA Hand-Off Blocker Not in Stop-Gap Funding Bill

They argue that is happening "without proper statutory authority" and in violation of the Fifth (property clause) and First Amendment (other countries are not bound by First Amendment protections).They also say that if the contract is allowed to expire, they "will lose the predictability, certainty, and protections that currently flow from federal stewardship of the Internet and instead be subjected to ICANN’s unchecked control."

Berin Szóka, president of TechFreedom, also points out that the states argue that "by failing to secure U.S. ownership of .GOV, NTIA is tortuously interfering with the contracts that states hold for their .GOV domain names."

“The Transition raises serious constitutional concerns,” said Szóka. “A lawsuit is the only way to address them before the Administration takes the irreversible step of giving up America’s stewardship of the Internet.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i), ranking member of the Senate Communications Subcommittee and a big backer of the IANA hand-off, called the suit "baseless" and a "cheap attempt" at delay.

"Technology and foreign policy experts from across the political spectrum agree that any delay of this transition would only empower our enemies and undermine America’s commitment to keeping the internet open and free," he said.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) led the fight to delay IANA, and drew the ire of a top House Dem for the court challenge.

“Senator Cruz failed to convince his colleagues to join in his reckless plan to derail the IANA transition, so his cronies are now turning to the courts to undo the will of Congress, which was clearly expressed less than 24 hours ago," said House Energy & Commerce Committee ranking member Frank Pallone (D-N.J.). "The conspiracy theories that Senator Cruz and the extreme right have cooked up have absolutely no basis in fact, and their efforts to delay this transition are simply playing into the hands of Putin and others who want more control over the internet.  I hope the court sees through this desperate last minute ploy and quickly tosses out this frivolous lawsuit.”

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.