For most of the internet’s history, the important role of assigning domain names has been left to a nonprofit group called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is under contract with the United States government. If the Obama administration has its way, however, that will change prematurely on September 30, when the contract expires and governance of ICANN will transition to a global multistakeholder community. I believe ICANN isn’t ready for this transition.
I have supported the ultimate transition of ICANN, but only after the proper conditions have been met. In 2014, when the intention to make this transition was first announced, Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune and I sent a letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). We laid out what we believed the proper conditions for transition should be, including maintaining the security and stability of the Internet Domain Name System, meeting the needs and expectations of the global customers and partners of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) services, and preserving the openness of the internet.
While the current proposal makes an attempt to meet these conditions, we are not yet certain it will be implemented successfully. Hastily ending the U.S. contract with ICANN could have disturbing consequences for internet freedom. Transitioning these functions to the global multistakeholder community at this time would create an untested governance structure for the internet. It’s far too serious of a move to make without the utmost care and attention, and the current transition plan lacks appropriate accountability and transparency measures.
If this transition happens at the end of this month as planned, ICANN risks falling under the influence of foreign governments and individuals who don’t share the United States’ commitment to a free and open internet. This is why in May I formally urged the NTIA to extend their contract with ICANN so the transition could be tested. I also cosponsored the DOTCOM Act, legislation requiring a 30-day review process and congressional oversight before the transition could occur.
I believe Congress has a responsibility to ensure the internet is not subjected to unnecessary risk. In its short life, the internet has revolutionized every existing industry, created entire new ones, sparked untold billions of dollars in global commerce, and even spread the hope of freedom to countries around the world. It has become a thriving exhibition of the power of free people in a free market to create prosperity and opportunity. It is crucial to the future of our global economy that we preserve the security and openness of the internet, and the governance of ICANN plays a fundamental role in doing exactly that.
While the transition proposal contains many worthwhile and promising provisions, we cannot be sure ICANN will remain transparent and accountable until the plan is tested. There is no reason to rush into this. The U.S. has a responsibility to ensure that a sound, reliable system of governance is in place before we forfeit our control. I urge all of my colleagues in Congress to join me in calling for the current ICANN contract to be extended until the transition to the multistakeholder community can be tested and accountability ensured.