WASHINGTON – The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology has approved legislation authored by U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-Illinois) to protect the free and open Internet.
The Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act would require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review any proposal to cede U.S. Internet oversight responsibilities to a group of international stakeholders.
The United States, through the National Telecommunications Information Administration at the Department of Commerce, oversees the matching of the numerical Internet Protocol (IP) address an Internet browser needs to find a website (22.214.171.124, for example) with that website’s easier to remember domain name (google.com, in this example). This matching process, administered for the U.S. by the California-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), makes navigating the Internet possible for the average user.
“Now imagine the havoc and confusion a country like Russia could wreak on the world if such authority were to fall into their hands?” Shimkus asked. “Typing in cnn.com could take you to a Russian propaganda site. Free and open access to the Internet could be at risk.”
Russia and China have sought such power to manipulate the Internet in the past through the United Nation’s International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
“While I’ve been told the administration won’t move to a multistakeholder model that could compromise the openness of the Internet today, they need to explain to Congress and the American people how they’ll guarantee the new multistakeholder regime won’t be influenced by foreign governments or the ITU tomorrow,” Shimkus said. “We have to consider the long-term implications of giving up our oversight role because once it’s gone, it’s gone for good.”
Shimkus warned of the rush to relinquish U.S. oversight in a hearing last week.
Similar concerns were also raised by former President Bill Clinton and Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales last month.
Specifically, the DOTCOM Act would prohibit the NTIA from turning over its oversight responsibilities to the international community pending a GAO report to Congress. The report would include a discussion and analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of the change and address the national security concerns raised by relinquishing U.S. oversight. It would also require GAO to provide a definition of term “multistakeholder model” as used by NTIA with respect to Internet policymaking and governance.