04.17.2014 2

Are House Republicans voting to give away the Internet?

ProtectTheInternetBy Robert Romano

“Until the Comptroller General of the United States submits the report required by [this statute], the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information may not relinquish or agree to any proposal relating to the relinquishment of the responsibility of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration [NTIA]… over Internet domain name system functions, including responsibility with respect to the authoritative root zone file, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority functions, and related root zone management functions.”

That is the text of legislation that has just passed out of the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee, the agonizingly named DOTCOM (Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters) Act.

The legislation now moves to the full Energy and Commerce Committee, headed by Chairman Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

The framers of the legislation pretend that it will “prohibit the National Telecommunications and Information Administration from relinquishing responsibility over the Internet domain name system” to some as of yet unnamed international body.

That is, “until the Comptroller General of the United States submits to Congress a report on the role of the NTIA with respect to such system.”

In other words, the very bill the purports to “prohibit” turning over the administration of vital Internet functions — governing the assignment of domain names and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses — actually authorizes their giveaway.

All the Obama administration would have to do is turn in a book report that could say, well, pretty much anything.

It might report that relinquishing Commerce Department contractual rights to administer the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) would nullify First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and of the press and of religion in administering that authority.

That, in the process, users of the Internet would lose an essential recourse in federal court against any incidences of censorship committed by whomever will by assigning Internet domain names and numbers.

Or, that there is a risk that multinational elements, such as in China, Russia, or the United Nations, might eventually assume control of these functions via the multistakeholder model now being supported by the Commerce Department.

But none of that will matter. Once the Comptroller General via the Government Accountability Office (GAO) turns in its report — even if its findings are devastating — the Commerce Department will be authorized to throw caution into the wind and complete its plans to give away the Internet.

In the meantime, there is a compelling argument to be made that the Obama administration cannot complete the transfer without an affirmative vote in Congress.

The only way to salvage this magic show might be to incorporate strong legislation by Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Penn.), the Internet Stewardship Act, which would require explicit congressional authorization to turn over the Internet’s names and numbers functions.

Failing that, the ill-conceived DOTCOM Act should be defeated.

Americans for Limited Government President Nathan Mehrens issued the following statement in support of the Kelly bill: “President Obama should not be giving the Internet away to anyone without a vote in Congress. Rep. Kelly’s legislation will reaffirm Congressional authority over any Internet transition taking place, guaranteeing that our elected representatives have a say in keeping the World Wide Web free and open from censorship.”

The Kelly bill would prohibit the turnover “unless such relinquishment is permitted by a statute enacted after the date of the enactment of this Act.” That has a lot more teeth to it than simply requiring that a report be submitted by researchers.

What purpose will the GAO report even serve anyway?

Perhaps, so that future generations can go back and read an accounting of how it was the Internet became controlled and censored by unaccountable, transnational elites.

That is, if they can even find the report online.

Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government. 

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