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Keeping the Internet in U.S. Hands

October 3, 2016

On October 1, the Department of Commerce (DOC) transferred U.S. oversight of the internet to a group of global stakeholders. While President Obama plans to move forward with the transfer, I’m joining efforts to help the U.S. retain control of the internet.

Here’s the background:

  • The foundations of this transfer were laid in 1997, when the DOC was instructed to privatize the Domain Name System (DNS), which translates internet domain names into IP addresses.
  • In 1998, the DOC established the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an American nonprofit that oversees internet protocols and domain naming.
  • Since then, the U.S. government has retained limited control over the DNS, primarily through the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority’s (IANA) contract between our National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and ICANN.
  • In 2014, NTIA announced plans to shift key internet domain name functions to a global stakeholder community.
  • In March 2016, those stakeholders submitted a proposal for the transfer, which the NTIA accepted.

The Attorneys General of four states—Arizona, Texas, Nevada, and Oklahoma—filed a lawsuit to stop the transfer, arguing that the move requires congressional approval and violates the first amendment and that the NTIA doesn’t have the authority to transfer the contract.

Others argue that this transfer could put U.S. sovereignty at risk by giving too much influence to global players. I believe control of the internet must be maintained by U.S. interests, and I am working to that end.

First, I signed a letter to DOC Secretary Penny Pritzker saying that Congress wants our (NTIA) to continue its role managing certain internet functions, including the DNS.

Second, I have taken steps toward co-sponsoring the Protecting Internet Freedom Act. Should this bill come before me for a vote, it will have my full support. The bill:

  • Prohibits the DOC from transferring oversight of the internet domain system naming unless a federal statute is enacted.
  • Directs the DOC to certify to Congress that our federal government has secured sole ownership of the .gov and .mil top-level domains.
  • Directs the DOC to certify that it has a contract with ICANN that gives the U.S. government exclusive control and use of those domains.

Instead of ceding control over the internet to global influencers and interests, we should maintain U.S. oversight over this exceptional tool. H.R. 5418 would put the privatization of the internet that began in 1997 in check, helping to preserve U.S. sovereignty.

While I am disappointed legislative action did not occur to stop this transfer prior to October 1, 2016, I am hopeful this move can be stopped through other means in the future. Control of our internet must be maintained by U.S. interests.