Obama Administration Opposes Bill to Delay Transfer of Internet Powers

The Commerce Department warns the House GOP bill would embolden authoritarian regimes.

Scientists walk inside the main room of the CERN's LHC Computing Grid computer on its inauguration day, on October 3, 2008 in Geneva. The Worldwide LHC Computing Grid combines the power of more than 140 computer centres in 33 countries that can process more than 15 million Gigabytes of data every year produced from the hundreds of millions of subatomic collisions expected inside the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) every second.  AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images) (National Journal)

The Obama administration has come out against legislation that would temporarily keep certain Internet management functions under U.S. control.

The U.S. government plans to transfer oversight of the Internet's address system to the "global community" next year.

Republicans fear the move could allow Russia, China, or other authoritarian regimes to seize power over the Internet and even censor websites. The House Energy and Commerce Committee is set to vote Thursday on the DOTCOM Act, which would block the Internet power transfer pending a study by the Government Accountability Office.

In a letter Tuesday, the Commerce Department said Congress is "well within its right to request a GAO report" even without legislation, but that the administration opposes the DOTCOM Act because it could derail the Internet oversight transfer.

Kelly Walsh, the Commerce Department's general counsel, argued that the transition is part of the long-standing position of the United States to support the "multi-stakeholder" model of Internet governance, in which decisions are made by an array of nonprofits, companies, academics, and engineers.

By giving up authority over the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers — the nonprofit group that manages the Internet's address system — the U.S. is strengthening the multi-stakeholder model and undercutting authoritarian regimes that are arguing for more government control of the Internet, she argued.

"By signaling a lack of confidence in the multistakeholder model, this legislation adversely impacts the ability of the United States and its allies to counter attempts by authoritarian regimes to obtain a greater role in Internet governance," Walsh wrote.

She said the bill "sends the wrong signal to the global Internet community" and "reinforces the misapprehension that the U.S. government 'controls' the Internet."

She emphasized that the U.S. won't complete the power transfer until ICANN outlines a plan for Internet management that is free from control by any government.

The House committee is expected to approve the bill along party lines Thursday, but it's unlikely to go anywhere in the Senate.