On June 23, the US House of Representatives passed H. R. 805 (the Doctom Act), which may end the wrangling in Washington, DC, about whether the United States should follow through on a longstanding plan to relinquish power over the Internet’s infrastructure to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The act would allow the transfer to ICANN to go forward if ICANN meets certain requirements. ICANN is a nonprofit organization in Southern California originally established by the US Department of Commerce. It operates under a multistakeholder model in which policies emerge through community engagement, consultation, and consensus. Currently, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), a division of the Department of Commerce, has a contract with ICANN to perform stewardship activities. NTIA has planned to end that contract and cede full responsibility for Internet administration to ICANN since at least 2014.

Opponents in Congress argued that the Internet has flourished under US government auspices. They also feared that leaving administration of the Internet to a multistakeholder group could leave the Internet open to attacks and struggles for control among nations. Last month, and following a formula from last year, the House of Representatives voted to defund efforts to enact the transition through fall 2016. However, the Dotcom Act, which passed through the House with strong bipartisan support at 378-25, offers a way forward, if passed by the Senate, in which ICANN can assuage some of Congress’s concerns.

The Dotcom Act provides that NTIA may go ahead with the transfer to ICANN 30 “legislative days” (days in which Congress is in session) after it submits a report to Congress with a proposal for the transition. Presumably, Congress could halt the transition within that period if the proposal is not satisfactory. This proposal must address certain issue areas. For instance, the act requires that the proposal

  • “supports and enhances the multistakeholder model of Internet governance”;
  • “maintains the security, stability and resiliency of the Internet domain name system”; and
  • “maintains the openness of the Internet.”

It also calls for some changes to ICANN’s bylaws.

Proponents of the transfer argued that, although US stewardship was integral to the nascent stages of the Internet’s growth, the move is largely symbolic, and ICANN has handled its administrative duties predominantly without help from NTIA or other US agencies. Defending NTIA’s plan to hand off authority to ICANN in 2014, ICANN President and CEO Fadi Chehade said, “Let me be clear: NTIA’s announcement will not affect the status quo.” He stated that NTIA’s remaining oversight role is “ministerial, minor, and has had no real impact on day-to-day operations of ICANN or the Internet.” The move to a multistakeholder model also reflects the openness and inclusive spirit of the Internet.

Meanwhile, NTIA’s contract with ICANN is set to expire on September 30, but some report that all sides agree a transition is not feasible in that timeline.