WASHINGTON - The future of the internet could be in the hands of Congress this week, as the U.S. House considers adding Congressman John Shimkus' (R-IL) DOTCOM proposal to the National Defense Authorization Act.
The Obama administration announced in March plans for a process that could remove the United States, specifically the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, from its oversight role of critical Internet functions. Members of Congress are concerned that this move could result in a clampdown on the openness and freedom of the Internet by authoritarian regimes in countries like Russia and China.
Shimkus' proposal passed the Energy and Commerce Committee May 8th, when the Congressman explained to Illinois Review the background for his DOTCOM bill:
SHIMKUS: The [Obama] administration has said they won’t accept a new Internet governance structure that includes governments. I trust that is their intention in principle, but we have to verify that is achievable in reality.
That’s why we need GAO to carefully study the proposals ICANN submits to NTIA before the administration makes an irreversible decision. What recourse would we have if the non-governmental, multistakeholder model that the administration turns over our oversight to will be protected from governments five, ten years down the road? We just don’t. But once we surrender our oversight, we’ll never be able to get it back.
Shimkus introduced H.R. 4342, the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters (DOTCOM) Act of 2014. Co-sponsored by 10 members of the committee, the legislation requires that the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office study any potential consequences before NTIA may take action.
“The Internet has become the beacon of the free exchange of ideas, social engagement, and economic growth throughout the world and we must work to ensure those ideals are protected,” said Shimkus. “There is far too much at stake to rush this process or agree to a transition without a full understanding of the consequences."
The DOTCOM Act is supported by Americans for Tax Reform and similar concerns over relinquishing the U.S. role in Internet governance have been raised by former President Bill Clinton, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Walls, former FCC Commissioner Julius Genachowski, and the Heritage Foundation.