Inter-national-net: Web going global to delight of tech giants, against GOP opposition
The US is prepared to end its monopoly on internet management, and technology heavyweights can’t wait. Facebook, Google, Twitter and Amazon have all signed a letter urging Congress to not delay the transition, which is scheduled for October 1.
The World Wide Web is about to become a very literal term as Congress looks to relinquish operating the database for .com and .net based domain names, as well as the corresponding numeric addresses that computers connect to.
However, some Republican lawmakers are opposed to the idea.
Senator Ted Cruz of Texas has been the most outspoken about blocking the handover to a global stakeholder. Cruz took to the Senate floor this week to claim that doing so poses “a significant threat to our freedom,” and would “empower countries like Russia, China and Iran to be able to censor speech on the internet.”
It is unclear if this will become a partisan issue, as few Republicans have been as outspoken as Cruz, especially when not resolving the measure by September 30 would lead to a government shutdown.
However, the frontrunners of Silicon Valley have made an effort to voice their concerns on the potential delay and wrote a letter to Congress.
"A global, interoperable and stable Internet is essential for our economic and national security, and we remain committed to completing the nearly twenty year transition to the multi stakeholder model that will best serve U.S. interests," the tech giants’ letter, which was obtained by Reuters, said.
The signatories include Facebook, Twitter, Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Cloudflare and other organizations. While Cruz believes that handing the internet over to the global market is a “giveaway of our internet freedom,” these companies believe that doing so will prevent abuse from any one country.
In a rare move, advocacy groups agreed with the corporations and sent a letter of their own to urge Congress to hand over the internet.
“The IANA transition is not an ‘Internet give-away’ as some would characterize it,” the Coalition Statement in Support of Competing the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) wrote.
They defended the IANA, saying, “we believe the best defense against foreign governments exerting control over the Internet is to finish the transition on time. The transition of these functions away from the US government removes an excuse for authoritarian countries to demand greater oversight and regulation of Internet issues.”
The coalition includes Access Now, Center for Democracy & Technology, Niskanen Center, Public Knowledge and North American Regional Bureau, Internet Society.
Currently, the internet is looked after by the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Based in California, the group is responsible for maintaining the database of names and, well, numbers of websites.
Other Republicans in the Senate are scrambling to pause passing the resolution.
“Right now they’re trying to work out what that would look like, what would be effective in terms of putting the brakes on this,” Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune of South Dakota told Morning Consult.
“I don’t think that anybody feels that we’re ready yet for that transition to take place, and so the question is how do you make that happen?” he added.
Their first plan of action was to claim that the transfer of power would be unconstitutional, but a report from the Government Accountability Office shot that down Monday, saying, “We did not identify any Government-held copyrights, patents, licenses, or other traditional intellectual property interests in either the root zone file or the domain name system.”
The report added, “It also is doubtful that either would be considered property under common law principles, because no entity appears to have a right to their exclusive possession or use.”
But Thune and Cruz are not alone in their party in trying to pump the brakes on the resolution. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (Iowa), House Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (Michigan) and House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (Virginia) have all agreed that safeguards for the deal need to be “fleshed out, tested, or proven” The Hill reported.
Some question whether other senators will be as willing to potentially cause a government shutdown when they have to hit the campaign trail.
Thune told the Hill, “I think that right now we all want that on September 30 that transition does not occur because we don’t think it’s ready yet. He may have a different endgame than we do, but right now our objective is the same.”