US congress proposes designating the week of Feb. 8 as Internet Governance Awareness Week. Coincides with ICANN52

As reported on the Hill byMario Trujillo

Two Republican senators are hoping to shine a spotlight on the Commerce Department’s moves to hand off oversight of the system governing Internet addresses.

GOP Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah) and Roy Blunt (Mo.) introduced a resolution Tuesday that would designate the week of Feb. 8 as Internet Governance Awareness Week, which would coincide with a meeting in Singapore on the topic.

Last March, the Commerce Department announced it would be handing off its oversight and management of the Internet domain name system, which allows Internet users to easily search for websites using unique addresses. Some Republicans and other critics have cautioned against the plan.

The department currently contracts that responsibility out to a nonprofit called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The department intends to hand over the reins permanently and has tasked ICANN to oversee a plan to transition away from government oversight.

Some have worried that the process could allow repressive governments to assert broader control or that governance could be left in the hands of “unaccountable bureaucrats.”

The resolution introduced Tuesday outlines a series of principles for ICANN to follow as it organizes the multi-stakeholder process.

The Commerce Department has repeatedly said any proposal must maintain an open Internet and that it would not accept a government-led solution. The department had hoped for a September target date for the transition because that is when its current contract expires with ICANN. But that can be extended for up to four years.

Last December, Congress approved a spending bill that included a provision that prohibited the department from using funds for the transition during this fiscal year.

Lawrence Strickling, an assistant secretary for the department, said Tuesday the department will not make the transition before the contract expires due to the legislation, and it takes the congressional action “seriously.” But he said the legislation does not bar other stakeholders from developing a transition plan. He said the department would actively monitor those discussions.