Blackburn goes ballistic over Internet control; ‘delusional’ says critic

Excerpt from an article in the Clarksville Leaf-Chronicle:
When the Commerce Department recently announced it wanted to move a key function of Internet administration over to international “stakeholders,”’ Rep. Marsha Blackburn, like a number of House Republicans, went ballistic.

“We cannot let the Internet turn into another Russian land grab,” the Brentwood representative said.

“America shouldn’t surrender its leadership on the world stage to a ‘multistakeholder model’ that’s controlled by foreign governments. It’s imperative that this administration reports to Congress before they can take any steps that would turn over control of the Internet.”

…But some legal and technical experts say such remarks reflect the hyper-partisanship all too common in Washington these days, as well as a lack of understanding of how the Internet works.

“They are delusional,” John Cary Sims, a law professor at the University of the Pacific and co-editor of the Journal of National Security Law and Policy, said in an interview.
And the Internet Governance Project, an alliance of academics on Internet policy, said: “The role of Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee revealed the confusion and inconsistency that underlies the conservative critique.”

The proposed transition, which the department said was envisioned as far back as the 1990s, drew immediate praise from U.S. companies such as Google, Microsoft and Comcast, as well as from groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Computer and Communications Industry Association.

The Commerce Department made the same point. “There is no one party – government or industry, including the United States government – that controls the Internet. The Internet is a decentralized network of networks,” it said in a statement.

All sides acknowledge, however, that the Internet was created by the U.S. Department of Defense.

And for the last 16 years, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a Southern California nonprofit – under a contract with the Commerce Department – has overseen a key part of it, the assignment of domain names. Those are what allow users to find websites with easy-to-remember words rather than long strings of numbers interspersed with periods.

In what some called a “bombshell,” the Commerce Department said in March it wanted to begin a transition away from U.S. government stewardship of domain names and toward oversight by multi-national stakeholders, “including businesses, governments, technical experts, civil society groups and others.”

The handoff would come in October 2015 when the current Commerce Department-ICANN contract expires.

The department added it wouldn’t agree to any new system that didn’t follow U.S. principles, including that no government or inter-governmental body, such as the United Nations, have control over domain names and other aspects of the Internet address system.

…Blackburn, vice chairwoman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, immediately joined other GOP members in introducing legislation to prohibit any relinquishing of U.S. stewardship without congressional approval. During a hearing, she said there was “a low level of trust” about administration promises of Internet openness.