Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) used a hearing on the U.S. hand-off of oversight for the Internet domain naming system and assignment of IP addresses to hammer on the Federal Communications Commission's Feb. 26 vote on Title II-supported net-neutrality rules.
Testifying at the hearing were Fadi Chehadé, the current CEO of ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Name and Numbers); Ambassador David Gross, former U.S. Coordinator for International Communications and Information Policy, who appeared on behalf of the Internet Governance Coalition (IGC, an eclectic group whose members include Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Google, Fox, Disney and Verizon.); and Lawrence Strickling, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA); they each spoke about the planned transition of oversight for domain naming and IP address assigning from the NTIA to a multistakeholder model.
But it was clear that Title II reclassification was very much on the agenda for Thune, who is leading a legislative effort to block that FCC move, though a legislative stop is highly unlikely.
Thune asked whether reclassifying Internet access as a telecommunications service would strengthen or weaken the U.S.'s ability to keep the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) from tariffing the Internet, as some members have wanted to do (that issue also came up in a House subcommittee hearing on net neutrality on the other side of the Hill at about the same time. The ITU is the UN agency charged with coordinating global communications.
Gross said he was still waiting to see what the FCC was going to do and that the details would be important. But with that caveat, he also said it has long been U.S. policy, under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, that the ITU should have no jurisdiction over Internet-related issues. He pointed out that there has been an ITU contingent that says its scope is telecommunications, so that if the FCC classifies the Internet as telecom, that contingent would assert it now has jurisdiction. He said that would make the job of his successors more difficult in ensuring that the ITU does not seek jurisdiction.
Thune said reclassifying under Title II would seem like losing a vaulable argument -- that the Internet is not the same as telecom.
Strickling said he did not think the situation was as stark as it was being painted. He said it is typical for some countries to push at international conferences and conventions for bringing Internet issues under ITU's purview, which European countries and Canada have opposed even though they view the Internet as a telecom service. He said he didn't think that would change. Thune said he hoped Strickling was right, but added that he thought Title II was sending the wrong message.
The focus of the hearing was the plan to transition the Internet naming and IP address assignment functions from U.S. oversight -- the NTIA says it has been mostly ceremonial -- to a private, multistakeholder model.
Republicans and some Democrats have expressed concern that if the U.S. gives up that oversight, other governments could try to turn that multistakeholder approach into a multigovernmental regime. That would be a nonstarter with Thune, but also with all the witnesses.
Strickling promised the NTIA "would not accept a proposal that replaces the NTIA role with a government-led or an inter-governmental organization solution."
And while the NTIA contract to oversee the ICANN domain name system (DNS) and Internet address assignments (IANA) functions expires Sept. 30 of this year, Strickling pointed out that it could be extended up to four years if there were any issues with the transition. Gross said there should be no rush, suggesting it was better to get it right than to it fast.
Gross said IGC would be watching the process like a hawk to make sure the NTIA gets it right, and would be the first to say if it thought the NTIA hadn't. Thune, too, said the committee would hold the NTIA to the "red lines" it had drawn on the hand-off, saying he did not want ICANN to turn into a FIFA, flush with money but lacking accountability. Invoking the carpenter's version of the hypocratic oath, Thune said of coming up with a transition plan: "Measure twice; cut once."
Chehadé signaled he had heard and shared their concerns, but said, "It is now time to show the world that when we say we believe in the multistakeholder model, we do what we say."