Congress Expresses Greater Confidence in Multistakeholder Work on IANA Transition

Written by Matthew Shears

Last Wednesday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a productive hearing on Stakeholder Perspectives on the IANA Transition.  I joined other witnesses in providing the subcommittee with an update on the state of play in the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) transition and ICANN accountability discussions. My testimony emphasized the strength of the on-going multistakeholder process for developing the transition plans, as well as the absolutely essential linkage between ICANN accountability reforms and a successful IANA functions transition.

The hearing was well-attended by members from both sides of the aisle, who asked constructive and informed questions about the progress of the IANA transition and ICANN accountability working groups.  Committee members expressed an appreciation for, and greater confidence in, the work of the global multistakeholder community in developing the IANA transition proposal.  Here are the key takeaways from the hearing:

Recognition that the September 30, 2015 target date will likely be extended.  Both witnesses and members expressed concern that the September date might not be met and that an extension was realistic. What form this extension would take remains unclear.  Chairman Walden raised the possibility that NTIA renew the current IANA functions contract for a full two-year term, with the potential to cancel the remainder of the contract if an acceptable proposal (and necessary accountability reforms) are achieved in a shorter period.  While this is possible, a full two-year extension may deprive the transition process of some its momentum; the Working Group’s (WG) efforts to hit the September target have accomplished a lot in a relatively short period of time.  CDT supports a shorter six month extension if it is deemed necessary by the community as a whole, a discussion that should be had during the ICANN meeting in Buenos Aires.

Accountability is critical. Given that the IANA functions proposal envisions a continuing and central role for ICANN, it is critical that ICANN be held accountable for providing neutral and transparent oversight of the IANA functions.  This will only credibly be possible with an ICANN community that is more empowered than it is today. The accountability working group has proposed a series of reforms that are aimed at precisely this sort of community empowerment, including giving the membership of ICANN the ability to veto bylaw changes and budgets, along with powers to remove individual Board members or spill the entire Board,.

Separability of the IANA functions contract matters.  We reinforced the importance of providing the community with the ability, if necessary, to award the contract for the IANA functions to another operator.  I noted that the separability of the contract for the IANA functions is an accountability mechanism that is additional and complementary to those being proposed by the accountability working group. It is a crucial element in ensuring that the IANA functions operator remains efficient, neutral and responsive to customer needs.

Support from Congress is important. The subcommittee was keenly interested in the accountability of the NTIA to Congress. This is the motivation for Representative Shimkus’s DOTCOM Act, which would prohibit the NTIA from completing the IANA functions transition until the Government Accountability Office completes a report on the overall transition proposal.  CDT and a number of other civil liberties organizations opposed this proposal last year, since this sort of action by part of the US government to exert control over an open, participatory, consensus-based process would undermine the US’s longstanding support for the multistakeholder model.

At the hearing, it was clear that Committee members have been working to find a solution.  Representative Eshoo noted that there’s an on-going process of review for these proposals, and that if Congress exercises its oversight capacity now, it won’t need a year-long review after the rest of the community has reached consensus. Another witness, Steve DelBianco of NetChoice, urged the Representatives to contribute their questions and to encourage GAO to publish its report-in-progress this summer, so it can inform not only Congress, but the Working Group participants and wider ICANN community as well.  CDT agrees that this would be a constructive way forward.

CDT urges Congress to continue its bipartisan support for multistakeholder governance by participating in the processes underway, and by refraining from giving itself a unilateral say that could either delay or veto the outcome.  We completely support the members’ interest in an open, transparent, and accountable IANA transition process; Wednesday’s hearing was an excellent example of constructive engagement among members of Congress, civil society, and industry on this complex issue.  We look forward to helping keep Congress fully apprised of the community’s progress.

 

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