U.S. Delays Giving Up Oversight of Internet Administrator Icann

U.S. Delays Giving Up Oversight of Internet Administrator Icann

Commerce Department to renew contract with the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers

By JEFF ELDER
Aug. 17, 2015 6:48 p.m. ET

The U.S. Commerce Department on Monday delayed for at least a year its plans to give up oversight of a key component of Internet governance.

The department said it would renew its contract with the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers for one year. Icann administers the Internet’s domain-name system, through contracts with the companies that sell website names and addresses.

Commerce has overseen Icann since the organization was created in 1998. Last year, the Obama administration said it planned to transfer Icann oversight to an unspecified group of international stakeholders by September 2015.

Critics of the plan have expressed concerns that it may open the door to influence by foreign governments that aren't committed to Western principles of free expression, and may want to impose different rules for administering the Internet in different parts of the world.

“It has become increasingly apparent over the last few months that the community needs time to complete its work, have the plan reviewed by the U.S. government and then implement it if it is approved,” Assistant Commerce Secretary Lawrence Strickling wrote in a blog post.

Mr. Strickling wrote that the government plans to extend its contract with Icann for one year to Sept. 30 of 2016, with options to extend it another three years. Mr. Strickling said Commerce informed Congress of the plan on Friday.

Commerce said the extension will provide time to work out additional details on how a “multistakeholder” governance approach might work.

Icann Chief Executive Fadi Chehadé said in May he plans to leave in March 2016 to work in the private sector. Mr. Chehadé has championed greater independence for the group. In 2013, he praised Brazil’s call for the U.S. to relinquish oversight of the agency in the wake of disclosures that the National Security Agency monitored Brazil’s leaders and businesses online.

“This is an important step,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R., Mich.) and Reps. Greg Walden (R., Ore.) and John Shimkus (R., Ill.) in a statement. “The administration is recognizing, as it should, that it is more important to get this issue right than it is to simply get it done.”

In June, the House passed legislation to give Congress oversight of the Obama administration’s plans to transfer stewardship of Icann.

“We appreciate the administration’s efforts and look forward to working with them, and the global Internet community, to get this done right,” the Republican legislators said Monday.

An Icann spokesman declined to comment.

—Siobhan Hughes contributed to this article.


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