Senators push to monitor ICANN-government relationship

Senators are pressing Commerce Secretary Locke and Assistant Secretary-Designate Larry Strickling to pay close attention to the relationship between the U.S. government and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a private entity based in California that administers the Internet addressing system.

A joint project agreement that has allowed Commerce oversight of ICANN is slated to sunset on Sept. 30 amid accountability and transparency concerns.

Sens. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, and Bill Nelson, D-Fla., wrote to Locke on Tuesday urging him to be a prominent player in finding a permanent accountability mechanism as the Commerce-based National Telecommunications and Information Administration seeks public comment on the issue.

The senators worry much of the progress ICANN has made could be jeopardized if its historic link to the United States is diminished.

The letter pointed out that some stakeholders have suggested a temporary extension of the JPA to allow time to design and deploy a framework. The Internet consists of 174 million Web sites, 570 million computers and more than 1.5 billion users, all of whom utilize the domain name system in some way, Snowe and Nelson said.

Strickling, a former director of the FCC's Common Carrier Bureau who worked on Obama's campaign, answered written ICANN questions from Senate Commerce Committee members after his Tuesday confirmation hearing. Responding to queries by Snowe and Sen. David Vitter, R-La., he pledged to preserve Internet security and stability and said his decision regarding the JPA will be consistent with that goal. He said comments received through NTIA's April notice of inquiry will inform his assessment.

"Regardless of whether the JPA is terminated, modified or extended, it is my belief that NTIA will continue to be an active participant in ICANN by representing the United States government in ICANN's Governmental Advisory Committee as well as filing comments, as needed, in ICANN's various public consultation processes," Strickling said. If confirmed, he said, NTIA's views on Internet governance will be based on "robust and meaningful consultation" with U.S. industry and international partners.

On Wednesday, the Commerce Committee approved Strickling's nomination, but it was unclear at press time how soon the full Senate could vote. Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is interested in ICANN oversight and House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, D-Va., could hold a hearing this summer.