Washington

Internet Governance Bill Draws Fire From Dems

Ranking Communications Subcommittee member cites unintended consequences of enshrining language about freedom from government control 4/10/2013 04:00:00 PM Eastern

The House Communications Subcommittee began its two-day
markup of a bill that would make U.S. support of a multistakeholder model of
Internet governance the law of the land, rather than just the sense of the
Congress, but lacking the unanimous support that was given last session's
bipartisan resolution.

The Republican chair of the subcommittee has no problem with
turning resolution language into law, while the ranking Democrats on the full committee and subcommittee say
there would be unintended consequences to the language which she they hope to fix
with amendments to the bill.

Rep. Henry Waxman
(D-Calif.), who said he could not support the bill, said that he was concerned
that the bill was a back-door attempt to undermine the FCC's network neutrality
rules and ability to manage the IP transition. He also said bill proponents
refused to include a "savings" clause in the bill that would make clear the
FCC's authority was preserved.

The
resolution,
which does not have the force of law, passed in both House and
Senate in the run-up to the WCIT telecom treaty conference in Dubai, which the
U.S. ultimately declined to sign after language was inserted relating to the
Internet that the U.S. saw as opening the door to possible top-down internet
governance pushed by countries including China, Russia and some Arab states.

Opening statements on the bill were delivered on Wednesday,
with the actual mark-up (amendments and, if all goes well, a vote) of the bill,
a draft
of which was released by Subcommittee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.)

The bill's language mirrors the resolution, holding that:
"It is the policy of the United States to promote a global Internet free
from government control and to preserve and advance the successful
multistakeholder model that governs the Internet."

Some Democrats are concerned about the "government
control" language set in legislative stone, and what they say could be the
unintended consequences.

In her opening statement, ranking subcommittee member Anna
Eshoo (D-Calif.) said that she could not support the bill as currently drafted
for that reason.

"[I]t is with deep disappointment that I have to
express my opposition to the legislation being considered before the
Subcommittee today," Eshoo said. She did not suggest the bill could not be
fixed, and in fact will propose specific amendments to tweak it in the hopes
that it, too, could be bipartisan. But she has several problems with the
"government control" language.

"Last Congress, our bipartisan work together resulted
in the unanimous passage of a Sense of Congress aimed prospectively at the WCIT
conference in Dubai," she said. That resolution, she added,
"demonstrated our unwavering support for the Internet's multi-stakeholder
model and avoided any complications that could develop as a result of placing a
formal Policy Statement in statute."

She says a number of agencies -- the FCC, State Department,
NTIA and the Department of Justice -- have expressed concern that a policy
statement turned into statute "could unintentionally impact ongoing or
future agency litigation, or undermine Administration flexibility in conducting
foreign policy.

"Furthermore, the expert agencies have expressed
concern with the term 'government control.' One diplomat suggested that the use
of this term might actually undermine existing Internet governance institutions
such as ICANN because of its close relationship with the U.S. government.
Foreign countries frequently cite the close coordination between ICANN and the
U.S. Department of Commerce as an example of U.S. 'control' over the Internet.

Walden took to a local paper, the Bend Bulletin, to
make a case for his bill Wednesday.
Walden saw no downside in converting
the resolution into law.

"By strengthening last year's legislation,
Congress will demonstrate its commitment to Internet freedom and push back on
those nations that might subvert the Internet for their own purposes," he
wrote. "Last year, Congress 'talked the talk' and passed a resolution
defending a global Internet free from government control. This year, Congress
must 'walk the walk' and make it official U.S. policy."

September
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