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Here’s what happened to ICANN on Capitol Hill yesterday

Hearing gets feisty: threats of jail time, questions about China and more.

Ted Cruz is on a mission to halt the U.S. government from relinquishing contracts with ICANN related to IANA functions. That transition is due to take place at the end of this month.

Yesterday he brought the battle to a congressional hearing.

The hearing had two parts. The first featured Göran Marby, CEO of ICANN CEO, and Lawrence E. Strickling, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information at the Department of Commerce. I only watched this first part, as the second seemed like a waste of time. Among the witnesses in the second part was Karsten, there to complain about how new top level domains were allocated.

Cruz pitched this as a choice between preserving the first amendment on the internet or handing it over to authoritarian regimes like China, Russia and Iran.

Marby and Strickling repeatedly disputed this characterization, pointing out that ICANN has no role in content and that the transition is set up so that the U.S. can easily block any movement brought forth by China, Russia or Iran.

Instead, Marby and Strickling argued that refusing to let the U.S. government contract expire would provide momentum for other governments to create a UN-like competitor to ICANN.

Here are some of my takeaways from the hearing:

  • Ted Cruz is a gifted orator and a great debater. He frequently tried to pull the witnesses in to arguments by getting them to agree to one thing and then arguing this necessarily means something else. He tried to get Marby to agree that China is an enemy of the internet, but Marby wouldn’t fall into that trap. He also tried to get Strickling to pass judgment on whether big internet companies protect the first amendment.
  • The optics of former CEO Fadi Chehade and his current involvement with China gave Cruz lots to work with. Unfortunately for Marby, he was stuck in a position of being asked to explain what Chehade meant when he said certain things.
  • Cruz was obviously prepared for the hearing, but so was Senator Chris Coons. Coons bailed out the witnesses a couple of times with better examples or explanations. When Cruz threatened Strickling and his employees at the NTIA with two years in jail for working on the IANA transition, Coons gave a great comparison to constructing a building. He explained that Congress said the NTIA couldn’t spend money relinquishing control. But that doesn’t mean the NTIA shouldn’t continue to evaluate it. If you were told not to construct a building until given approval, does that mean you shouldn’t evaluate the potential for the building?
  • Other senators were not prepared, as is common in these hearings. Senator Chuck Grassley appeared to have not even read his questions before asking them. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake dropped in to name drop for his constituent Karsten, saying he wouldn’t be there when Karsten was due to testify. He proceeded to ask the witnesses about new top level domains. Sigh…
  • This was a big test for Marby, who has only been CEO of ICANN for a few months. He did fairly well, but it certainly hurt not having a witness in the ICANN chair that had been around for a few years. Strickling answered for him on the question about new top level domains, even though this was a question that should have been answered by ICANN’s representative.

So where does this leave us? Cruz wants to put a rider halting the transition in the next continuing resolution that keeps the government operating. He has been known to take things to the edge, threatening to shut down the government if it doesn’t make a particular provision in its continuing resolutions.

Is this one big enough for Cruz to threaten another government shutdown? Hopefully, this will come down to a question of facts.

Threatening to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding is an ideological stance. But the transition of the IANA functions isn’t really ideological, at least how Cruz is positioning it. His claims that it will harm free speech or give China control of the internet are simply false.

Indeed, the risks of this happening are bigger if the transition is delayed.

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  1. Ryan says

    Baby steps, every step, and process has to be intervened, have to give T C props for doing this. If you give someone an inch, they take a foot.

    US needs to stop giving in, as it has very little left to give.

  2. Christian says

    Thank you for the reporting Andrew.

    The Texas Tribune had a good article about the hearing I thought:

    “Cruz is fighting an impending move by the federal government to relinquish oversight of a nonprofit organization that determines the way domain names are organized on the Internet.

    It’s an issue on the minds of many conservatives, who charge that giving up that power would allow authoritarian regimes like China and Russia to further censor free speech on the Web.

    “Once the government’s out of the picture, First Amendment protections go away,” Cruz said Wednesday morning at a Senate hearing he chaired.”

    “Cruz and other conservatives say the changes would be cataclysmic for the free exchange of ideas because a private entity like ICANN is not bound by the First Amendment. He has filed legislation that would block the federal government from relinquishing its oversight.

    Cruz essentially argued Wednesday that it was a zero sum game: A decrease in U.S. power overseeing ICANN would begat an increase of power for other countries, including Russia and China.

    Six Republican senators are co-sponsors of Cruz’s legislation, and another 21 House Republicans signed onto similar legislation emerging from that chamber. Seven Texans are among the House co-sponsors: U.S. Reps. Brian Babin of Woodville, Joe Barton of Ennis, Kevin Brady of the Woodlands, Michael Burgess of Lewisville, John Culberson of Houston, Bill Flores of Bryan and Louie Gohmert of Tyler.”

    Ted Cruz Takes Dead Aim at Obama Administration in Internet Dispute
    https://www.texastribune.org/2016/09/14/cruz-pushes-internet-bill/

  3. Aaron Strong says

    The proposed transition is the largest issue that is going unnoticed by the people (general public). A threat to shut down the government is absolutely worthy in this case. Too much is at stake and there will not be a second chance to get it right…..Empowering authoritarian regimes with their requests is a horrible act in itself, for that reason the transition should NOT proceed…Of course I would not be surprised if it proceeded as the misinformed public idolizes tyrants like Che and Castro, wearing T-shirts and such…

      • Aaron Strong says

        That is the heart of the debate…I have heard your position from some and you have heard my position from others…If the transition proceeds and your position is correct, fine….If the transition proceeds and my position is correct we will have dire consequences…It’s a risk/reward issue in that sense. Let’s take our time and get this right.

        • Andrew Allemann says

          But that’s just it…not proceeding has consequences as well. It increases the chances that other governments will seek to replace ICANN with a UN-type body. That would be bad for all of us.

          • John says

            >”A threat to shut down the government is absolutely worthy in this case.”

            As much as I would hate to see that, I nonetheless agree, Aaron.

          • John says

            Sounds like “appeasement,” Andrew, and a spin on the original argument pushed for doing the transition, which was the (empty) threat to “Balkanize” the Internet. Like any of them would really want to cut off from the US market that way.

          • John says

            Don’t you think it’s possible there is far too much confidence about such ill-willed countries not being able to worm their way into influence they could have have had once there is no more US oversight standing in the way?

          • Aaron Strong says

            Andrew – Thanks for your coverage of the issue, regardless of our differences.

            John – Exactly!… The whole argument by those proposing the transition is one based on “APPEASEMENT” of authoritarian regimes. Almost to the point of extortion.

          • John says

            Aaron, nice to see someone like yourself also fighting the good fight so to speak. See what I posted below at “7:08 pm” after it passes “awaiting moderation.”

            Also please note: for some reason I no longer receive email notifications of new DNW posts, so only know if I go back to threads and look. (Andrew has looked into that but with no success yet regarding his plugin or whatever is the cause of it.)

  4. John says

    With a show of hands, by the way – with all this talk of eventual and potential censorship influence by the likes of China, Russia, Iran, and denying that the likes of China, Russia and Iran will be able to bring such things about after this “transition”…

    Is anyone now denying or not noticing that great and enlightened Europe itself, along with the cooperation the great “tech giants” like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft, has already been aggressively moving in the direction of the very kind of censorship that is warned of regarding this move and loss of US oversight?

    “EU Works With Tech Giants To Crush Free Speech”

    https://youtu.be/Y3pc00WS6VA

    https://www.google.com/#q=censorship+in+europe

    • Andrew Allemann says

      In the hearing this week Cruz talked about how companies like Google, Facebook etc aren’t subject to the First Amendment. Only the government is.

      I didn’t really understand his attack, though. There’s nothing in how the IANA contract is set up right now that gives the U.S. the ability to force the 1st amendment on a company like that.

      In fact, the only time in recent memory I can think of the U.S. government using its control in the internet (that it will lose with the transition) was to block the addition of .xxx in the root zone.

    • John Berryhill says

      …which itself demonstrates that the IANA function contracted by the US government has absolutely nothing to do with with how companies manage communications conducted via their own domain names.

      Perhaps you might explain to us why it is that the IANA contract being administered by the US does not have any effect on these companies right now.

      If Microsoft, Google, Verisign or anyone else had complete and unfettered control of the root zone, it would not provide them the ability to censor content on any individual website. Furthermore, if the root zone were altered to, say, point the entirety of “.com” somewhere else, then within hours, if not minutes, network administrators would immediately stop using it, and direct to their own local copy or to the zone as maintained by the root servers operated by NASA etc.

  5. Thomas says

    China censors the internet like like a Kodiak catches Salmon !!! The opportunity to manipulate free speech and free trade is too great to allow them , China to have any influence over ICANN . Big Companies have turned their backs on what is Right how many times ??? Too many to count is the answer , so why risk it ? Why is ICANN so anxious to get out from under the US ?
    Money !!! They don’t give a damn about free speech . It’s all about the money .
    I personally am not a fan of Ted Cruz , but I am pretty sure he has this one right , and everyone who values free speech and maintaining that which already works brilliantly … should support his efforts to stop this .

  6. John Berryhill says

    This is the same Ted Cruz who fought against requiring an open internet saying, when the topic was net neutrality:

    “If you want the federal government regulating prices and terms of sale on the Internet, deciding which websites are OK and which are not, then Net Neutrality is a great idea.”

    …despite the fact that net neutrality has nothing to do with those things.

    Having failed to make the case that “US government control of the internet” was the evil motivation behind requiring that network operators provide their customers with equal access to content providers, he now claims that “US government control of the internet” is necessary to maintain a common root system.

    And, again, despite the fact that the IANA function is not a mechanism for content regulation.

  7. Jeff Schneider says

    The Strategic power behind (.COM Profit Center Equimoddities)

    Hello Andrew

    We doubt that this subject was covered if at all. Thanks for your post. JAS

    For those who follow early adopters in all assets, its important to realize how very very similar the .Com addresses are to stock equities as asset classes. Yet the Hybrid .COM Profit Center Assets are also very similar to Commodities. HENCE We Introduce ( .COM Profit Center (Equimoddities) . Yet the .COM Profit Center (Equimoddities) Super Asset Class Produces just One Unique Commodity per Destination. PRICELESS

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    • Jeff Schneider says

      Hello Andrew,

      Here is a question for Strategic Thinkers.
      How much has ICANNS introduction of ALL NEW TLDS likely to cost The Worlds Economies in Lost GDP ?

      Our Answer : Year over Year GDP Cash Burn do to their effects on Online Business Failures = A minimum of 2% Nationally and Globally.

      (THE BIG PICTURE)
      The new TLD investors are actually helping GOOGLE and all SEM Model companies, cement more companies into their already vast and unmanageable SEM network. This terribly flawed strategy feeds their vast armies of SEO advocates jobs by locking their SEM Ads base into their Garden Maze of numerous businesses who are lost in their digital coding systems. This SEM inspired TRAP funnels or steers traffic away from them and channels this traffic to their ads customers most feared competitors. This Shell Game All SEM Marketing Platforms Win, and you the (End-User) investor in new TLDS lose.
      So if you want to help SEM Platforms destabilize the DNSs Stability buy new TLDs.

      Big winners in new TLD adoption are All SEM Platform Companies. Such as Google Ads, GOOGLE AD Salesmen , Advertising Companies,SEO suppliers ICANN, Registrars, Registrys, and the ( BIG losers are Domainers and End-Users suffering Massive Economic Loss in GDP Growth. Getting the picture?

      Gratefully, Jeff Schneider (Contact Group) (Metal Tiger) (Former Rockefeller IBEC Marketing Analyst/Strategist) (Licensed CBOE Commodity Hedge Strategist) (Domain Master )

  8. Jeff Schneider says

    Hello Andrew,

    R.E. = ” “The industry technology experts, business community and the largest internet companies — like Facebook, Google and Twitter — have described it as imperative that the transition move forward,”

    These so called Experts have no clue as to the strategic power ICANN controls. We can think of dozens of Scenarios that can be perpetrated through ICANNs Control. Think Outside The Box People. Ted Cruz is an asshole, but he is onto a subject that is Strategically Important, Don’t kid yourselves this needs to be stopped Dead in its tracks. JAS 9/16/16

    Gratefully, Jeff Schneider (Contact Group) (Metal Tiger) (Former Rockefeller IBEC Marketing Analyst/Strategist) (Licensed CBOE Commodity Hedge Strategist) (Domain Master )http://www.UseBiz.com

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