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Trump nominee open to retaking ICANN oversight role

Kevin Murphy, January 19, 2017, 10:01:34 (UTC), Domain Policy

The incoming head of the US Department of Commerce has indicated that it is unlikely he’ll try to reestablish the US government’s unique oversight of ICANN, at least in the short term.

But at his confirmation hearing in Congress yesterday, Trump nominee for secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross said he’d be open to ideas about how the US could increase its power over ICANN.

He was responding to a question from Ted Cruz, the Texas senator who made halting the IANA transition one of his key concerns last year.

Cruz, framing the question in such a way as to suggest ICANN is now in the hands of an intergovernmental consortium (which it is not) asked Ross whether he was committed to preventing censorious regimes using ICANN to hinder Americans’ freedom of speech.

Ross replied:

As such a big market and really as the inventors of the Internet, I’m a little surprised that we seem to be essentially voiceless in the governance of that activity. That strikes me as an intellectually incorrect solution. But I’m not aware of what it is that we actually can do right now to deal with that. If it exists, if some realistic alternative comes up, I’d be very interested.

His response also mischaracterizes the power balance post-transition.

The US is not “essentially voiceless”. Rather, it has the same voice as every other government as a member of the Governmental Advisory Committee.

Its role is arguably still a lot more powerful than other nations, given that ICANN is now bylaws-bound to remain headquartered in California and under US jurisdiction.

As head of Commerce, Ross will have authority over the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the agency most directly responsible for dealing with ICANN and domain name issues in general.

NTIA itself will to the best of my knowledge still be headed by assistant secretary Larry Strickling, who handled the IANA transition from the US government side. (UPDATE: this may not be correct)

Ross, 79, is a billionaire investor who made most of his estimated $2.5 billion fortune restructuring bankrupt companies in the coal and steel industries.

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Comments (5)

  1. Brian Cute says:

    Kevin, point of clarification. Larry Strickling will step down on January 20 and a new head of NTIA will be appointed by the new administration.

  2. Philip Corwin says:

    Brian is correct. Larry Strickling is a political appointee and President Trump will name his successor.(Sorry, no hot rumors to share on a likely successor.)

    I can’t think of any ready means by which the USG could “claw back” the IANA contract, unless DOC produces a legal memo that, contrary to previous opinions, it constituted “property” and therefore the transfer to ICANN was unlawful because it lacked affirmative Congressional consent.

    I think the more likely means by which the USG might assert any future control over ICANN would be via a consent decree with the antitrust division of DOJ, given that ICANN is unarguably a private entity exercising monopoly control over entry into the registry and registrar marketplace and the terms of competition between those entrants. Termination of the IANA contract with NTIA removed the last shred of any argument that ICANN was not subject to such antitrust scrutiny.

    • Louise says:

      Enjoy your comments, @Phil, but I have to rewrite the last sentence to try to figure it out:

      “Termination of the IANA contract with NTIA removed the last shred of any argument that ICANN was not subject to such antitrust scrutiny”

      So, termination of the IANA contract with NTIA removed any argument that ICANN was NOT subject to such antitrust scrutiny.

      Therefore, ICANN IS subject to antitrust scrutiny?

      • Louise says:

        You’re saying, ICANN IS subject to antitrust scrutiny, because of the termination of the IANA contract.

        But, that’s a good thing, right?

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