Rep. Zoe Lofgren: A Free & Open Internet Depends on Vesting Control of the Internet in a Multi-Stakeholder Approach, Not Government Control

April 10, 2014
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), a senior Member of the House Judiciary Committee who represents part of Silicon Valley, today spoke about the need to preserve a free and open Internet in order for the technological platform to continue to thrive in the decades to come.  Recently the Obama Administration announced it intends to finish transitioning responsibility for managing Internet Domain Names to the private sector under a long running contract between the Commerce Department and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a California-based nonprofit group.  
 
Rep. Lofgren said that despite erroneous reports, the decision would preserve and advance the current multi-stakeholder model of global Internet governance during an exchange with Lawrence E. Strickling, Assistant Secretary for Communications and Information at the U.S. Department of Commerce.  Strickling was testifying before a House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property, and the Internet hearing titled "Should the Department of Commerce Relinquish Direct Oversight Over ICANN?" 
 
You can view video of this exchange by clicking here. A transcript of the exchange follows:
 
Rep. Lofgren:  Thank you very much Mr. Chairman.  It's been interesting to listen to some of the discussion today.  And it reminds me that generally when the Congress gets involved in the engineering questions of the Internet, we sometimes show that we don't understand the Internet, and we often almost make mistakes.  
 
I think about the call that some made on the Committee made to "bring in the nerds" during the SOPA [Stop Online Privacy Act] discussion because it was pretty obvious that most of the Members didn't even know what DNS [Domain Name System] was.  I do think, therefore, that this hearing is very, very helpful because it informs us and the American people about what really is the question before us.  
 
I remember I was on the Committee in 1998, 1997, when we had these discussions initially.  Obviously America invented the Internet, but it became obvious to all of us in the mid-90's that we were not going to have an international Internet run by the Department of Commerce.  That just wasn't going to work and we had some choices to make, and the choice we made—and I think it's proven to work very well—is to have private sector, multi-stakeholder governance of these core functions.  And it's driven by engineers and technical people. 
 
And it's not just the generic top-level domain system.  For IPv4 [Internet Protocol version 4] and IPv6 [Internet Protocol version 6] we have a non-governmental function that at that level are being managed by the ARIN [American Registry for Internet Numbers] and RIPE [Réseaux IP Européens / "European IP Networks"] in Europe and elsewhere.  So this is not new.  And I do think it's important that we stand up for what has worked because the alternative, which was the same alternative we really had in the 90's, was to try and have government control of this system.  
 
Now we have had discussions—ITU [International Telecommunication Union] had the conference in Dubai where authoritarian regimes openly discussed trying to take over all functions with an intent to subvert the free and open nature of the Internet.  I think we can't have it both ways.  Either we are for non-governmental, multi-stakeholder governance or we are for governmental governance.  If it's the latter, I think we're walking into a very serious, bad problem, which is the agenda of authoritarian regimes to take over this.  
 
Now I am against government control of the Internet.  I am against government regulation of the Internet. I think—and I come from Silicon Valley—all of the Internet companies that I am aware of are in favor of an open Internet.  
 
So I guess my question to you, Mr. Strickling, is do you know of any of the Internet companies that oppose what you are doing?
 
 Asst. Sec. Strickling:  No, and in fact, we've gotten the support of the Internet Association, which is a trade association of many of those companies.  Google and Facebook and Cisco have all issued strong statements of support for this, and I'm sure others that I just don't recall sitting here now.  
 
Rep. Lofgren: I know that Vint Cerf was at one time on the governing board of ICANN, along with other famous Internet evangelists.  What does Vint Cerf say about this proposal?
 
Asst. Sec. Strickling: Vint is a very strong supporter of this and has been quoted in the press multiple times over the last three or four weeks indicating his support for this. 
 
Rep. Lofgren: Well I would just urge—and I won't use all my time because we have another panel—but I think that it's important that this Committee stand up against the inaccuracies that have been promulgated out in the press by people.  I assume they are working in good faith, but who misunderstand what's even being discussed here.  And that we stand up for freedom on the Internet, which means standing up for multi-stakeholder governance and against government control and regulation of the Internet. 
 
That's what this is about.  It's what the decision was about in 1998.  I still remember the conversation I had with [then Rep.] Howard Berman at the time saying ‘you know it's not a good idea for the government to run this.' I think the Committee was of one mind at that time, and hopefully we are of the same mind at this point to preserve a free and open Internet.
 
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Click here for more related video from this hearing