By Robert Romano
“[Hillary] Clinton supports Obama’s plan to hand over control of the Internet to an international community of stakeholders, including Russia, China, and Iran. Just this week, [Donald] Trump came out strongly against that plan, and in support of free speech online.”
That was Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) stating that one of the reasons he had decided to back Donald Trump for president against Hillary Clinton was because Trump had come out via a campaign statement on Sept. 21 against an Obama administration plan to transition U.S. oversight of the Internet’s domain name system to the international community.
Immediately after the Trump statement Cruz tweeted, “Appreciate @realDonaldTrump’s support of our efforts to keep the internet free.”
To which, Trump campaign manager Kelly Anne Conway tweeted back, “And we appreciate @tedcruz appreciating @realDonaldTrump. Over to you, @jeffroe,” referring to Jeff Roe, Cruz’ former campaign manager.
Two days later, Cruz had endorsed Trump, something almost nobody was expecting after such a bitter primary battle between the two top vote-getters in the GOP primary.
Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning noted that the Internet freedom issue had helped to unite the Republican Party, stating, “Donald Trump doing a statement on the Internet giveaway helped facilitate Ted Cruz’ endorsement of Trump just two days later, in turn helping to unite grassroots Republicans nationwide in the sprint to November.”
Manning urged further action by Congress to actually stop the Internet giveaway, which is set to take place on Oct. 1. “It would be tragic that an issue which unites Republicans would be scrapped just to pass a bill that funds the Obama administration’s priorities, including surrendering U.S. oversight of the Internet’s domain name system to foreign powers and multinational corporations, creating an unaccountable global monopoly and risking censorship of every American’s vital Internet freedoms.”
The problem is that as of right now, the language in the continuing resolution that was going to block the Internet surrender was stripped out by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), risking the fresh unity among Republicans.
What might have been a major victory for Republicans in Congress in the closing stretch of the campaign may be turned in a potential political buzz saw, where members will be asked to vote for an unpopular continuing resolution that funds the Obama administration’s priorities — and surrenders the Internet.
In the meantime, outstanding questions about the Internet giveaway remain, as the Department of Justice has stonewalled repeated requests from the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on the antitrust implications and other legal concerns of creating a global Internet monopoly in the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number (ICANN).
ICANN will continue bidding out generic top-level domain names like .com, .org, and more as the world’s only provider, and collecting hundreds of millions of dollars of exclusive fees which one day could become a global Internet tax.
In the meantime, in 2012 in federal court ICANN argued that it was immune to antitrust scrutiny, stating “obtained the sole authority to delegate TLDs and select registries through ‘its agreements with the U.S. government.’ … Put simply, ICANN did not conduct its operations to unlawfully acquire the authority to designate TLDs and select registries; thus, this authority does not support name.space’s monopoly claim because the Sherman Act does not punish firms whose monopoly position has been ‘thrust upon’ them.”
The federal district court agreed that “ICANN’s power to control which TLDs will be accepted into the DNS and the entities that will act as registries for those TLDs was delegated to it by the United States Department of Commerce. As a result, whatever monopoly power ICANN may possess was ‘thrust upon’ it as the result of ‘historic accident’ rather than the result of ‘willful acquisition.’”
Meaning, once the contract is let loose, ICANN will likely again argue that is exempt from antitrust. If the organization prevails, it will result in an unaccountable global monopoly over the Internet, leaving no recourse for Americans when it results in censorship.
Right now, if the Commerce Department approves changes to the root zone that result in censorship, somebody could conceivably take the government to federal court for a facial violation of the First Amendment. Post-transition, there will be no such remedy. And that is the real risk of the Internet giveaway.
Hopefully, the newfound unity among Donald Trump and Ted Cruz will give Congressional Republicans the courage they need to ensure that Internet freedom is preserved. In the least kick this issue into the next administration to take a close look at all of these outstanding issues. But that’s only important insofar as Republicans hold majorities in both houses of Congress.
This is one issue that should unite, not only Republicans, but every member of Congress who wants to perform due diligence in ensuring that the Internet remains free and open. Because once we give oversight of the Internet away, we may never get it back.
Robert Romano is the senior editor of Americans for Limited Government.