WASHINGTON A U.S. Congressional panel on Thursday advanced a bill opposed by the Obama administration that would delay a plan to cede U.S. oversight of the nonprofit group that manages the Internet's infrastructure.
The United States in March said it planned to relinquish oversight of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which controls the "address book" of the Internet, the master database of top-level domain names such as .com and .net.
The U.S. contract with ICANN will expire in September 2015, and the Commerce Department said it plans to turn over the oversight capacity to a global multi-stakeholder mechanism, the specifics of which the ICANN community will propose.
The Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee on Thursday voted to advance the Domain Openness Through Continued Oversight Matters Act, or the DOTCOM Act. The bill would require the Government Accountability Office to study the proposed changes and report back before the Commerce Department can give up oversight.
"All we are saying is, can we just stop a minute and let the GAO take a look before the U.S. government (makes the move)?" said Representative Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican who chairs the communication and technology subcommittee.
The panel rejected two Democrats' amendments, one of which sought to add language that asserted Congress' support of the multi-stakeholder Internet governance model - a measure the House unanimously approved last year.
"That throws sand in the gears in terms of what you all voted for, 413-to-zero," said Representative Anna Eshoo, Democrat from California. "I don't know what has entered your mind that has you making a U-turn."
Internationally, the U.S. plan to move toward a globalised administration of the Web was widely seen as long overdue, especially following last year's revelations by former contractor Edward Snowden of vast Internet surveillance conducted by the U.S. National Security Agency.
That sentiment was echoed in April at a global conference on the management of the Internet hosted by Brazil, where most participants agreed it should remain a self-regulated space free of government intervention.
However, domestically, the plan has provoked a backlash from conservatives and others. They worry it may open the door for countries interested in limiting citizens' access to some online information, such as China or Russia, to use ICANN as a venue to push for more restrictive Internet governance policies.
"We'd be best advised to slow down, take a thorough review and realize that once (oversight) is gone, it's gone," said Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee.
So far there has been no date set for consideration of the bill by the full House, and no matching legislation in the Democrat-controlled Senate.
(Reporting by Alina Selyukh, editing by Ros Krasny and Andrew Hay)