Late Tuesday night, after the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Republican leaders in Congress released a $1.15 trillion budget proposal. It's a massive bill with several huge points of contention, including tax breaks and military spending, but nestled within its 2,009 pages is a small provision that could frustrate attempts to loosen the country's grip on governance of the web.
It's a contentious issue. Since 1998, the nonprofit organization ICANN has managed the IP and DNS systems that form the heart of the web, under the oversight of the US government. But other governments, especially in the wake of the NSA spying scandal, have asked for more control over the basic functions of the internet. Different countries want different levels of control, but there's already some agreement (including within parts of the US government) that DNS governance should not be the responsibility of a single country. And in March of last year, the US Department of Commerce prepared to relinquish some of the government's authority to oversee ICANN.
Republicans may have underestimated bureaucracy
ICANN released a proposed plan to break up with the US government this August. The proposal seemed to address Republican concerns of an international takeover of the internet by prohibiting any governmental organizations from exercising oversight. But despite the proposal, the 2016 funding bill released Tuesday night prohibits the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) from spending any money "to relinquish the responsibility of the [NTIA]... with respect to internet domain name system functions," through next year. It's the same language Congress passed in its last omnibus spending bill, which blocked the NTIA from taking action until September 30th, 2015.
Still, even Republicans worried about an international takeover of the internet may have underestimated the unyielding slog of bureaucracy. Congress' effort to block the handover may end up being moot since it looks like the government will need a lot of time to study it; the NTIA says it could take until late next year to complete an evaluation process, and it has already renewed its relationship with ICANN through September 30th, 2016 — the same day Congress' proposed budget would expire.