Sen. Ted Cruz is holding up a bipartisan bill whose defenders say must pass in order for America to gain more credibility on Internet issues. The reason? Politics.
Cruz has argued that the bill, known as the DOTCOM Act, would allow the Internet to be "handed over" to countries like China and Russia that don't share U.S. values when it comes to freedom of speech and expression.
But the bill's backers say it does no such thing — and they're probably right.
The DOTCOM Act would allow the U.S. government to transfer its power to oversee the Internet's naming and addressing system — what turns www.google.com into a viewable Web page — over to the international community. While this might sound like giving the Internet to America's rivals, Washington actually ceded those powers long ago, and it retains them in name only. Today, that managing function is performed by a nonprofit called the International Corporation for Names and Numbers, or ICANN.
ICANN itself is governed by a whole slew of international actors, not just governments. And its executives have been adamant that states will never have sole decision-making power in the body. Right now, governments serve an advisory function only, so even if China and Russia wanted to take control of the Internet, as Cruz claims, they'd have to get through everyone else who opposed it first.
"Holding up this broadly supported legislation now only undermines Congress's role in the process," the DOTCOM Act's author, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), told Politico Tuesday.
For Cruz, opposing the DOTCOM Act scores him political points with the Republican base, which largely favors a hawkish foreign policy. But Cruz is practically alone in his criticism of the transition of Internet authority; even former critics of the idea, such as Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), voted for the bill because it places a congressional check on the process.
The DOTCOM Act passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in the House, by a margin of 375-28, last month. It's considered one of the first major achievements for Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. To its supporters, the legislation trades a largely useless legal authority for much more valuable moral authority.
But now the bill has stalled in the Senate. Only one person is responsible, and he wants you to know it.