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Internet, Ex-Im Provisions Likely in Spending Bill

Cruz is hitting the trail for vulnerable member of Senate leadership. (Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

A pair of legislative provisions involving internet domain names and the Export-Import Bank are working their way into a wide-ranging bill to fund the government past Sept. 30, according to senators involved in the negotiations.

Senate Republican Conference Chairman John Thune of South Dakota told reporters Wednesday he is “pretty confident” that language stopping or delaying the transition of the domain name-governing body away from U.S. control will be included in the highly anticipated text of a continuing resolution.

The Ex-Im language would change the standards regarding a bank quorum and make it possible for the bank to guarantee large loans.

Democrats are not fond of the internet domain name provision, but they are willing to accept a version of it in exchange for the Ex-Im language, a Democratic aide told Morning Consult. Many Republicans oppose the Ex-Im language, including Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.). But Shelby acknowledged to reporters Tuesday evening that “a lot of people” would vote for it anyway.

The CR is expected to include funding to combat the Zika virus. Lawmakers are also discussing adding funding for Flint, Mich., to assist with its water crisis, which would be paired with aid to Louisiana to recover from floods.

The internet provision, pushed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), surfaced in the past week as a major barrier in the negotiations of the CR.

Thune said Wednesday most of the GOP conference agrees with Cruz. “I would say the prevailing view among Republicans at the moment is that we are all in the same place, that at least for now we want to do what we can to delay it,” Thune told reporters following a Senate Commerce Committee markup.

A spokesman for Thune declined to elaborate on the length or specifics of such a delay, which would halt the domain name authority from being transferred to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.

The concerns harbored by GOP members suggests the delay could be lengthy.

NetChoice Director Steve DelBianco, who was directly involved in the transition negotations, told Morning Consult in an email such a delay shouldn’t be a logistical problem for NTIA. “NTIA can simply notify ICANN anytime up to 30-September that it wishes to extend the contract.”

“The extension could be for a full year, but NTIA and ICANN can agree to a shorter extension,” DelBianco said. “I believe the international community will be disappointed, but I doubt the [United Nations] would move quickly to assert that it should assume the contract role asserted by the U.S. government.”

Cruz has pressed to add language to the spending bill to force the Commerce Department to renew their contract with the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, which is set to expire in 10 days.

Cruz thinks the IANA should remain at the Commerce Department indefinitely, but he told reporters Wednesday he is open to a delay in the transition. “I would support any efforts to prevent or delay the Obama administration’s misguided plan that undermines free speech on the internet,” he said.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, a sub-agency of the Commerce Department, currently runs the IANA, the body that oversees the core functions of the internet domain names used by service providers to traffic data worldwide.

The brewing delay still has its critics in Congress. Several top Democrats involved in tech policy said in an opinion piece Wednesday that postponing the transition could endanger internet governance more broadly.

“If the Republicans successfully delay the transition, America’s enemies are sure to pounce,” Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz of Hawaii and Chris Coons of Delaware wrote in an op-ed in TechCrunch. “Russia and its allies could push to shift control of the internet’s core functions to a government body like the U.N. where they have more influence.”

The top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Frank Pallone of New Jersey, and the ranking member of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee, Anna Eshoo of California, co-authored the op-ed with fellow committee Democrat, Doris Matsui of California.

The Democratic lawmakers argued that a failed transition would lead to some governments attempting to create a new numbering system. That could fracture the internet and “effectively destroy the world-wide-web.”

Cruz, for his part, ratcheted up his own campaign to stop the transition in a Daily Signal opinion piece co-authored with Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.).

“By ending U.S. oversight, the Obama administration will disempower the American people and empower China, Russia, and Iran, putting those regimes one step closer to their goal” of controlling the internet, Cruz and Duffy wrote.

That particular argument has been effectively proven false. Politifact, the inventor of the internet Tim Berners-Lee, The Washington Post fact checker, the head of NTIA and the ICANN head have all said Cruz’s assertions on internet censorship are incorrect.

But there are other questions. Thune and Grassley joined House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) in writing a letter to top U.S. officials noting concerns about the ICANN.

The lawmakers cited a report from an independent review panel that found the ICANN’s board and legal staff ignored the group’s bylaws in a decision to deny an American firm’s application for the new domains of .inc, .llc and .llp.

“We have serious concerns about the ability to ensure that ICANN would follow its own bylaws if the administration were to relinquish the IANA functions contract,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker.

Republicans have pressed against the current timeline set by the government and the ICANN and are unlikely to impose another deadline The issues brought up by senior GOP members also won’t get quick answers, if any at all.

The NTIA conducted a report on the transition and found that the proposal to transfer power to the ICANN met all their criteria.

Tech companies including Amazon.com Inc., Facebook Inc. and Google Inc. all support the transition.

Brendan Bordelon contributed.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly interpreted a statement from Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) about Ex-Im.