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Target lost, Cruz missile misses: Ted's ICANN crusade is basically over

IANA transition from US govt hands looks likely as senators head home for election

An effort to disrupt the handover of critical internet technical tasks from the US government to DNS overseer ICANN appears to have petered out.

The US Senate is due to take a vote Monday afternoon on a "continuing resolution" to keep the government funded through to the end of the year, taking the issue off the table prior to elections in November.

Since the IANA contract is due to end on September 30, the resolution would allow the transition to continue by not blocking it.

The Senate vote is procedural and doesn't represent a cut-off, but it is a clear sign that Congress is backing away from a threat to defund government until a number of issues are resolved.

Those issues delayed the vote by a week and were threatening to escalate into a similar showdown as in 2013, when the refusal of Democrats to undercut Obamacare led to a government shutdown.

Among the topics of fierce debate are: funding for the Zika virus; flood relief for Louisiana; funding of Planned Parenthood; and Syrian refugees.

But Senator Ted Cruz has been leading the charge in recent weeks to add the transition of the IANA contract to that list, claiming that it would both undermine free speech on the internet and hand power over to authoritarian regimes such as Russia and China.

Letter writing

That crusade appeared to be paying off earlier this month when four Congressional chairmen sent a letter to the Commerce Secretary and Attorney General asking them to reconsider the plan. That was followed by the introduction of legislation into both the House and Senate aimed at delaying the transition.

Cruz also managed to elicit significant press coverage for his plan by holding a Senate hearing in which he lambasted the US government official in charge of the plan and ICANN's new CEO. At the hearing, he railed against attacks on the First Amendment, painted a dystopian view of the internet's future, and even threatened to send people to jail.

The performance led to equally determined efforts by those in favor of the transition – including tech companies and internet governance experts – to point out why Cruz's warnings were wildly off the mark.

Ultimately however, it is the legacy of Cruz's previous successful effort to shut down the government that may allow the IANA transition to move forward.

Despite a sense of certainty in 2013 that a showdown over Obamacare would play to their political advantage, the government shutdown was widely viewed as a supreme example of Congress putting petty political games ahead of the country's needs. Since Republicans had manufactured the impasse, they were held most to blame.

With elections less than two months away, and with Congressmen keen to get back to their constituencies in order to drum up votes, the risk associated with forcing a government shutdown is both high and difficult to quantify.

Not only do the wild claims about the risks of the IANA transition come from the same senator who led them into the last shutdown, but the loss of a few Senate seats could lead to the Democrats seizing control of one part of Congress. In other words, it's just not worth it.

It is, of course, still possible that the Senate will include a rider blocking the IANA transition in its continuing resolution, and it is possible that President Obama would agree to that block in order to keep government funded. But both look significantly less likely leading in the penultimate week of September. ®

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