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Internet body ICANN is having trouble persuading nations to cough up for this year's budget.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers aims to collect around $1.5 million from 250 countries by 30 June - the end of its financial year. Failure to do so may jeopardise its self-sufficiency – crucial to its proposed take-over of world Web decisions from the US government.

South Africa is ICANN's biggest headache – the country has indicated it might not pay its Internet tax, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. New Zealand was also said to be moaning about its invoice.

Charges are worked out according to how many registered Web sites each country has – ranging from $500 (Zimbabwe) to $500,000 (Germany). But it is claimed some poorer nations can't afford even the cheapest charges, and as ICANN has no teeth, it will be unable to force payment.

"It is highly unlikely that payment will be made," Mike Lawrie, who helps run South Africa's "za" domain, told the WSJ. An unhappy Lawrie emailed Michael Roberts, ICANN CEO, saying South Africa couldn't afford to pay its $17,520 bill because it didn't charge users to register URLs.

He also disputed there was any "clearly defined benefit" to paying, claiming the bill amounted to an "arbitrary tax".

The $1.5 million fund was intended to make up 35 per cent of ICANN's $4.3 million budget – the rest comes from private companies that have registered domains ending in .com, .net or .org.

"We need to get money," admitted Roberts, who warned that countries' failure to support the group could stop the US government loosening its control on the Web. ®

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