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Europe sticks up two fingers at ICANN budget

You ain't getting the money, son

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The proposed 2004-5 budget for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has hit a snag - the rest of the world is refusing to pay its share of the bill.

ICANN last week proposed a budget of $15.8m for next year, nearly twice as much as its current annual expenditure.

However, the Council of European National Top Level Domain Registries (CENTR) - an organisation which represents the Internet registries of 39 countries - is refusing to play ball.

In a letter dated 26 May [pdf], and addressed to Paul Twomey, the head of ICANN, this powerful body has revealed its irritation with ICANN's attempt to become a global Internet institution.

The three-page missive by CENTR chairman Paul Kane makes it plain that ccTLDs (country code top level domains) are unprepared to offer the additional finance that ICANN wants. Also the letter questions ICANN motives in seeking the budget hike.

ICANN knew it was liable to anger the rest of the world's countries by asking them for more money, so it increased the amount it asked from them by less than a third - where most others will have to pay double. ICANN even accepted that ccTLDs would pay less in "ICANN-tax" - 20 cents on a domain rather than the 25 cents for everyone else. This approach has been dismissed out of hand.

In its letter, CENTR accuses ICANN of a "lack of financial prudence" and refuses to support it "financially or otherwise" in its "unrealistic political and operational targets".

This is not good and at the centre of it lies the function of the Internet Assigned Names Authority (IANA) - which is the control panel of the Internet. The rest of the world is unhappy with the way ICANN uses its control over IANA. And ICANN will relinquish control of IANA over its dead body.

Unfortunately for ICANN, CENTR asks a legitimate question: how come that IANA has gone from costing $250,000 in 1996 to $5m next year when the amount of work has barely moved? That's a 20-fold increase, the letter points out.

"The draft budget seems inordinately high," the letter states, and threatens "last year, ICANN secured around $600,000 from ccTLD registries, it would be prudent to expect the global income from ccTLD registries for this year to be around the same" (our emphasis).

This is not what you would call a friendly response. But it gets worse. "We also question the appropriateness of ICANN operating any Root Servers directly" - root servers are the main reference bibles for the Internet, there are 13 dotted around the world but most are in the US. "Root Servers according to ICANN's own Security and Stability Committee should be located at key peering points and managed by dedicated infrastructure personnel. There are many in the community more suitably qualified to run the Root Servers than ICANN..."

In short, if the budget was a brilliantly assembled prospectus for ICANN opening up as the Internet school par excellence, CENTR has informed its head that most of the pupils will not be attending next year unless it reduces its fees and makes changes to the curriculum.

So what, you say? ICANN is looking at a $15.8m budget and ccTLDs only account for just over $1m of that. Leave them to their own devices.

Except without the rest of the world on side, ICANN is master of nothing but its own backyard. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has already made it clear that it would like to take over, and if ICANN can't get worldwide consensus, the ITU will be in a strong position.

ICANN is relying on the fact that Europe's Internet registries (although CENTR, despite its name, represents far more than just European interests) will want to have ICANN in charge more than they will want an international body controlled by governments (the ITU). With ICANN pulling in governments and asking for funds to become the Internet body, the distinction between it and the ITU blurs - and not in its favour.

We have a Mexican stand-off and currently ICANN has more to lose. ®

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