ICANN crunch meeting begins

Budget battle to define future of Net body

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has completed the first day of its crunch meeting in Kuala Lumpur that will decide the overseeing organisation's fate.

ICANN head Dr Paul Twomey confessed to feeling a little tired in a conference call at 6pm local time but otherwise sounded quietly confident that he will be able to resolve the fundamental issues that are blighting its efforts to become the world's Internet authority.

And chief among these is the issue of ICANN's budget for 2005. Coming in at $15.8m, it is an 91 per cent increase on last year's $8.27m. Needless to say, this has raised a few eyebrows and even more hackles.

First there was the Council of European National Top Level Domain Registries (CENTR) - an organisation which represents the registries of 39 countries - whose head, Paul Kane accused ICANN of a "lack of financial prudence" and refused to support it "financially or otherwise". And then came an alliance of 75 registrars, which said ICANN's method of getting the extra funding was going to put smaller registrars out of business. They stated emphatically in a letter: "We therefore DO NOT support the current budget."

However, the man behind drawing up the budget - head of Business Operations, Kurt Pritz - spoke to us to defend the package. And Paul Twomey claimed today that their model, following "some minor changes" was "getting close support" from registrars.

Goals Galore

The line taken by Twomey and Pritz is one of obligations. Under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the US government's Department of Commerce and ICANN in September 2003, ICANN signed up to meet 24 objectives . It has achieved seven of them to date (Organizational Structure Review, Administrative Structure and Personnel Review; Corporate Responsibility Review; First InterNIC WHOIS Data Problem Reports System Report; Status Report; Strategic Plan, Contingency Plan; and Financial Strategy Development Review, Corporate Compliance Program Review).

It needs to complete the rest of them within the next two-and-a-half years and the budget has been formulated around this exact need - no more, no less.

Few, if any, of those that have been called upon to provide funds to meet the vastly increased budget will be able to argue with these stated aims. ICANN still provides the Internet community with a theoretical, if not always practical, decision-making power. If it fails to meet the terms of the MoU with the US government, its entire future is at risk, and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) will step in in its place. The ITU, on however, will always hold governments' opinions in higher regard than Net communities.

Pritz told us: "We have to accomplish goals - 15 goals, many with sub-goals and many have due dates." The budget was created by writing the objectives down and working what was needed to do them in time. "After we had done that, we took 25 to 30 per cent out of budget, and then met with ccTLDs and registrars, representatives of RIRs to explain it," he said, adding: "I recognise there is some frustration, but we have to meet our obligations."

Twomey reiterated the same view, adding that many of the remaining "steps" were due diligence steps and that ICANN was now in a strong position to meet them - the implication being that without the full budget that won't be the case. The budget was moving ICANN to a more "business-like approach" where there would be a better "alignment of revenue streams".

But is that really the case? Does ICANN really need that extra money or is it just trying to grab as much as it can?

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