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ICANN CEO criticizes domain 'hoggers'

But just who's eating at the trough?

ICANN's CEO has infuriated domain investors by dismissing them as domain "hoggers" in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Talking about the introduction of hundreds of new top-level domains, and prompted by the interviewer about the risk of "landgrabs" under the new names, Chehade gave what some feel was a telling answer:

"The reality is, the more there are names, the less people will actually be hogging names in order to charge a lot for them. Because if somebody took your name on dot-x, you can go get another name on dot-y now.

"We went from 20-something to top-level domains to hundreds now… We think it will actually reduce cybersquatting eventually."

That response - particularly connecting domain investors with cybersquatters - sparked a furious response from the industry. One veteran and blogger Michael Berkens pointed out that all those "hogged" domains contribute a significant amount of ICANN's budget and that many of the applicants for new gTLDs - from which ICANN has received millions of dollars in fees - come from the domaining world.

"ICANN has taken in a tremendous amount of money off the back of us 'hogging up domains'," complained Berkens. He also pointed out that the largest single new gTLD applicant, Donuts - which applied for over 300 extensions and so contributed over $50m to ICANN's coffers - made much its money from domainers.

Calling Chehade's comments "pretty ignorant", Berkens highlighted the huge salary and expenses that the CEO is awarded and urged him not to "bite the hand that feeds you".

Just who pays your wages?

That anger has been picked up across the domaining world and highlights an increasing gulf between the policymakers, who often talk about the industry they oversee in disdainful terms, and domain investors who provide the industry with much of its innovation and funding.

At the recent NamesCon conference in Las Vegas, all the main policy keynoters emphasized that the industry was viewed negatively and that they need to improve their image.

At the same time, that industry is increasingly irritated at the salaries and expenses that ICANN's staff and Board pay themselves - with limited fiscal oversight. Chehade, for example, spent $363,000 in FY2014 on travel alone [PDF], on top of $814,000 in salary and an additional $156,000 on expenses. Over $2m was provided to Board members at the non-profit organization.

Chehade's appearance at the elite Davos conference has also been at the end of some withering comments, with some noting that the average cost for attending is $40,000 and others asking how many ICANN staff were attending with the CEO.

While ICANN has seen its budget triple in the past year thanks to application fees for new gTLDs, its COO refused to spend any of that money on an awareness campaign to boost registrations, saying that as far as ICANN was concerned it has "done its job".

Similar frustration was expressed when the gala at ICANN's last conference in its home town of Los Angeles was cancelled when the company withdrew its offer of $150,000 alongside sponsors' $250,000 saying "we shouldn't be in the business of spending lots of money on galas".

At the same time, eyebrows were raised when Chehade announced ICANN had put $200,000 into his pet project, the NetMundial Initiative. That was despite public criticism of the plan by many of ICANN's constituencies and a refusal by the technical community to take part.

It's not just money either. ICANN is at the centre of a debate over how the critical IANA contract should be transitioned away from the US government. Much of the debate surrounding that move has been focused on the lack of trust the internet community feels toward ICANN, in particular its levels of accountability.

In that current atmosphere, Chehade's comments at an elite meeting of the world's business and political leaders in Davos will serve only to highlight the gulf between ICANN's leadership and the community it is supposed to be serving. ®

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