ICANN banked $60m from dot-word auctions. Just what exactly is it going to spend it all on?

Chairman forced to show hand on gTLD piggybank's fate

The chairman of ICANN has finally been pushed into revealing his plans for the $60m the domain-name overseer has banked from auctioning off the rights to dot-words.

The $60m (£40m) – or $58,819,832 to be precise – was raised from organizations competing to set up registries for new generic top-level domains like .ping ($1.5m), .vip ($3m) and .app ($25m). (These are the public ICANN-run auctions; companies could choose to fight over dot-words in private without ICANN.)

The DNS overlord has promised to safeguard the money, and allocate it according to the internet community's wishes following a consultation. But despite repeated prodding, plans to do exactly that were rebuffed by ICANN board chairman Steve Crocker in an email this week.

"The Board has not chartered any group to make decisions about the auction funds, and we plan to proceed very deliberately," Crocker told the organization's main policy making body. "Input from the CCWG [Cross Community Working Group] will be quite welcome, but so will inputs from other sources."

That response angered members of the broader ICANN organization, whom the board is supposed to represent.

"'I hope this is consistent with your understanding and expectations'," one long-time ICANN community member quoted from Crocker's email, adding, "No it's not."

After nearly a year of stonewalling by Crocker over how the money will be allocated, the different arms of ICANN had agreed to set up a Cross Community Working Group (CCWG) to "develop a plan" for the auction proceeds. On Tuesday, ICANN's GNSO Council decided to set up a drafting team and create a charter for that group. ICANN's chairman sent the aforementioned email the very next day.

"We will proceed very shortly with a call for inputs on general ideas and concepts, not specific projects," Crocker wrote. "We make a point of reaching outside the usual ICANN ... structures to include the rest of the Internet community. We will, of course, be glad to mention the CCWG effort as one of the ways for people to be involved."

Deja vu

More troublesome is the fact that ICANN has already backtracked once on a promise as to how it will spend the millions it has received in total through the new gTLD process.

When Crocker and former ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom were asked how the organization would spend the money received through the $185,000-a-throw application fees for the new gTLD program back in 2012, they assured the internet community it would be ring-fenced, spent only on issues related to the program, and that every cent would be accounted for. Any remaining funds would be spent according to the internet community's wishes.

Despite repeated requests for a consultation exercise to be opened, however, ICANN has insisted that it remains uncertain if there will be any money left over.

Now, with most of the process completed, tens of millions of dollars remain unspent. Meanwhile, ICANN has more than doubled its expenses and provided very little real accounting or explanation for how that money was spent. Once item that we know has increased is the money and expenses paid to ICANN board members – which averaged $90,000 per member from July 2013 to July 2014.

The organization has still yet to announce any plans to hold a community consultation. ®

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