Is domain overlord ICANN the FIFA of the internet? We'll know this weekend

Future master-of-the-web heading down dangerous path

15 Reg comments Got Tips?

Hotels, airplanes, and outreach

Just like FIFA, the ICANN Board has created numerous sub-committees of itself tasked with overseeing the organization's – and their own – actions.

The organization pays for outside consultants to produce reports that the subcommittees themselves commission and review. The Board sub-committees then consider such reports at face-to-face meetings.

Those meetings take place all over the world and are frequently – though not always – appended at the beginning or the end of other ICANN meetings, where representatives from the internet community are invited to attend to discuss issues of importance. In addition, the ICANN Board has several "retreats" each year, all expenses paid.

While the small group of individuals that travel to such ICANN meetings will often complain about the demands on time that these trips entail, the reality is that they take place in the world's most popular cities and attendees are almost always put up in five-star hotels.

Many travelling business class, all meals are paid for and evenings are often spent at high-end restaurants. ICANN picks up the tab. Attendees frequently arrive several days early and stay several days after each meeting to enjoy the city they are in. The organization turns a collective blind eye.

Efforts to move such meetings to a select number of hub cities that are easy to access have been repeatedly shelved. Next month, ICANN will meet in Dublin. In June, it was in Buenos Aires. Before that, in February, Singapore. In March, it will go to Marrakesh.

And these are just the public meetings. Smaller meetings of working groups this year have taken place in Paris, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Los Angeles, and London.

ICANN provides only annual summaries and sums of such expenses while placing millions of dollars in other similar expenses under catch-all budget items.

In 2014 alone, ICANN's "travel" costs jumped by 85 per cent to $17m; its meetings budget nearly doubled from an average of $3.2m per public meeting in 2013 to $6m in 2014.

This largesse is far more insidious than wasted funds however. Increasingly, the ability to influence the organization is dependent on the ability to attend such meetings. And that ability is almost entirely dependent on whether ICANN will pick up your costs. The corporation is exerting more and more influence on the community that it is supposed to be serving. The tail has started wagging the dog.

This unequal relationship has become so pervasive that when six of the 26 members of the working group that will meet in Los Angeles this weekend said they were unable to attend at such short notice, even if their flights, food, and accommodation were paid for, ICANN simply asked their representative group to name six other people whose tabs it would then pick up.

This level of control, and of total reliance on the corporation, is a breeding ground for the sort of corruption that became endemic in FIFA. What's more, it makes the larger community complicit.

If you have been flown halfway across the world to a city you've always wanted to visit, been put up in a five-star hotel for three nights, and spent each night being wined and dined at high-end restaurants, are you then going to complain about excessive spending by others?

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