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Is domain overlord ICANN the FIFA of the internet? We'll know this weekend
Future master-of-the-web heading down dangerous path
'Special funds requests'
It's not just ICANN meetings either. Increasingly, ICANN has been paying for those within its "supporting organizations" and "advisory committees" to attend other meetings under the pretext of "outreach" or as part of "pilot projects."
In 2015, ICANN paid out $680,000 in "special funds requests." In FY 2016, it plans to spend $1.4m. All funds are approved by ICANN's staff according to its own criteria and under its complete discretion.
And that's just the spending that ICANN makes public. Under pressure, late last year, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé was forced to reveal that ICANN had approved $200,000 to be spent on the "NETmundial Initiative." The initiative was his own pet project to involve ICANN in broader internet governance discussions by teaming up with the World Economic Forum and the Brazilian government. The plan met furious opposition from the internet community, many of whom refused to join or endorse it, but ICANN continues to fund it.
That $200,000 was a pittance compared to the millions that ICANN spent on creating a one-off NETmundial meeting in Sao Paulo earlier in 2014 after Chehadé had met with Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and decided that such a meeting should be arranged.
But Chehadé faced howls of protest from the internet community that he was committing the organization and millions of dollars on a personal whim. Which led to one of the most eyebrow-raising events of 2014: ICANN's Board then published a resolution approving Chehadé's actions and claimed it had done so before his meeting.
The Board explained it had withheld the resolution until later for unspecified confidentiality reasons. No one believed it, but, again, what could be done? The community has no ability to question Board members or gain access to internal documents. Whatever the Board says happened is what happened.
Last year, the internet community insisted on having independent legal advice over its plans for the IANA transition, because ICANN's legal position was that much of what was being suggested was either legally not possible or actually illegal.
Even though that independent advice was expected to directly contradict ICANN's own legal advice, ICANN offered to pick up the cost of it. And the internet community, so used to having ICANN pick up their tab, agreed.
That soft influence developed into hard influence at critical points, however. ICANN's legal team pushed for and was invited to join a closed group that decided a key question over how the IANA contract should be handled. It emerged with the answer it has sought.
Later, when the internet community asked for assertions made by ICANN's lawyers to be verified, ICANN Board members repeatedly questioned the cost of that advice and whether it was justified.