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The Pay-To-Play Reality of ICANN’s Inclusion Illusion

ICANN’s chairman says meetings offer special “circumstantial opportunity”; recent estimates peg average annual expense for attending at $30,000 per person.

Oops—he’s done it again.

The latest blog update from ICANN’s current board chair needs—no, it demands—a spotlight on what is revealed in plain and unashamed language. Indeed, this communique—along with another recent blog post that I’ve previously commented on—captures in exquisite relief what has gone terribly, horribly wrong at ICANN.

It starts innocently enough but nosedives shortly after dispensing with pleasantries. It is a solemn dirge for a community “accustomed to relying on face-to-face interactions” being confronted rudely by changed circumstances where “the social fabric that normally supports our ability to find consensus—little moments such as running into one another in the hallway or sharing a meal during a meeting—is gone.”

Gone, you say? (sniffle, sob)

Those armed with a stiff upper lip will quickly zero in on the clear admission that attending ICANN’s circus-in-triplicate each year—estimated recently to cost $30,000 per person annually—confers privileged access to those able to scrounge up the shekels. By inference, those participating via remote options are merely part of the live studio audience that may observe but don’t really participate in the on-set action.

After all—that’s for the professionals, right?

At three meetings each year, ICANN is hosting a circuit party for corporate-sponsored shills and geeks—like Miami’s White Party only without the drag queens and foam everywhere. In no way does this foster inclusion and, in no uncertain terms, the chairman of ICANN’s board makes clear that the entire premise of open participation for the management of key Internet resources is a lie.

What solution does he prescribe to his flock of once-and-future privileged in-person meeting attendees? Pick up the phone. Don’t wait for “circumstantial opportunity.” In other words, reach out and touch someone.

So, we have the steward of the Internet’s root zone seemingly bereft at not being able to conduct business in the style of Bismarck and Richelieu—after all, they didn’t have telephonic conveniences, the Internet, or Zoom when they assembled empires; they did it writing long-hand in cursive, not to mention in the snow (both ways!)—while the official guidance on tap was cribbed from AT&T’s long-distance commercials circa 1986.

Are you f-cking kidding me? But wait—as they used to say in late-night infomercials—there’s more! Bizarrely, the post uses an out-of-place quote from that Ghost of Internet Past, Jon Postel:

“Be conservative in what you do, be liberal in what you accept from others.”

When you consider the ideology of the man to whom those words are ascribed, it is difficult to see this as anything other than a smug, crunchy, granola, long-haired SoCal geek’s smart-aleck come-back to the Leftist creed and Socialist commandment:

“From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.”

The most efficient way to game a system that takes what you are able to give while giving you what you need is to be lazy, do as little as possible, and take as much as you can get. Which, as it turns out, is precisely why socialism doesn’t work despite the many failed leftist and Marxist efforts at building utopia by spending other people’s money, using other people’s labor, and sacrificing other people’s lives. Today’s leftists have concluded that prior efforts were sabotaged by the slothful and that trying once more—with spirit!—will finally bring about the collectivist Promised Land.


But pay attention because a reanimated COMINTERN—straight out of cold storage—occupies the root of the global Internet with the assistance of a pay-to-play Self-Importance Society populated by corporate-sponsored shills and government agents that toil alongside leftist comrades from academia, civil society, and the technical community—with a smattering of anti-American zealots sprinkled liberally throughout. Their unholy potpourri of radical social re-engineering and self-interested profiteering is masked by technical complexity—but look past the hokum hocus-pocus and the results of their efforts are plainly seen. The energetic eviscerating of brand protections is juxtaposed by passive abetment of harms being perpetrated in online corners that are darkened by callous denials of the sights and sounds of evil.

Passion from idealists chasing utopian visions and venality from profiteers craving self-interested gains are redirected to serve a darker agenda that subordinates individual freedom to collectivist need—that eponymous yet ineffable “greater good.” This isn’t difficult to see for those that care to look. The utopia that collectivists have failed to manifest “in real life”—despite the millions of human lives spent trying to manufacture it—is now being embedded at the root of the Tomorrowland that is the Internet’s digital realm.

It’s been said that evil’s only tool is deception. This creates an imperative for seeing past the miasma of lies, half-truths and doublespeak currently confounding governance of the Internet and the world. Focus your perspective beyond the false front that is presented, and you’ll see the hocus-pocus for what it actually is: nonsense.

Until you do—whether you realize it or not—the joke’s on you.

By Greg Thomas, Founder of DNSDecrypt

Greg Thomas is founder of DNSDecrypt and author of How to Save the Internet in Three Simple Steps: The Netizen’s Guide to Reboot the Root. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Greg Thomas and and are not made on behalf of or for any other individual or organization.

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Well roared lion! Klaus Stoll  –  Sep 26, 2020 8:54 AM

... and what about those who don’t get paid to participate in ICANN. Even if they lucky to get paid travel expenses, we all know that effective participation in ICANN is a full time plus overtime job.

Well roared lion! There will be many that would like to join your roar of frustration. We feel it too!

But does anybody care? Those part of the “unholly potpouri” live in the knowledge that the are protected by the strong iron fences of resources, priviledge and asumed self-importance. As long as there is IG only by the few for the few and not by the people for the people, there will be no just effective and legitimate IG. What’s holding the people up are those who pretend to represent them, but in reality are only intersted in putting organisation before people, as the recent .org debacle demonstrated. Change will come and quicker then we all expect as the gap between the Internet users reality and the IG reality is not a fault zone that moves by the millimeter a year but is broadening so quickly that the movement can be observed easily. (one only needs to read Circle ID to see the chasm that opened up in the ground and the signs on the wall). When the quake comes, who will survive? The people will not go away,(unless they have been replaced by digital devices that use the Internet to talk to each other),  on the other hand ICANN…

PS: Hey Afilias, Verisign and friends, how long do you want IG of questionable legitimacy and subterianian quality undermine the quality of your product?

OK, that was my roar. It makes me feel better, but changes nothing.
I cannot close without making one point. Nobody, on the ICANN board, staff or community should be blamed personaly. YOU CAN ONLY PLAY AS WELL AS THE HAND THAT HAS BEEN GIVEN TO YOU. Everybody concerned in and with ICANN has been dealt the shittiest hand one can imagine. It does not matter if our poker face is of world champion quality, it is only a matter of time till you and those on the table realize that you have not even a pair. I tried to play, I took my place in the unholy potpouri because I thought I could makes things better. I failed big time! The only thing we can blame ourselves and others for is that we lack the courage to insist on real change.
PPS: If there is any remaining doubt about what to do, let’s do what we allways do. Lets get the the ICANN pride together and roar in unisome:” BLAME THE REGISTRIES!” (As before we will all feel better, but it does not change anything.)

Lots of Complaining, no substantive proposal Jeff Neuman  –  Sep 26, 2020 3:02 PM

Mr. Thomas,

I see a lot of complaints in your latest piece, along with some very impressive vocabulary, but alas I am still scratching my head trying to figure out what it is you are proposing and more importantly why you are proposing it. 

I also did some background searching on you as it is always important to understand the source when evaluating the content.  I noticed the following on Linked in:

Senior Director, External Affiars and Government Relations at VERISIGN(2013-2016).  According to your own Linked in entry, you role was to

“mitigate risks faced by the company as a regulated entity.  Served as chief strategist and oversaw execution during the 2016 transition of the Internet Assigned Names Authority to the private sector. Oversaw messaging, external engagement, and U.S. government relations efforts, including direct advocacy, external lobbyist/consultant management and third-party stakeholder engagement on issues relating to Internet governance, DNS, cybersecurity, and privacy.”

So, weren’t you one of the key beneficiaries of the system you are now complaining about?  And didn’t you personally “lobby” the US Government to get them to relinquish control over ICANN to become an entity free of US Government interference, essentially perpetuating the system you are now so eloquently complaining against?

Full Disclosures:
1.  This is not a complaint about VeriSign at all.  Far from it.  The IANA Transition was essential and I thank you and Verisign (and the work of the ICANN community) for helping to make the transition possible.

2.  I am also not complaining about ICANN here as I believe they have done the best that they could with the huge amount of pressures the organization gets from governments, businesses, civil society, etc. all around the world.  This includes the pressure to hold meetings globally to combat the perception of ICANN being beholden to the US and a truly international body. 

3.  I am currently one of the co-chairs of one of the Policy Development Processes currently underway.  And it has always been my aspiration to make sure that those who participate remotely in meetings are all given the same opportunities as those that are in person.  This is the reason that 99% of work has been done outside of ICANN meetings and non-face-to-face.  In essence everyone that has a voice is by definition remotely participating.

4.  I am not saying that everything is perfect…far from it.  I have a number of articles at my website On how the multistakeholder process is in need of improvement and how that can be done.

Finally, the next time you write an article where you feel the need to complain, feel free to include some proposed solutions on how you would address those issues.  It is easy to complain, but much more difficult to present a solution.

Substantive Proposals John Poole  –  Sep 30, 2020 5:17 PM

The threshold problem and issue is ICANN. ICANN has FAILED the global internet community, including domain name registrants, in so many ways, why continue to persist in ignoring the obvious? ICANN policy making is “dysfunctional by design” and its “consensus decision making” often exhibits groupthink at its worst. ICANN structures are rigged in favor of lobbyists and lawyers representing a few special interests and ICANN’s own “contracted parties,” NOT the “global public interest” nor even the “public interest” as defined by the European Union or any other duly elected governmental authority, including the State of California! Most domain name registrants have NO representation within the “ICANN community” and that is “intentional.” ICANN exists primarily (1) to perpetuate itself — the obscenely overpaid, and oftentimes incompetent, ICANN management, and staff, the inept ICANN Board of Directors, and the “few” who dominate and control the “ICANN community” — and (2) to perpetuate U.S. hegemony over internet governance including the global DNS. ICANN is a “failed organization.” ICANN needs to be replaced. That’s where the global internet community needs to begin, together with a new international treaty governing the internet and global DNS.

Thank you for your comment. Greg Thomas  –  Sep 30, 2020 10:54 PM

Herr Stoll: Thank you for your comment to my recent post. Your insightful and supportive comments to this and earlier posts are much appreciated. All the best, Greg

Thank you for commenting. Greg Thomas  –  Sep 30, 2020 11:05 PM

Jeff: I couldn’t have asked for such a vivid illustration of the concerns I am highlighting and thanks to your comment I don’t have to. Signed, Greg

Request for additional information Mark Datysgeld  –  Sep 28, 2020 5:43 PM

Mr. Thomas, can you please provide a source to the “estimated recently to cost $30,000 per person annually” quote? Would be interesting to have.

Mr Datysgeld: Please see Mr. Poole’s earlier Greg Thomas  –  Sep 30, 2020 11:26 PM

Mr Datysgeld: Please see Mr. Poole’s earlier response and link. It was a figure cited in a 2018 post from his DomainMondo watchdog blog that was my original source and considering his data comes from published ICANN financial accounting reports, it’s unlikely to be refuted. Regards, Greg

$30,000 per person annually - ICANN Pay-to-Play John Poole  –  Sep 30, 2020 5:24 AM

Greg may have a better “source” but you could start here:
“In 1st place with $27,396 in 2017 #ICANN travel spending is elite Mideast airline flyer and superfan of the foot foto, Cheryl Langdon-Orr”—https://twitter.com/EyeOnICANN/status/948579706831605760

Dear Mr. Poole:Thank you for quickly responding Greg Thomas  –  Sep 30, 2020 11:38 PM

Dear Mr. Poole: Thank you for quickly responding to the question about travel expenses — it was entirely appropriate since you were my original source for the data point anyway. You had a 2018 post about it and you also included it in your lengthy, detailed, and positively scathing indictment of ICANN which you submitted to NTIA’s RFI related to “International Internet Policy Priorities” — hands down the single most valuable comment submitted and an invaluable contribution for benefit of the public interest. It may amuse you to learn that it was my inability to satisfy suspicions that I was behind the Domain Mondo blog — in essence, that I was John Poole — that, more than any other single thing, caused my sharp directional career change in April 2016. Obviously it was the product of a combination of many things but it was the Domain Mondo suspicions that became the catalyst for change. Obviously, we both know that I am not John Poole. But your work is important — please keep it up. All the best, Greg

Not worth to take it seriously Wolf-Ulrich Knoben  –  Oct 1, 2020 10:24 PM

Mr. Thomas,
your article appears to me written by a furious wood chopper recognizing in a forest just wood but no trees. In the ICANN community there is a big need for support from constructive volunteers and not for comments from destructive sides. The literary vocabulary used cannot hide the peak of ignorance when comparisons are made to a “socialist/leftist/Marxist/collectivist” environment.
Sorry, just ridiculous!

Mr. Knoben:Thank you for further illustrating the Greg Thomas  –  Oct 2, 2020 2:26 AM

Mr. Knoben: Thank you for further illustrating the arrogant and exclusionary culture plaguing ICANN — both the organization as well as the codependent community of contracted parties and other stakeholders which surrounds it. My article didn’t cover much new ground but rather voiced concerns that have been raised elsewhere and are shared by many. By eroding the legitimacy of private sector-led multistakeholder Internet governance, the ICANN organization’s corruption and the community’s complicity and/or impotence in the face of it are a clear and present danger to the continued existence of a single, unified, and interoperable network of networks. It is unsurprising that some interests are blind to this — in the very literary words of Upton Sinclair, “It is impossible to make a man see that which he is paid not to see,” — but I can assure you that I won’t be deterred or dissuaded until the rot is excised from the root of the global Internet. Greg

Huh? Karl Auerbach  –  Oct 2, 2020 8:19 AM

I can’t say that I followed the course of your argument to its conclusion.

However, a couple of observations:  Jon Postel’s quote pertained to internet protocols:  That an implementation should be careful and be conservative in its use of protocol options, interactions, or encodings.  But it should be quite liberal in accepting those kinds of things in packets received from the other end.  My business is testing internet protocols for robust behavior and I often see code that tickles the dragon’s tail by unnecessarily using options or encodings beyond what are strictly necessary - often resulting in a protocol failure.  I also see a lot of code that has a Procrustean view of things it gets from the other side - any variation and a protocol exception is emitted and the communication degrades or fails.

In other words, Jon’s quote was about technical matters.

Regarding ICANN and costs - yup it is expensive.  I know - because all of my participation (except when I was on the board) was paid out of my own personal pocket.

But feeling excluded from ICANN and being relegated to observer status is nothing new - the community of internet users has been in that role since ICANN began.

Yes, ICANN has become a regulatory body.  And like many such, it has been captured by those it purports to regulate and gives only the most pro forma of nods in the direction of those for whose benefit ICANN exists.

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