ICANN not out of woods yet

ICANN has pulled in funding from private donors, including BT, but still needs $1m to operate through November.

Saddled with more than $800,000 (£496,000) in debt, the non-profit organisation set up by the US government to infuse competition into the business of registering Internet addresses received $650,000 in loans from two high-tech companies in recent days and says it needs $1m more to pay debts and to operate through November.

The Internet for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, said it received one-year, unsecured loans of $500,000 from telecommunications company MCI Worldcom and $150,000 from network-equipment maker Cisco Systems In addition, ICANN Chief Executive Mike Roberts said the group is in discussions with at least four other major high-tech companies, all of which he says likely will make either loans or contributions to help keep ICANN running. Roberts is expected to announce the MCI Worldcom and Cisco loans and maybe others later this week.

Roberts said it is in tech companies' best interest to provide ICANN financial assistance, because the group's mission is crucial to the future of the Internet and electronic commerce. "I think [companies who contribute] are persuaded that this effort is not going to fail because of a lack of money," said ICANN General Counsel Joe Sims, who along with Roberts and ICANN Chairwoman Esther Dyson have quietly approached several major companies for donations since June.

ICANN was formed by the government to help new companies compete against Network Solutions, to which the government once gave control over the business of registering all Internet addresses ending in ".com", ".net" and ".org". But the group receives no government funding. The Clinton administration left it up to ICANN's board to determine how it would derive revenue to support its $5.9m annual budget.

Last spring, the board thought it had found its answer: It floated a plan to add a $1 fee to each new domain-name registered. In June, after complaints from Internet denizens who saw the potential fee as a tax, Congress forced ICANN to scrap the plan. That forced ICANN to go trolling for cash among Silicon Valley and telecommunications firms. Since early July, British Telecommunications and a Japanese non-profit organisation, the Japan Network Information Center, have donated $25,000 each.

Several troubles ICANN faces troubles on several fronts. It has been plagued by technical delays in its schedule to introduce new players into the market, criticism from Internet insiders and rival Network Solutions over the group's mission, and a congressional probe.

Last week, House Commerce Committee Chairman Tom Bliley fired off a letter asking Roberts for ICANN's financial documents and an outline of its fund-raising activities. Bliley is concerned that a White House senior official may have helped ICANN canvass for funds; White House officials are banned from such fund-raising activities. The White House wouldn't comment on the matter.

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