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Thirty-Three Million and Counting

John Levine

Two weeks ago I blogged about ICANN's astonishingly lucrative domain auctions. At that time, they'd raised $26.7 million. Now, two auctions later, they're up to about $33 million.

Yesterday's two auctions were for .MLS and .BABY. The former, for those who aren't deep into the real estate biz, stands for Multiple Listing Service, the system that lets you list a house with one broker, and all the other brokers can sell it. The Canadian MLS association filed two applications, one community supported and one not. ICANN rejected the community one on the (not unreasonable) grounds that MLS meant a lot of things other than Canadian real estate, from multiple listing services other places to Major League Soccer. The Canadians went up against Afilias, and after six rounds paid $3,359,000 for their TLD.

The other was .BABY, with six applicants. It also went six rounds, with winner healthcare giant Johnson and Johnson, maker of Johnson's Baby Oil (despite its name not made from actual babies) for $3,088,888.

Add those to the previous haul and ICANN's now got about $33 million. There are still five more auction dates running through May 2015. The current schedule has 30 names set to be auctioned, and 20 more with auctions scheduled but on hold at the request of the applicants, presumably to see if they can work something out. Another 28 are not yet eligible for auction for various reasons, mostly unresolved third party objections.

At this rate, $50 million seems conservative. What would you do with $100 million?

By John Levine, Author, Consultant & Speaker
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What's the plan for the $? Philip S. Corwin  –  Dec 18, 2014 11:15 PM PDT

When is ICANN going to engage with the community to discuss the proper use of this growing bank account? Or is that being put off for the post-transition future?

Plan? John Levine  –  Dec 19, 2014 9:59 AM PDT

I can't find any board resolutions about auction revenue, only a comment from Steve Crocker saying that they'll figure out what to spend it on when they know how much it is.

I don't blame them for underestimating what the revenue would be since it makes so little economic sense for applicants to use ICANN auctions rather than private ones, but at this point, the general scale of the numbers is clear.

Experience suggests that they'll put off the decision as long as possible, since whatever they do, there will be loud screaming from parties who didn't get what they imagine to be their fair share.

Great points, John. ICANN, by its very Doug Mehus  –  Dec 24, 2014 12:19 AM PDT

Great points, John. ICANN, by its very nature and corporate status as a non-profit entity, in short, doesn't really need the money. It has plenty of money to run the mundane tasks of Internet domain name and addressing infrastructure. It's grown its staff ten-fold (or more) over the last 10-15 years and arguably doesn't need many more. It has no shareholders to return the money to so, the question becomes, what should it do with it? Perhaps it could set-up a permanent endowment within a charitable trust/foundation structure to perpetually fund the operating costs of like-minded, ad-free Internet resources with the public interest in mind (i.e., Wikipedia.org and ProPublica) so they don't have to bother with $3 donation pleas from the public.

It's probably the single-biggest and most-difficult issue ICANN will have to face. I'm just a complete loss for how they should spend it and I can't think of anything.

Cheers,
Doug

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