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ICANN to slash costs as Verisign’s magic money tree dries up

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2024, 16:05:36 (UTC), Domain Policy

ICANN is looking for $8 million of cost savings, $3 million more than it expected a quarter ago, amid gloomy predictions about the domain industry’s likely performance this year.

The Org last week told community members that it’s having to revise its expected revenue down by $3 million to $145 million after it became clear domain sales won’t be as good as previously thought. The new budget is due to be approved by the board this coming weekend.

“ICANN faces an inflation of its costs and also happens to face a lack of inflation of its funding,” CFO Xavier Calvez said on one of two conference calls explaining the changes.

ICANN’s bean counters are now predicting a 4% decline in transaction fees from legacy gTLDs — a line item mostly comprising .com — for ICANN’s fiscal 2025, which begins this July. Back in December, when the first draft of the budget was published, the prediction was for 0% growth.

The grim numbers match Verisign’s own growth story for the rest of the calendar year. Company bosses last week predicted .com/.net to grow at between 0.25% and negative 1.75%, a downwards revision on its guidance in February.

Talking to Verisign and other registries and registrars and looking at the monthly transaction data they file is the main way ICANN formulates its budget predictions.

“We gauged very strong expectations of a contraction in domain name registrations,” ICANN programs director Mukesh Chulani said.

Meanwhile, ICANN estimates transaction fees for new gTLDs will increase 7% in FY25, obviously from a much lower base then legacy, compared to the December estimate of 2% growth.

ICANN was already expecting its funding to miss its spending requirements by $5 million, but that figure is now $8 million. But rather than run ops at a loss, ICANN has instead put this number on a line labelled “Cost Savings Initiatives” in order to present a balanced bottom line.

Where these cost savings might come from doesn’t seem to have been figured out yet, and there’s some community worry that services might be affected by cuts.

There was some talk of finding efficiencies in the travel budget or with contractors, but those budgets are $13 million and $24 million respectively, so any cuts there could be swingeing.

By far the largest expenditure line item is staff, which costs $90 million. But there’s been no change to the expected number of ICANN full-timers in the budget, so layoffs don’t seem to be on the cards just yet.

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