Why is the sale of .ORG registry a source of debate?

Sale of .ORG registry - PIR Public Interest Registry - dot ORG - Nameshield
Sale of .ORG registry - PIR Public Interest Registry - dot ORG - Nameshield

In November 2019, a press release announced that .ORG registry, Public Interest Registry (PIR), a non-profit organization managed by Internet Society, is going to be sold off to Ethos Capital, a private equity firm.

.ORG is the extension for non-profit organizations. The acquisition of PIR by Ethos has quickly concerned the organizations using .ORG, on the basis of the potential misuse of the extension by its new owner, which has, by its very nature, profit motives.

The concern? That the registrations and renewals fees for .ORG domain names increase.

Yet, key figures of the Internet’s world, like Andrew Sullivan (Internet Society CEO) are exited, seeing in this a strong strategic partnership and a significant financial contribution allowing Internet Society to advance its mission of a “more open, accessible and secure Internet for everyone”, as he wrote in the press release about the acquisition of November 13, 2019.

It would seem that the fears created find their origin in the “surprise” and lack of transparency around the deal, since the transaction amount has not been disclosed.

These fears are, of course, the corollary of the removal on June 30, 2019, of the price caps imposed until now to .ORG fees (historically low) by ICANN, despite many reservations expressed by the community. Finally, the fact that Ethos has directly or indirectly a number of close connections to former ICANN members raises concerns to several voices of the industry.

The fear to see the increase of .ORG prices led Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to launch the SaveDotOrg campaign, which aims to raise awareness about the potential impact of a .ORG price increase on the NGO’s budget constraints.

Also the possibility that Ethos Capital later implements a principle of rights protections that could lead to a form of censorship, as currently practiced in some countries wishing to silence NGOs.

In front of these protests, ICANN suspended the acquisition operation last December and requests clarification from the Internet Society.

More recently, in January 2020, a new candidate of the .ORG extension acquisition has appeared. It is a cooperative corporation (Cooperative Corporation of .ORG Registrants), gathering some web pioneer and former members of ICANN.

To be continued!

Author: Lucie Loos

Marketing & Communication Director - Nameshield group