The news came on 30 April through a press release from the ICANN Board announcing that it had taken the decision to reject the sale of Public Interest Registry (PIR), the .ORG registry, to the private equity firm Ethos Capital.
For reminder, at the end of 2019, the announcement of the sale of the .ORG registry to Ethos Capital created a real debate and caused several concerns from NGOs, such as the increase of .ORG prices and the implementation of rights protection policies that could lead to a form of censorship (Find all the articles on this subject on the blog).
In mid-April, while the organization had to decide whether or not to approve the sale of the registry, the transaction was still pending. ICANN allowed itself additional time to complete its review, after receiving numerous letters of opposition, including one from California’s Attorney General, Xavier Becerra.
The decision to reject this deal was finally announced on Thursday 30 April “as a result of various factors that create unacceptable uncertainty over the future of the third largest gTLD registry”.
One of the main reasons for this decision is the “change from the fundamental public interest nature of PIR to an entity that is bound to serve the interests of its corporate stakeholders, and which has no meaningful plan to protect or serve the .ORG community.”
Among the reasons for this rejection is also the issue of financing, since this transaction could compromise the financial stability of the registry. Indeed, the proposed sale would change PIR from a not-for-profit entity to a for-profit entity with a $360 million debt obligation, which would not benefit PIR or the .ORG community, but the financial interests of Ethos and its investors.
Furthermore, the PIR proposal to implement a “Stewardship Council“, which aimed to make the entity more accountable to the community, did not convince ICANN either. According to the organization, this council “might not be properly independent“.
ICANN’s decision is therefore a victory for the .ORG community and Electronic Frontier Foundation, which does not stop there and adds “the .ORG registry still needs a faithful steward, because the Internet Society has made clear it no longer wants that responsibility. ICANN should hold an open consultation, as they did in 2002, to select a new operator of the .ORG domain that will give nonprofits a real voice in its governance, and a real guarantee against censorship and financial exploitation.”