NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Tuesday, May 5th, 2020

ICANN refuses to sign off on proposed sale of .ORG domain registry to private equity firm

Late last month, the ICANN Board made the deci­sion to reject the pro­posed change of con­trol of the .ORG reg­istry. The .ORG reg­istry has been man­aged by the Inter­net Soci­ety’s Pub­lic Inter­est Reg­istry (PIR) since 2003.

Many in the non­prof­it com­mu­ni­ty were grave­ly con­cerned when in Novem­ber of last year, ISOC announced that PIR would be sold to Ethos Cap­i­tal, a pri­vate-invest­ment firm. The online com­mu­ni­ty was con­cerned that a for-prof­it com­pa­ny was inter­est­ed in gain­ing con­trol of the .ORG domain reg­istry.

ICANN

Logo of ICANN, the Inter­net Cor­po­ra­tion for Assigned Names and Num­bers

In a state­ment released last week, ICANN sur­prised many by refus­ing to sign off on the sale. ICAN­N’s gov­ern­ing board rea­soned, cor­rect­ly, that it need­ed to oppose the sale “to ensure the sta­ble and secure oper­a­tion of the Inter­net’s unique iden­ti­fi­er sys­tems.” ICANN offi­cials also said they had a respon­si­bil­i­ty to “weigh all fac­tors […] includ­ing con­sid­er­ing the glob­al pub­lic inter­est.”

Said ICANN lead­ers:

ICANN eval­u­at­ed an exten­sive amount and vari­ety of infor­ma­tion relat­ed to the pro­posed trans­ac­tion, includ­ing details of the trans­ac­tion struc­ture, financ­ing, and oth­er fund­ing sources of Ethos Cap­i­tal, the par­ties involved, the role of the Penn­syl­va­nia author­i­ties, infor­ma­tion relat­ed to finan­cial resources and oper­a­tional and tech­ni­cal capa­bil­i­ty, how the new for-prof­it PIR under the con­trol of Ethos Cap­i­tal would be respon­sive to the needs of the non-com­mer­cial com­mu­ni­ty, what input the .ORG com­mu­ni­ty had pro­vid­ed to PIR or ISOC on the pro­posed trans­ac­tion, and how that com­mu­ni­ty input would be reflect­ed in the oper­a­tions of PIR fol­low­ing its con­ver­sion.

ICANN had pre­vi­ous­ly sig­naled on sev­er­al pri­or occa­sions that it was close to mak­ing a deci­sion, only to hold off and push out the time­frame.

Many in the glob­al non­prof­it com­mu­ni­ty had feared that ICANN would sim­ply rub­ber stamp Ethos’ pro­posed acqui­si­tion and abdi­cate its respon­si­bil­i­ties.

Instead, ICAN­N’s board con­clud­ed that PIR should not be sold to Ethos Cap­i­tal.

“While rec­og­niz­ing the dis­ap­point­ment for some [but real­ly just the Inter­net Soci­ety and Ethos Cap­i­tal], we call upon all involved to find a healthy way for­ward, with a keen eye to pro­vide the best pos­si­ble sup­port to the .ORG com­mu­ni­ty.”

It then thanked the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty for its engage­ment dur­ing the process and an online cel­e­bra­tion was notice­able after the announce­ment was made.

The Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion, one of the world’s lead­ing dig­i­tal lib­er­ties orga­ni­za­tions, called it “a stun­ning vic­to­ry for non­prof­its and NGOs around the world work­ing in the pub­lic inter­est […] This is an impor­tant vic­to­ry that rec­og­nizes the registry’s long lega­cy as a mis­sion-based, non-for-prof­it enti­ty pro­tect­ing the inter­ests of thou­sands of orga­ni­za­tions and the peo­ple they serve.”

Save­Do­tOrg, the coali­tion that EFF and part­ners orga­nized to keep the .ORG Reg­istry out of the hands of Ethos Cap­i­tal, not­ed that “the cur­rent glob­al pan­dem­ic has fur­ther illus­trat­ed the impor­tance of non­prof­it web­sites, as most of the world’s lead­ing sci­en­tif­ic an research insti­tu­tions, health and safe­ty resources, and edu­ca­tion­al ser­vices are on .ORG web­sites.”

Save­Do­tOrg also thanked the “near­ly nine hun­dred orga­ni­za­tions and 64,000 indi­vid­u­als” who helped by call­ing for the sale to be stopped.

“The col­lec­tive voic­es made a dif­fer­ence,” it said.

They cer­tain­ly did. NPI is proud to be one of those orga­ni­za­tions.

NPI’s Exec­u­tive Direc­tor Andrew Vil­leneuve said the vote will go down in ICAN­N’s his­to­ry as one of its most impor­tant deci­sions — if not the most impor­tant.

“ICANN has made some poor deci­sions in recent years. It would have lost what was left of its rep­u­ta­tion and cred­i­bil­i­ty had it blessed this acqui­si­tion,” he said.

“ICANN lead­ers knew there was basi­cal­ly no one out there who favored this deal except those who stood to direct­ly prof­it from it. They should have said ‘No deal’ months ago — this ought to have been an easy call for them. But at least they reached the cor­rect deci­sion in the end. And we are very grate­ful for that.”

NPI owns a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of .ORG domains, includ­ing its pri­ma­ry domain, nwprogressive.org, which the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate resides at.

While the .ORG reg­istry appears to have avoid­ed end­ing up in the clutch­es of an opaque pri­vate equi­ty firm, there is more work to do to secure its future. NPI would like to see the reg­istry trans­ferred to the con­trol of a trust­ed con­sor­tium of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the non­prof­it com­mu­ni­ty, as the Inter­net Soci­ety has demon­strat­ed that it can­not be trust­ed with the man­age­ment of .ORG.

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