Save the .ORG registry!
Save the .ORG registry! (Graphic: Electronic Frontier Foundation)

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.

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,, 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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