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.
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.