.ORG domain sold to private equity firm, price caps dropped

When we talk about net neutrality we’re usually talking about things like broadband access and preferential treatment. Late last week, though, a sale by the Internet Society (ISOC) called the openness of the internet into question at a much more basic level. The ISOC announced last week that it sold the rights to the .org domain registry to a company called Ethos Capital. The company didn’t disclose the sum for which it sold the registry.

The .org registry has always been a nonprofit and held official nonprofit status since 2003. With this sale, though, the Public Interest Registry, which operates the .org register, will drop its non-profit status.

A Shady Situation

There’s a lot of questionable stuff going on in this deal. The company, Ethos Capital, was only established in the last few months and has connections to a former CEO of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), Fadi Chehade. Chehade acted as CEO for ICANN from 2012 to 2015.

The sale follows a decision in June by ICANN to lift the price cap on .org domains. The decision was given a comment period, during which overĀ  3,200 comments were sent to ICANN. Many opposed the decision, but even those who supported it have said that the sale casts that lifting in an entirely new light.

Maureen Hilyard of ICANN’s At-Large Advisory Committee said, for example, that the sale of the registry was “not eve hinted at” during the last PIR council meeting, while Marita Moll of Inter.net Canada wrote that if people had known this decision was “lurking in the background — which it most certainly was,” that the group may have had a very different conversation.

The Register notes, though, that even though there was some approval in the comments, the opposition made up at least 98% of comments. A joint letter from NPR (National Public Radio), C-SPAN, the National Geographic Society, and the YMCA said that the ISOC and PIR had “articulated no compelling policy basis for this proposed change.”

The PIR and ISOC said that the decision for the price cap was to bring the .org register in line with other top-level domains, though the joint letter also said that “this strikes us as conformity for its own sake… ICANN should not disregard the public interest in favor of administrative convenience.

The future

The decision seems to go against the very spirit of the .org domain which has been used for and meant to be used for primarily non-profit organizations. There’s worry that prices on these domains will skyrocket in the coming years, and it certainly calls into question how safe the openness of domain registry will continue to be.

The Register’s reporting on the topic is in-depth and worth its own read right here.

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This sucks. The internet is really under threat these days.


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