Sale of .Org Registry to Private Equity Firm Vetoed

Sale of .Org Registry to Private Equity Firm Vetoed

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a nonprofit that oversees the Internet domain naming system, has rejected the sale of the .org registry to a private equity firm.

The board of ICANN — which in 2002 granted the rights to run the .org domain to the Public Interest Registry (PIR), a subsidiary of the Internet Society (ISOC), but reserved the right to approve major changes in the registry's practices and ownership — vetoed the sale of PIR and its assets to Ethos Capital for more than $1.1 billion. Announced last November, the sale was opposed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and others concerned that the firm would be able to raise prices on .orgs without restriction and that domain registries would be tempted or pressured to impose restrictions on the addresses they manage. Although Ethos pledged to set up a "stewardship council" of experts and make "public interest commitments" to refrain from price increases and not censor Web content, opposition to the sale by a group of Internet veterans and nonprofit leaders that offered an alternative bid, as well as California state attorney general Xavier Becerra, continued. 

"The board was presented with a unique and complex situation — impacting one of the largest registries with more than 10.5 million domain names registered," ICANN board chair Maarten Botterman wrote in a blog post. "After completing its evaluation, the ICANN board finds that the public interest is better served in withholding consent as a result of various factors that create unacceptable uncertainty over the future of the third largest gTLD [generic top-level domain] registry." Factors in the decision included a "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."

ISOC chief executive Andrew Sullivan told the New York Times that the Ethos bid was one of several proposals it had received — and one that appeared to combine people who had Internet experience with the financial resources to help .org grow and prosper. ISOC had no immediate backup plan, said Sullivan, adding that the domain would be run as before. "We will not neglect .org."

Maarten Botterman. "ICANN Board Withholds Consent for a Change of Control of the Public Interest Registry (PIR)." Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers Blog Post 04/30/2020. Steve Lohr. "A Private Equity Firm Is Blocked From Buying .Org." New York Times 05/01/2020.