‘ISOC has sold off something that was not theirs to sell off in the first place; a domain run by a not-for-profit based on the public interest, supporting the public interest.’
The .org internet domain is frequently used by civil society and non-profit organisations. It is managed by Public Internet Registry (PIR, the registry of .org domains), which funnels its revenues to sustain The Internet Society (ISOC).
In June 2019, despite overwhelming protests, price restrictions on .org domain names were removed by ICANN, a non-profit which regulates domain names. A few months later, ISOC announced the upcoming sale of PIR, and thus management for all .org domains worldwide, to a newly established private equity firm called Ethos Capital.
DNW reports that in 2018, PIR generated $101 million in revenue and contributed nearly $50 million to ISOC. Now that price caps on .org domain names are removed, Ethos Capital could stand to make even more profits.
The deal has shocked the internet governance community and users of .org domains. Concerns have been raised over the secretive nature of this deal, as well as its impact upon public interest. This includes the ability or incentive of a private equity firm to be a reliable steward who can be held accountable to exercise its many new powers fairly and effectively.
ISOC may stand to secure its funding for the future through this transaction, but at the expense of public interest. The deal is yet to be finalised; it is expected to close during the first quarter of 2020. ICANN and ISOC face calls from the internet governance community to review this transaction.
Coalition Letter on Sale of Public Interest Registry (Electronic Frontier Foundation)
Questions about .org (Mozilla)
Ethos Capital to Acquire Public Interest Registry from the Internet Society (Statement by Internet Society)