Internet companies are still none-the-wiser about the details of the proposed sale of the .org registry to private equity firm Ethos Capital following DNS overseer ICANN putting a temporary halt on the sale back on 9 December.
The rights to the .org domain registry, one of the largest internet registries in the world, with over 10 million names, was/is due to be sold by ISOC (aka the Internet Society), the parent company of PIR (the organisation that currently runs it) for an as-yet-undisclosed sum to Ethos Capital.
The relatively sudden announcement of the sale caused shock and some dismay within the industry over the thought that a registry that has held its non-profit status since 2003 will now be ending up in private hands. Historically, .org domains have always been the outward sign of non-profit organisations.
Some industry commentators have also expressed concern about the lack of knowledge within the industry about Ethos Capital, and some worries have, therefore, been expressed about how qualified and able they may be to manage the .org registry.
Other criticisms about the sale, which have been voiced online include:
– Suspicion about possible conflicts of interest e.g. around Fadi Chehade, a former CEO of ICANN who is credited by some with encouraging a free-market approach to internet addresses, and who some appear to believe is connected to Ethos Capital.
– After ICANN lifted the price caps on .org domains for the next 10 years (allowing unlimited price increases on the millions of .org domain names) many high-profile non-profit organisations have rejected ICANN’s claim that the move was simply to make the process consistent with the base form registry agreement and have accused ICANN of disregarding the public interest in favour of ICANN’s own administrative convenience.
– Worries that ICANN’s decision to approve the proposed sale may have been subject to bias and may not have reflected the true strength of feeling against the sale.
– Concerns were even expressed by those who supported the proposal e.g. ICANN’s At Large Advisory Committee (ALAC) and Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group (NCSG).
– Anger that ICANN appeared to move ahead with the decision to lift caps without any explanation, and that there still appears to be a level of secrecy surrounding the sale.
– Suspicion by some that the deal has long been the subject of informal discussion among key players.
A temporary halt was placed on the proposed sale of the .org Registry right to Ethos Capital in early December and since then, the Packet Clearing House (PCH) has argued (in a letter to ICANN) that the sale and move to non-profit status would mean less money being spent on .org’s operational costs, and could affect stability and could disrupt “critical real-time functions” of organisations using .org domains.
There is now a sense of frustration from many parties in the industry over the apparent silence, and the distinct lack of information since the temporary halt was placed on the sale.
There are many important organisations that use .org domains e.g. air traffic control, and these, as well as the 10 million others who have .org domains, will be concerned not just about the possible price rises of .orgs due to the lifting of the price cap, but also about the possible disruption and instability that the sale of this kind could cause.
There also appears to be a good deal of anger, concern, and unanswered questions in the Internet market about the decision to sell and the details of the sale, as well as apparent feelings of a possible lack of transparency and feelings that things may possibly have been rushed through with important arguments against the sale not being adequately addressed. That said, ICANN must have seen good enough reason to put a temporary halt on the sale, for the time being.
It remains to be seen exactly what happens next but in the interests of the industry and .org owners, the hope is that there will more communication, information and transparency very soon.