Domain Wars: Nonprofit .Org Addresses Could Soon Belong To A For-Profit Company

Jan 22, 2020

The commercialization of the internet continues — those .org addresses nonprofits use may soon be owned by a for-profit company. We’ll talk about how it all works and what it means for the future of the internet.


Esther Dyson, founding chairwoman of ICANN from 1998 to 2000. (@edyson)

Andrew Sullivan, president and CEO of the Internet Society. (@SullivanISOC)

Nora Abussita-Ouri, chief purpose officer for Ethos Capital, which plans to buy the .org domain for $1.1 billion. Formerly a senior vice president for development at ICANN. (@NoraAbu6)

From The Reading List

The Washington Post:Don’t give your dot-org domain away to a private company” — “One of the Internet’s most trusted assets — the dot-org domain used by nonprofits from UNICEF to your local food bank — is being hijacked. Dot-org, which was built to support nonprofits globally, is being sold to the highest bidder with almost no public discussion or consideration of alternatives.

“Organizations and their supporters who rely on dot-org for website and email access deserve an open process. The institutions that govern the Internet should be transparent. It is up to those of us who believe in a free and open Internet to demand this deal be reconsidered.

“Twenty-two years ago, I was the founding chair of an organization called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN was designed to fill a vacuum that was enticing to all kinds of power, and thus to keep the Internet decentralized and free from any overbearing power center. Our mission was to keep outside interests, whether financial or political, from taking over a global public service.”

The New York Times: Inside the Billion Dollar Battle Over .Org” — “Two months ago, Ethos Capital, a private equity firm, announced that it planned to buy the rights to a tract of internet real estate for more than $1 billion.

“But it wasn’t just any piece of digital property. It was dot-org, the cyber neighborhood that is home to big nonprofits and nongovernmental organizations like the United Nations ( and NPR (, and to little ones like neighborhood clubs.

“The deal was met with a fierce backlash. Critics argued that a less commercial corner of the internet should not be controlled by a profit-driven private equity firm, as a matter of both principle and practice. Online petitions and letters of concern came from hundreds of organizations, thousands of individuals and four Democrats in Congress, including Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

“Rarely has the acronym-strewn realm of internet addresses — so-called domain names — stirred such passion.

“Now, a group of respected internet pioneers and nonprofit leaders is offering an alternative to Ethos Capital’s bid: a nonprofit cooperative corporation. The incorporation papers for the new entity, the Cooperative Corporation of .ORG Registrants, were filed this week in California.”

Yahoo Finance: Ethos Capital to Acquire Public Interest Registry From the Internet Society” — “The Internet Society and Public Interest Registry (PIR) today announced that they have reached an agreement with Ethos Capital, under which Ethos Capital will acquire PIR and all of its assets from the Internet Society. The transaction is expected to close during the first quarter of next year.

“This is an important and exciting development for both the Internet Society and Public Interest Registry,” said Andrew Sullivan, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Internet Society, the organization that established Public Interest Registry.

“… Following the close of the transaction, PIR will continue to meet the highest standards of public transparency, accountability, and social performance in line with its longstanding purpose-driven mission, and will consider seeking B Corporation certification. All of PIR’s domain operations and educational initiatives will continue, and there will be no disruption of service or support to the .ORG Community or other generic top-level domains operated by the organization.”

Medium: A Stronger Future for .Org and the Internet” — “Over the past several weeks, I have watched with disappointment the controversy surrounding Ethos Capital’s proposed acquisition of the Public Interest Registry — which runs the .org domain — from the Internet Society. I am in favor of this acquisition and would like to explain why.

“First, it is worth remembering that .org was managed by several for-profit companies in the past: Network Solutions, SAIC and VeriSign. As nearly as I can tell, these operations were beneficial and, at least, not harmful, to the .org brand.

“Second, when the operation of .org was transferred to the Internet Society, it created the non-profit called Public Interest Registry, or PIR. PIR’s primary objectives were, first, to operate .org and, second, to provide significant support for the Internet Society by essentially allocating any surplus from the operation of PIR to fund the Internet Society’s work in promoting a more accessible and secure Internet. This amounted to about $50 million a year, which was hugely helpful to the Internet Society but limited PIR’s ability to invest in improvements to the operation of .org or even the creation of new products and services for the non-profit community.”

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