Jan 21, 2020

Esther Dyson fights .org privatization

Ina Fried
Esther Dyson. Photo: Dominik Gigler for DLD/Hubert Burda Media

Esther Dyson. Photo: Dominik Gigler for DLD/Hubert Burda Media

From 1998 to 2000, Esther Dyson was the founding chairman of ICANN, the group that oversees how Web addresses are handed out. Now, she is urging that organization to block the administration of .org domains from being turned over to a private company in a deal valued at more than $1 billion.

Why it matters: .org domains have traditionally been used by nonprofits and organizations rather than commercial entities.

Driving the news: The Internet Society has announced the sale of Public Internet Registry, the entity that controls the .org domain, to Ethos Capital, a private equity firm.

  • Opponents worry that the the move will inevitably lead to higher prices for .org domains as the new owner works to make its huge investment pay off.
  • "If the Internet Society wants more steady income, we want to work with them, but we don't want them to sell .org off to the highest bidder," Dyson said in an interview at DLD in Munich on Sunday.

Dyson is a board member of Cooperative Corporation for .ORG Registrants, a group that is seeking to create an alternative to the sale.

  • "We don't want to buy .org," Dyson said. "We want if necessary to create a governance structure for it. And then we want to resign in favor of a new board elected by the 10 million-plus entities using .org domains."

Yes, but: Ethos Capital says it respects the right of others to criticize its deal.

"But .org users are right to wonder what this new co-op group is about, how it would function or what it wants.  This group initially proposed taking over .ORG, but it has no financial backing or experience running a registry business.  Now it seems not to want to take over .ORG, but something else."
— Ethos Capital

History lesson: The Internet Society, which dates back to 1992, seeks to promote openness and continued technology development for the internet. Its major funding source is the Public Internet Registry. Of its $51 million in 2019 revenue, more than $44 million came from the PIR, per its financial statements.

  • The society's chairman is Vint Cerf, co-creator of the TCP/IP protocol that underlies today's internet.
  • "The .org domain has been run by a for-profit entity in the past, and there is no requirement for it to be managed by a non-profit in the future," the society declares on a "Frequently Asked Questions" page. "The .org domain is not exclusive to non-profits. As an open domain, it includes many for-profit organizations."

The big picture: There is significant opposition to the .org domain falling into private hands. Dozens of nonprofits, led by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have called on the Internet Society to call off the deal.

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