Last November, shocking reports revealed that a Private equity firm Ethos Capital was in the course to acquire the Public Interest Registry (PIR), which runs the .org domain used for non-profit organisations’ websites from the Internet Society ISOC.
The acquisision move has been denounced by Internet freedom groups as well as ICANN’s decision to remove the price cap. Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and founding board member and former chair of the PIR, said he was “very disappointed” by the news.
The deal was sure 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.
Since 2003, dot-org has been run by the Public Interest Registry, which is controlled by the Internet Society, a nonprofit that helps develop internet standards, education programs and policy. The registry holds a contract to manage dot-org, which was renewed last year for 10 more years. With a sale to Ethos Capital, the Internet Society would gain an endowment to fund its operations and get out of the business of operating dot-org.
However the most insteresting is the announcement that a group of prominent internet pioneers is mobilizing to block the $1.1 billion sale of control of the .org internet domain, arguing that the takeover of .org by a newly formed private company would hurt the millions of nonprofits that rely on it.
In a move to press the U.S.-based ICANN to block the sale, prominent internet executives told Reuters they have created a nonprofit cooperative they are offering as an alternative owner of .org.
The new non-profit cooperative corporation, officially called the Cooperative Corporation of .ORG Registrants, is led by many people who currently have or have had influence over the inner workings of the Internet, including Esther Dyson, the founding chairman of ICANN (the non-profit that oversees domain names on the internet), Katherine Maher, the CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation (the parent company of Wikipedia), and William Woodcock, the executive director of Packet Clearing House (an organization that helps support internet infrastructure and the domain name system).
“There needs to be a place on the internet that represents the public interest, where educational sites, humanitarian sites, and organizations like Wikipedia can provide a broader public benefit,” said Katherine Maher, the CEO of Wikipedia parent Wikimedia Foundation, who signed on to be a director of the new nonprofit. The crowd-sourced research tool Wikipedia is the most visited of the 10 million .org sites registered worldwide.
“This is a better alternative,” said Esther Dyson, who served as the first chair of ICANN, from 1998 to 2000, and is one of seven directors of the new cooperative. “If you’re owned by private equity, your incentive is to make a profit. Our incentive is to serve and protect nonprofits and the public.”
Spokespeople for the Internet Society and Ethos told the CNBC that both would say more about their agreed deal soon.
ICANN on the other hand has 30 days from Dec. 30 to approve the Ethos sale, reject it, or ask more questions, said ICANN Senior Vice President Cyrus Namazi. He said ICANN had not solicited public input on the deal but would consult with its board before making a final decision.