.ORG has been snatched from the grasp of rapacious private equity billionaires

.ORG has been snatched from the grasp of rapacious private equity billionaires

November 22, 2021

Originally published at pluralistic.net

Cory Doctorow

The Internet Society (ISOC) is a nonprofit that is in the enviable position of receiving tens of millions of dollars every year merely for overseeing work that someone else does.

ISOC has the contract to operate the Public Interest Registry, which contracts for the maintenance of the .ORG top level domain. It gets tens of millions of dollars a year for writing a check to PIR, who, in turn, write a check to the people who do the actual work.

Bizarrely, the board of ISOC decided they didn’t like this arrangement (!) and proposed selling PIR to Ethos, a shadowy private equity fund whose known investors are well-connected GOP billionaires like the Perots and the Romneys.





Shortly before the selloff, staffers from ICANN – who gave the .ORG contract to ISOC – decided (without any board approval) to allow .ORG to engage in unlimited price-raises for domains.

Then those same staffers went to work for Ethos.

Ethos, meanwhile, runs another domain registry, Donuts (yeah) that is infamous for selling censorship-as-a-service, charging anyone who doesn’t like their customers’ websites “processing fees” to investigate and act on claims about infringement, libel, etc.

The arguments for selling .ORG to this censorship-happy, rapacious band of far-right plutes were just awful. Things like, “Well, what if no one wants a .ORG in the future? How will we fund the things we currently fund with the millions we get for writing checks?”

Or, “Ethos will not do anything bad, and if they do, the nonprofits that have maintained .ORG sites can just go somewhere else, and eventually everyone else will update their address books, links and bookmarks.”

Or, “Ethos has made a nonbinding commitment not to raise prices too much or too quickly” (keeping in mind that existing costs are almost pure profit), or “Ethos will get nonbinding advice from an as-yet-uncreated community advisory board.”

Or, “Why should ISOC let someone else run our public interest registry for free? We could get $1.13B for it” (ISOC is a nonprofit that received a $5m startup grant and the registry in order to run .ORG and is no longer interested in doing so).

ISOC’s board demonstrated an unwillingness to listen to the vast number of .ORG registrants who opposed the move (from the Girl Scouts to Farm Aid to the EFF).

ICANN was – initially – unwilling to do anything about it, despite calls from Congress and various state AGs.

But then California AG Xavier Becerra sent a really strongly worded letter to ICANN, reminding them of their duty to be responsible overseers of the world’s domain name system.


This triggered fresh waves of interest in the selloff and the tissue-thin, laughable justifications and reassurances attending it, with fresh emphasis on Ethos’s plan to load up .ORG with hundreds of millions of dollars worth of debt.


And despite rumblings that ICANN would approve the selloff anyway, last night, the board announced that they had unanimously voted to block it.




What’s more, ICANN’s stern rejection hits on many of the concerns many of us have had about the way that the DNS is becoming a political football, with industry groups like the MPAA calling for it to act as a censor to block sites Big Content hates.


It also reaffirms all the objections critics of the selloff pointed to: the secrecy of Ethos, the inadequacy of its plans to safeguard the public interest, the risks of debt-loading, its lack of confidence in Ethos’s leadership.

Ethos has incredibly deep pockets. It’s literally a front for billionaires. They hired the best crisis communications firms, spent lavishly on deceptive ads that came up whenever you searched for info on the selloff… and they LOST.

They lost because of you, the people who answered the call from orgs like EFF and NTEN, and the huge coalition of nonprofits that came together to fight the selloff.

Bravo, you.