ICANN blocks proposal to let .org be sold to a for-profit group

Mariella Moon
Associate Editor

A for-profit group might not end up controlling the .org domain after all. The ICANN Board has rejected Internet Society’s proposal to sell control of the .org domain and the Public Interest Registry, which manages it, to private equity firm Ethos Capital for $1.1 billion. It was a controversial proposition from the start, seeing as the .org domain is mostly used by non-profits — so much so that lawmakers had to send a letter of concern to the parties involved. A bunch of internet pioneers also joined forces and asked ICANN to block the deal from pushing through.

In its announcement, the ICANN Board said it conducted thorough due diligence before coming to its decision. It reviewed “hundreds of pages of documentation and responses,” most likely in favor of the sale, provided by the PIR and Ethos Capital. Board members were also briefed extensively by the ICANN organization, considered the California Attorney General's Office’s opinions and read comments by the public on the ICANN forum.

In the end, the board came to the conclusion that the sale would change “the fundamental public interest nature of PIR to an entity that is bound to serve the interests of its corporate stakeholders.” Also, the board cited concerns about the $360 million debt Ethos Capital would have to take for the sale. It raises “further question about how the .org registrants will be protected or will benefit from this conversion.”

It’s still unclear if control of the .org domain is changing hands — the internet pioneers looking to block the sale were hoping that ICANN would hand .org over to their new non—profit entity instead. What’s clear is that the board stands by its decision that “withholding consent of the transfer of PIR from the Internet Society to Ethos Capital is reasonable, and the right thing to do.”