Update on November 29: Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web said in a tweet that he is “very concerned” about the sale of .org domain to a private company — Ethos Capital. Asking for an “urgent explanation” about the deal, he said that if the Public Interest Registry ends up not being required to act in the public interest, it would be a “travesty”.
I'm very concerned about the sale of .org to a private company. If the Public Interest Registry ends up not being required to act in the public interest, it would be a travesty. We need an urgent explanation. #SaveDotOrg
— Tim Berners-Lee (@timberners_lee) November 27, 2019
Earlier on November 15: A private equity firm, Ethos Capital, is acquiring Public Interest Registry (PIR), the nonprofit corporation which maintains the .ORG domain, from Internet Society (ISOC). The acquisition amount is currently unknown, but as per Andrew Sullivan, President and CEO of ISOC, “This transaction will provide the Internet Society with an endowment of sustainable funding and the resources to advance our mission on a broader scale as we continue our work to make the Internet more open, accessible and secure – for everyone.” PIR was established by ISOC in 2002 to manage and operate the .org domain.
ISOC’s chief communications officer, James Wood, told MediaNama that financial details of the transaction are not being disclosed at this time. However, this acquisition will provide “substantial funding” to support the Internet Society’s work. He also said that ISOC “determined that Ethos Capital was the ideal partner and owner to help lead PIR into its next chapter”. MediaNama has also reached out to PIR and Ethos Capital for more information about the financials of the acquisition.
Registrars concerned this might increase renewal prices: This deal will make .org part of a for-profit company, which has raised concerns among domain registrars. According to a report in the Domain News Wire, registrars, customers and all other .org holders will be affected by this sale as domain renewal prices could potentially increase over time.
“PIR’s goal has always been to make .ORG accessible and reasonably priced — and that will continue under its new ownership.” — ISOC’s James Wood to MediaNama
ICANN had removed price caps for .ORG: Interestingly, this development comes a few months after ICANN, a non-profit which regulates domain names, had agreed to remove price restrictions on .ORG domain names in June this year, which essentially allowed PIR to charge as much money as it wanted for the domains. This was reportedly done despite the fact that more than 98% of comments sent to ICANN were against the removal of price caps. A month before that, PIR, in an open letter, had said that it had no “specific plans” for increasing prices for the .ORG domain.
What changes for PIR? PIR will consider seeking B Corporation certification, a private certification issued to for-profit companies with “verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose” by a non-profit organisation called B Lab. 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 organisation, ISOC said.
How much money does PIR bring in for ISOC? In 2018, PIR reported a revenue of about $93 million and contributed $48.7 million to ISOC. In 2017, it generated a revenue of about $91 million and contributed $74 million to ISOC.
*Update: This story was updated on November 29 with Tim Berner-Lee’s comment. The earlier version, which was published on November 15, has been archived here.