The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has asked the Internet Society (ISOC) if the latter received multiple bids for the sale of Public Interest Registry (PIR), and if it had asked bidders how they would uphold the commitments made by ISOC in 2002, when it had successfully bid for the management of .ORG domain. This is one of the 18 questions that Maarten Botterman, Chair of the ICANN Board of Directors, raised in a letter dated February 13 to ISOC. ICANN is expecting ISOC to reply to the letter by February 24. ISOC had sold PIR — a non-profit which manages the .ORG domain — to Ethos Capital a private entity, in November 2019, for $1.135 billion.

Questions raised in the letter: Botterman said that the .ORG registrants are concerned that the commitments made by ISOC in 2002 towards managing .ORG have been abandoned, or will be abandoned if the transfer to Ethos Capital is completed. A few of the 18 questions that he raised in the letter:

  1. Did ISOC receive multiple bids for PIR, and did it ask those bidders how they would uphold ISOC’s 2002 commitments?
  2. What has Ethos Capital committed to do in regard to the 2002 commitments? Are such commitments included in any of the transaction documents, organisational documents?
  3. How did ISOC balance the interests of the .ORG community with ISOC’s interest in achieving a sizeable endowment to support ISOC’s future operations separate from PIR and .ORG?
  4. Will ISOC commit to completing any additional engagement with the .ORG community prior to consummating the proposed transaction with Ethos Capital?
  5. How will Ethos Capital remain responsive to the needs, concerns, and views of the noncommercial Internet user community?
  6. Did ISOC seek any comments from the registrants of .ORG or other interested stakeholders about the sale?
  7. Did ISOC consult with the .ORG Advisory Council prior to engaging in a process to sell PIR, and how what were the outcomes of that consultation?
  8. Does ISOC believe the proposed sale to Ethos Capital (a for profit entity) is in the public interest?
  9. Has ISOC evaluated financials of the deal to ensure that .ORG can be operated in a stable manner?
  10. Even if the sale doesn’t go through, is it ISOC’s intention to divest itself of PIR?

After receiving the letter, James Wood, ISOC’s chief communication officer told MediaNama that most of the answers to ICANN’s questions have been addressed publicly at KeyPointsAbout.org, and that ISOC will respond to ICANN directly by February 24. He said that ISOC has stayed true to its 2002 commitments, and added:

“It’s worth noting that the registry industry has undergone significant changes that have affected the economics of the market.  PIR will benefit from additional investment to help it grow and stay competitive — Ethos Capital has the resources to do this.  This was another key consideration in our Board’s evaluation of Ethos’ offer, and we believe it demonstrates a continued commitment on our part not only to maintain the domain, but to develop it far into the future.” — ISOC’s James Wood to MediaNama

California Attorney General sought confidential documents from ICANN: This development comes after California Attorney General Xavier Becerra had written to ICANN on January 23, seeking in-depth information on the sale. After receiving the letter, ICANN shifted the deadline to approve PIR’s sale to Ethos Capital from February 17 to April 20, since the information demanded by Becerra involved giving out a number of confidential documents. Among other things, the Attorney General had asked ICANN to submit:

  • Detailed information about the removal of domain price caps, which occurred just months before the sale was announced, and which ICANN, ISOC, and PIR have continuously claimed was unrelated to the sale.
  • Detailed information about ICANN staff and ICANN’s conflict-of-interest policy

Sale of .ORG had raised several concerns: The sale of .ORG domain to a for-profit company had raised concerns among domain registrars and customers, chief amongst them increase in domain renewal prices over time. It even led several internet leaders to form a non-profit entity to challenge the proposed sale.

Ethos Capital’s response to the concerns: In a blog post in December 2019, in response to Mozilla Foundation’s executive director Mark Surman’s questions, Ethos Capital’s founder and CEO Erik Brooks had said that domain registration prices for .ORG would be limited to “no more than 10 percent, per year, on average”. He had added:

  • The PIR Stewardship Council will “seek input from the .ORG community”, and members would be selected from “authorities knowledgeable in the fields of mission-driven, charitable and non-profit organisation management across a spectrum.
  • Freedom of expression will not be hampered and that PIR will continue taking action against security and speech issues according to its existing anti-abuse policy. However, Surman had also asked how PIR will handle government requests, and Brooks did not specifically answer that.
  • Ethos Capital will invest in PIR for “the long haul”, without specifying for exactly how long it will remain invested in the non-profit.