This is good news, the .org register will not be sold to a for-profit entity, putting a monopoly in their hands. A half year ago I wrote about the odd and also suspicious sale about to happen. It seems the California Attorney-General had some bearing on ICANN’s decision. What stands out is that there’s still not much clarity about why Internet Society thought this would be a good idea, or how to explain away the whiff of collusion (former ISOC board members were involved in the company aiming to buy the register). What also stands out is that ICANN took a mighty long time to respond to the issue, but days after a prosecutor adds their opinion comes to the conclusion to halt the sale. Either way, only if to reestablish some trust amongst .org domain holders, the ISOC board as well as PIR board have a lot of explaining to do at the very least, and need to step down after that explanation. The next boards coming in will need to change their statutes to ensure the .org registry is always run by a non-profit. Running a registry is a de-facto monopoly, how you can ever think it will be fine to leave that to an investment vehicle that on top of that finances the buy with debt, is beyond me.
Ethos Capital, led by former ABRY Partners Managing Partner, buys .Org registry. I thought this might happen. And now it has. Fresh off ICANN’s blunder letting Public Interest Registry set whatever price it wants for .org domain names, Internet Society (ISOC) has sold the .org registry Public Interest Registry (PIR) to private equity company Ethos …
This is a somewhat worrying development: the entire .org registry of domain names has been sold to a private equity investor. That basically spells out just one way forward, extraction and rent-seeking. As this step immediately follows from ICANN lifting price increase caps in place earlier this year (against the advise of US competition authorities it appears), and the buyer is a newly established entity it seems to have but that purpose.
“Price hikes in 3, 2, 1, ….” seems to be the consensus.
As this site’s domain is part of the .org TLD (when I registered it in the spring of 2003, it was the one non-country TLD ‘zylstra’ was available for), I briefly looked into my options, to defend against price gouging. My domain name renews on May 3rd 2020, in just under 6 months time. I should be able to renew the domain 60 days before it expires, so by early March, in 4 months. Then I will be able to renew for a 5 year period at once. Which, if it precedes a price hike, means I get to buy myself a few years extra before needing to make a decision.
On a more fundamental level, I am surprised that maintaining a TLD domain name registry is entirely left to market forces by ICANN like that. For instance the Dutch national TLD registry is maintained by a non-profit foundation. Whoever runs a TLD registry has a monopoly by default and the costs of leaving for existing domain holders is very substantial. Combining that, monopoly and lock-in, with private investors whose first commandment is not maintaining the general public service that a domains registry (not: registrar) constitutes is worrisome. E.g. this site has been on this domain name for 16.5 years. This domain name is for all intents and purposes my online unique identifier, and I definitely use it as such. Now, for me personally, moving the entire thing isn’t extremely bothersome in itself. It would sadly cause a major chunk of link-rot, but moving it to e.g. zylstra.eu which I also have can be done without much consequence for myself should the costs of zylstra.org rise uncomfortably. It would however also mean moving my de-facto online identity, which is likely to cause confusion in my networks. That identity confusion, and brand damage will be of an entirely different level if you’re a very established NGO, brand or non-profit on a .org domain. E.g. the World Bank, WordPress or Wikipedia, which coincidentally spells WWW, also hosted on .org. Then leaving is much harder, and you’ll likely go with whatever pricing model gets introduced. If only for after a move someone else will pick your old high-recognition domain up for spoofing and phishing most likely, so you’ll stay put whatever the cost.
It smells like something that should be of interest to competition authorities everywhere.