Nonprofits worried about sale of .org domain registry to private equity firm

What’s in a domain name? As Shakespeare might say, that which we call an “.org” by any other name would enjoy the same sweet reputation.

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Or would it?

Some nonprofit groups are worried they could face steep cost increases for their web domains after the nonprofit that operates .org domains was sold to a private equity firm last month. The Internet Society and Public Interest Registry announced on Nov. 13 that it had reached an agreement to sell PIR and its operation of the .org top-level domain to Ethos Capital, a firm that invests in tech and digital properties.

The sale came after ICANN, the group which manages internet domains and IP addresses, agreed to remove price limits for .org domain registrations and renewals in June.

Ethos paid $1.135 billion for the .org registry, Domain Name Wire reported.

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Jon Nevett, the CEO of PIR, told the Financial Times that .org was on track to generate about $100 million in revenue this year, a $67 million surplus, even with the price cap in place.

Nevett said PIR’s mission “will not change” as it moves to Ethos.

“We have enjoyed a long and successful relationship with the Internet Society, and are thrilled that we will be able to continue — and expand — our important work with Ethos Capital while sustaining our commitment to the .org community going forward,” Nevett said in a press release.

But with the price limiting removed and the .org domain registry now in private, for-profit hands, groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation are worried about potential censorship and price gouging affecting “cash-strapped” groups around the world. The EFF has opened a petition asking the Internet Society to back out of the sale, and more than 12,000 people have signed.

Even Tim Berners-Lee, who developed the world wide web, wrote in a tweet that he was “very concerned about the sale.”

“If the Public Interest Registry end sup not being required to act in the public interest, it would be a travesty,” Berners-Lee wrote. “We need urgent explanation.”

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PIR said in the news release about the sale there would be no disruption of service after the sale is closed. The group said a .org domain name currently costs about $10 per year and it plans to work "within the spirit of historic practice when it comes to pricing," which would currently mean a price increase of about $1 per year.

Ethos CEO Erik Brooks said in a written statement that the company would establish a “stewardship council that will serve to uphold PIR’s core founding values and provide support through a variety of community programs.”

“Importantly, throughout the transition and beyond, we are committed to ensuring complete continuity of PIR’s operations and enhancing the relationships PIR has established over the years,” he said. “We look forward to continuing PIR’s longstanding partnerships and vendor affiliations to ensure domain operations run smoothly and without interruption.”

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