Internet Activists Call For Halt To .Org Sale

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Internet campaign groups say the sale of the .org registry to a private equity group could mean ‘significant harm’ for non-profits

Internet activists have called for a halt to the sale of the .org domain registry to a private equity firm, but internet supervisor ICANN said “does not have the authority” to act.

“The broad and long-lasting impact of this proposed sale contrasts with the narrow, closed, and rushed process we’ve seen so far,” said Peter Micek, general counsel for open internet campaign group Access Now.  “We demand an immediate halt for affected communities to have a say.”

The group added that with the sale, announced last month, current .org registry owner the Internet Society and ICANN had “pulled the rug out from under civil society around the world”.

Access Now’s call for action, issued during the Internet Governance Forum in Berlin at the end of last week, follows a similar plea by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and 26 other organisations earlier in November.

‘Significant harm’

Like Access Now, EFF said the non-governmental organisation community should have a say in decisions affecting the future of .org.

It also argued that changes to the .Org Registry Agreement introduced earlier this year could allow the registry’s owner to do “significant harm to the global NGO sector, intentionally or not”.

“The new agreement lets the registry in charge of .org do significant harm to NGOs — not just to their pocketbooks, but also to their right to speak out, organise, and criticise people in power,” the EFF said.

Regardless of the good intentions of Ethos Capital, the newly formed equity group that is to purchase .org from the Internet Society, the EFF said .org “must be managed by a leader that puts the needs of NGOs over profits”.

Both groups criticised the Internet Society for agreeing the deal without a public consultation.

‘No authority’

ICANN, for its part, said it is powerless to halt the proposed sale, telling the Financial Times it “does not have authority over the proposed acquisition”, since its role is only to “assure the continued operation of the .org domain”.

Critics, however, pointed out that ICANN has taken a more than purely technical interest in domain matters in the past.

The sale follows controversial changes to the .Org Registry Agreement introduced earlier this year, which included a removal of price caps.

In theory, this introduces the danger of price gouging, although Ethos said it plans to “live within historic practice” with regard to pricing, meaning increases of no more than 10 percent each year – although this would be left to its own discretion.

Accountability

The Internet Society, for its part, has said the sale will provide it with “sustainable funding” to continue carrying out its work on internet-related standards, education, access and policy.

Jon Nevett, chief executive of of Public Interest Registry (PIR), the Internet Society subsidiary that operates .org, said its mission would “continue and expand” under Ethos.

The Internet Society said it expects the deal to conclude in the first quarter of next year.

Nao Matsukata, chief executive of domain name consulting firm FairWinds Partners, summed up the concerns of the domain name industry as being about the perceived lack of accountability of the bodies such as ICANN that oversee the internet’s infrastructure.

“It raises the question again: Who is ICANN accountable to?” he told the FT.  “Under the current governance structure, it’s only accountable to itself.”

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