.ORG: California Attorney General enters debate
The .ORG saga had a “shock episode” on April 15, 2020, when the Attorney General of the State of California entered the debate by sending a letter to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). Attorney General Xavier Becerra says he is very concerned.
As a reminder, in April 2019, ICANN had proposed an end to the price cap of .ORG domain names and had not changed its minds despite direct and massive hostility from the Internet community, the call for comments having collected only 0.18% favorable comments (3252 against 6!) (see not. iptwins.com, 2019-07-09). On November 13, 2019, the Internet Society (ISOC) and Public Interest Registry (PIR) declared that the .ORG had been sold to the investment fund Ethos Capital (internetsociety.org, 2019-11-13). This announcement move sparked an unprecedented outcry in the ICANN community and, more so in non-governmental organizations. Furthermore, in his letter of April 15, 2020, the Attorney General did note this unfortunate episode:
“Just last year, ICANN and PIR renewed the .ORG registry agreement. The new registry agreement removed price caps on .ORG domain names, despite receiving over 3,000 comments in opposition, with only six individuals in support. There is mounting concern that ICANN is no longer responsive to the needs of its stakeholders. ICANN has an obligation to weigh the impact of approving the proposed transfer of the .ORG registry, in light of the lack of information, compared to information ICANN possessed and the criteria it used when it first awarded ISOC/PIR the privilege to operate the .ORG registry in 2002.”
The indignation is such that the ICANN decision , which must approve or disapprove the transaction between ISOC, PIR, and Ethos Capital, has still not been adopted.
It is, therefore, in this noxious context that the Attorney General took up the matter and carried out an investigation into ICANN and its role in approving the transfer of the .ORG registry agreement. The Attorney General has concluded that the transfer of control of the .ORG to Ethos Capital raises serious concerns, to the point that he urges ICANN to disapprove of the transaction. The Attorney General denounces a lack of transparency and a profound absence of attention towards the community of non-profit organizations. It also poses questions of high relevance:
“If ISOC was concerned about diversifying its revenue streams, what did ISOC do, if anything, before deciding to sell the .ORG registry agreement? Why did ISOC not conduct a competitive bid process for a new registry operator if it wanted a change in the registry operator? Did ISOC explore options other than a sale to a private equity firm, given that its nonprofit status was key to PIR becoming the .ORG registrar? What consultation, if any, did ISOC conduct with its stakeholders prior to proceeding with the proposed sale?”
Finally, the Attorney General concludes:
“My office is committed to protecting California’s and the public’s interest in a properly functioning and accessible .ORG domain system. ICANN has long recognized the unique nature of the .ORG registry as the Internet’s home for noncommercial entities and interests. ISOC and PIR are charitable organizations that are accountable to their community stakeholders and to the public at large. In contrast, a private equity firm is accountable only to its investors. Given the concerns stated above, and based on the information provided, the .ORG registry and the global Internet community – of which innumerable Californians are a part – are better served if ICANN withholds approval of the proposed sale and transfer of PIR and the .ORG registry to the private equity firm Ethos Capital.
This office will continue to evaluate this matter, and will take whatever action necessary to protect Californians and the nonprofit community.”
Non-governmental organizations now have strong support to voice their dissatisfaction.