The internet registration outfit ICANN has decided to pause the sale of the .org top-level domain (TLD) to the private equity firm Ethos Capital for 30 days in order to request additional information about the proposed transaction.
The controversy began over the summer when ICANN decided to lift price caps on .org domains which are typically used by non-profits while businesses generally use the .com TLD. The non-profit Internet Society (ISOC) controls the pricing for .org domains through its Public Interest Registry (PIR) and the decision to raise the price of these domains was made by staff without board approval.
Following the change, several people involved in the decision left ICANN and moved to either ISOC or to a brand-new private equity fund called Ethos Capital whose major investors include several well known and wealthy Republican families such as the Romneys, the Perots and the Johnsons.
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Ethos Capital then went on to acquire the Public Interest Registry from Internet Society for a little over a billion dollars. The private equity firm then made a nonbinding pledge to limit its price increases to 10 percent compounded annually and started a PR campaign in which it argued that the price increase was quite reasonable.
Despite the fact that Ethos Capital did its best to convince both businesses and consumers that raising the price of .org domains wasn't a big deal, opposition against the move continued to grow online.
For example, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and other non-profits made the point that selling .org to a private equity firm could lead to human rights organizations and other non-profits having their domain names taken away by those looking to censor them.
As a result of these growing concerns, ICANN has decided to pause its approval of the .org sale for 30 days and the outfit explained its decision in a blog post, saying:
“We acknowledge the questions and concerns that are being raised and directed to ISOC, PIR, and ICANN relating to this change. To ease those concerns and maintain trust in the .ORG community, we urge PIR, ISOC, and Ethos Capital to act in an open and transparent manner throughout this process. We have sent a letter to both ISOC and PIR today, asking them to please be clear and open in all of their communications. We have indicated our willingness to publish the request and related materials involved in ICANN’s review including the request for approval, the request for additional information, and PIR’s responses.”
Once the pause is ended, we'll see if ICANN decides to approve the sale but the extra time should give those against it a bit more time to make their case to governments, businesses and consumers.
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Via Boing Boing