Rising concerns about the sale of .org registry to Ethos Capital have led the private equity firm to offer a set of concessions. Among them: capping price increases for renewing web domains and establishing a stewardship council. Even with this commitments, ASAE says it still has concerns about Ethos’ motives.
On February 21, Ethos Capital—the private equity firm seeking to buy the rights to operate the .org domain registry—offered a set of legally binding concessions to .org registrants concerned about the proposed sale.
Specifically, Ethos has offered to cap price hikes for initial or renewal registrations of .org domain names at no more than 10 percent per year for the next eight years, and establish a “stewardship council” with the authority to veto proposed modifications to .org registry policies on censorship, freedom of expression, and use of .org registration and user data. Notably, the council would not have veto authority on future price hikes.
The sale of the .org domain registry to Ethos, first announced last November, has been met by a growing chorus of critics. Since 2003, .org has been run by a nonprofit corporation called Public Interest Registry. PIR’s contract to manage .org was renewed last year by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which also removed a longstanding price cap of 10 percent for renewal of .org domain names.
ASAE and other nonprofit groups have expressed concern that, should the sale to Ethos Capital go through, the private equity firm could hike fees on the nearly 10.5 million registered .org names held by associations and other nonprofit groups. California’s attorney general and four members of Congress have also requested more information to evaluate the deal’s potential impact on .org stakeholders.
“We have been listening closely to stakeholder feedback—both positive and negative—and have been working diligently to address these specific issues head on,” said Erik Brooks, founder and CEO of Ethos Capital. “We are taking these actions to show that we stand firmly behind the commitments we’ve made—and most importantly—behind the registrants and users.”
ICANN was originally expected to rule on the pending sale by mid-February but now expects a decision sometime in March. ASAE said its concerns about Ethos’ motives in acquiring the .org registry have not gone away with last week’s proposed commitments.
“Ethos’ announced intention to cap price hikes and address other concerns from the .org community are encouraging concessions,” said ASAE Interim President and CEO Susan Robertson, CAE. “I’m not sure they go far enough to fully assuage fears about Ethos’ proposed acquisition of .org. For one thing, the cap on price hikes would expire after eight years. These concessions also only came about after increased public criticism and attention from the media and the Attorney General of the State of California. The lack of transparency throughout this process leads to continued questions about the motives of Ethos Capital in offering $1.1 billion for the rights to operate the .org registry.”