.Org Domain Sale Decision Delayed After California Attorney General Weighs In

ICANN delayed its final decision on the sale of .org to a private equity firm after California Attorney General Xavier Becerra urged the organization against the move.

The long-contested efforts to sell the .org top-level domain name have drawn the attention of the most-populous state in the country.

And that has led to another delay.

Spurred by a letter from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers announced that it would extend its review period for the sale of the .org domain until May 4. It’s the fourth time ICANN has pushed back its final decision on the deal.

The letter, sent to ICANN President and CEO Göran Marby and Board Chair Maarten Botterman, criticized the efforts to sell the Public Interest Registry to Ethos Capital, a private-equity firm, by noting that when PIR took over the .org domain in 2002, it was deemed that the top-level domain required “unique protections,” which Becerra argues it will lose if sold.

“If, as proposed, Ethos Capital is permitted to purchase PIR, it will no longer have the unique characteristics that ICANN valued at the time that it selected PIR as the nonprofit to be responsible for the .org registry,” the attorney general wrote [PDF]. “In effect, what is at stake is the transfer of the world’s second largest registry to a for-profit private equity firm that, by design, exists to profit from millions of nonprofit and non-commercial organizations.”

In further comments to The Register, Becerra’s office noted that its concerns boiled down to the public interest. “In California, we’re committed to an Internet that serves everyone and we’re simply concerned that this transfer puts profits above the public interest,” a spokesperson said to the outlet.

The letter, received just before a meeting of ICANN’s board of directors that was intended to decide on the fate of the sale, was a driving factor behind the delay on a final decision. But in a statement, the organizing body argued that “the Attorney General’s letter does not take into account the recent work that PIR has done to make the entity more responsible to the community.”

Despite the diverted attention to the issue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of groups are still focused on contesting the potential sale, including ASAE. Beyond the attorney general’s letter, the Electronic Frontier Foundation also sent a letter to ICANN crediting the organizing body for “taking seriously” concerns about the sale, but suggesting they must act by blocking the Ethos Capital deal.

“PIR’s conduct to date demonstrates that it cannot reliably operate the .org registry, and will not operate the registry for the good of noncommercial registrants if the deal is consummated,” stated the letter, which was also signed by the Domain Name Rights Coalition, NTEN, and Access Now.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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