State Charities Officials Want Stalling Of .ORG Sale

The National Association of State Charities Officials (NASCO) and six members of Congress have ratcheted-up the pressure on Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to stall or block the sale of Public Interest Registry (PIR), owner of the .ORG registry.

And, leaders of SaveDotOrg, a group banding together to block the $1.13-billion sale of PIR to venture firm Ethos Capital, have planned a protest for Friday in Los Angeles outside ICANN’s the annual board workshop.

In a two-page letter signed by NASCO President Yael Fuchs, ICANN’s board was alerted that NASCO members have “increasing concerns” regarding the sale hope ICANN will “allow sufficient time” to consider the concerns “in its review of the proposed transaction.” Fuchs is also co-section chief of the Office of the Attorney General of New York.

NASCO highlighted concerns regarding the conversion of charitable assets to a for-profit entity with undisclosed minority investors, the potential removal of federal and state oversight of charitable assets, governance, and tax-exempt status, loss of the mission of serving the public interest online, the likelihood that a for-profit owner would maximize its profits at the expense of nonprofits, and, the adverse impact on the credibility of the .org domain as an indication that content on websites is published “for reasons other than profit.”

ICANN and PIR agreed to an additional 30 days for review, extending ICANN’s review period until Feb. 17, 2020.

Meanwhile, Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Representatives Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) sent a letter to the ICANN board. They wrote that after a review of documents the “Ethos Capital takeover of the .ORG domain fails the public interest test in numerous ways: it threatens the quality and reliability of .ORG websites, and could severely limit access to these domains via price increases and arbitrary censorship.”

The members of Congress write that public interest should be at the forefront of any ICANN decision, but it should be especially so in determining who should be approved to operate the .ORG registry.

“It seems that everyone who takes a look at this sale sees reason for grave concern,” said Tim Delaney, president and chief executive of the National Council of Nonprofits. “From members of Congress and state charity regulators to the founder of the World Wide Web and even groups within ICANN and the Internet Society, all have said they see this sale as benefitting only the parties to the billion-dollar transaction and likely causing long-term harm to the .org domain and the nonprofits that rely on it.”

Members of the nonprofit tech community later this week will rally outside the ICANN board workshop. In a Facebook posting, anti-sale leaders slated the protest for 9 a.m. until 11 a.m. Multiple sources told The NonProfit Times that the sale is expected to be discussed on Friday.

The protest is being organized by NTEN, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Fight for the Future. Having a venture firm in charge of .org rather than a nonprofit operating it is what has technologists in the nonprofit space concerned.

It’s definitely happening. T-shirts and signs being printed,” said an organizer who asked to not be identified. Others within the movement confirmed the plan. “Everyone who wants to join is welcome. We’ll gather in physically accessible areas. Media are being invited,” according to the Facebook posting.

ICANN Board needs to understand they have an obligation to the public interest,” said Jacob Malthouse, Jacob Malthouse, founder of the .ECO domain and former vice president of global partnerships at ICANN. “Civil society and the public cares deeply about this matter. The protest is just one way of making it real.”

“Years ago, trade organizations like the WTO (World Trade Organization) thought trade was a technical issue that didn’t affect anyone. The Seattle protests changed all that,” said Malthouse. “Now, we all know better.”

Ethos Capital last month entered into a deal to purchase PIR for $1.13 billon, causing an immediate uproar in the nonprofit tech community since PIR controls the .ORG registry. Those opposed to the sale established a new organization called Cooperative Corporation of .ORG Registrants. The concept is to convince ICANN to block the sale of the nonprofit PIR. The work is focused on pressuring ICANN to move the contract over, not for the co-op to buy PIR. Organizers of the co-op said that the goal is to recognize that the Internet Society (ISOC) has lost some sector leaders’ trust by the attempted sale, to keep PIR going, and to award the contract to a new owner, the co-op.

There are nearly two dozen prominent backers of the co-op including: Katherine Maher, executive director of the Wikimedia Foundation; Mike Roberts, former president and chief executive of ICANN; Esther Dyson, former chairman of the ICANN and executive founder of Wellville and chairman of EDventure Holdings; William Woodcock, chief executive of EcoRace and of EcoTruc; Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF); Marietje Schaake, a former member of the European Parliament and international policy director of Stanford University’s Cyber Policy Center; and, Amy Sample Ward of NTEN.