Dot-Org Deal Pushed To May After AG’s Protest

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Number (ICANN) has until May 4 to decide whether to move forward on its proposed billion-dollar sale of the Public Interest Registry (PIR) to a private equity firm after another extension was agreed upon.

In response to a letter from California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, ICANN confirmed the agreement between it and PIR that the organization’s response time, set forth in a registry agreement, would be extended from April 20 to May 4. “ICANN is not providing or withholding its consent at this time and PIR agrees that ICANN shall not be ‘deemed’ to have consented under any of PIR’s registry agreements as a result of this extension.”

Becerra urged Los Angeles-based ICANN to reject the transfer of control of the .org registry to Ethos Capital in an April 15 letter to the board and staff leadership. “The proposed transfer raises serious concerns that cannot be overlooked,” Becerra wrote in the five-page letter, highlighting concerns about the proposed sale of the At-Large Advisory Committee and the broader nonprofit community.

It was announced this past November that the Internet Society (ISOC) reached an agreement to sell PIR and all of its assets to venture firm Ethos Capital for $1.135 billion. Reston, Va.-based PIR is responsible for the .org assignment and preservation of those domains. The Internet Society (ISOC) plans to use the proceeds to establish an endowment.

Those concerned about the proposed sale formed SaveDotOrg, which has garnered commitments from almost 27,000 people and 900 organizations opposed to the sale.

It’s not the first letter from Becerra asking about the proposed transaction nor is it the first extension of any review period or decision on the deal. ICANN and PIR agreed to an additional 30 days for review early this year, and pushed the date out again until April 20.

If ICANN were to allow the transfer of the registry to move forward, it would then go through courts in Pennsylvania for approval of the conversion of PIR from a nonprofit to a for-profit entity since it was incorporated in Pennsylvania.

“For now, nonprofits remain opposed to this sale because of the damage it would inflict and, especially now, nonprofits don’t have even a dollar a year to spare to pay down the hundreds of millions in debt that Ethos Capital would be taking on to finance the deal,” said Rick Cohen, chief operating officer at the National Council of Nonprofits. “The commitments that Ethos has rolled out are mere P.R. spin and do not satisfy any of the concerns of the nonprofit community,” he said.

Cohen emphasized a point in Becerra’s letter: “Empowering a for-profit that would undermine the accessibility and affordability of the .org domain, which serves nonprofits, should concern all of us.”

In statements posted on the website keypointsabout.org in response to Becerra’s letter, PIR said in part that “clarifications are needed, and we hope to use these discussions to address several points that were not included in the letter.”

The Internet Society said that “Although we differ on the specifics of the process and predicted outcomes of the sale, we respect his [Becerra’s] views on the transaction and its implications.”