The Rejected Sale of PIR

Published: Tuesday, May 19th 2020
Tags: thoughts society internet

Apparently founded only last year, a private equity fund called Ethos Capital with just a single page website as their only online presence, last year offered to purchase Public Interest Registry, or PIR, the registry for the .ORG domain, from Internet Society (ISOC) for the neat sum of US $1.1 billion.

Ethos would have made a leveraged buyout and financed some of the sale by loading up PIR with US$ 360 million in debt. The sale would obviously expanded the coffers of ISOC, an organization with annual revenues around US$ 50 million, so ISOC roundly accepted the offer.

I rarely see things as black and white, but to me this proposed sale was definitely in the gray area. It felt a bit dirty for ISOC to sell off the registry that is the caretaker of the 10.3 million .ORG domains for the world’s non-profits, non-commercials, and charitable organizations to some LBO boys on a PE fund.

Apparently a lot of people and organizations thought the same. EFF and NTEN’s open letter to ISOC, PIR, and ICANN to reject the sale was endorsed by more than 27,000 people and roughly 900 organizations. Even California’s Attorney General urged ICANN to reject the sale.

On April 30th, ICANN officially rejected the deal - and my inbox was instantly filled with happy cheers from various organizations I follow. The question now, however, is how ISOC and PIR will move forward. In recent blog posts from both of them, it’s now back to normal. EFF on the other hand makes the assessment that ISOC has made it clear it no longer wants the responsibility of being the steward of PIR, so even though the dust has now settled a bit, it will be interesting to see what comes out of this process.

I’m myself a very inactive member of ISOC-SE, the Swedish Chapter of ISOC. I’m pretty sure ISOC-SE has only been in the fringes of this process, if that, but I have a few distant friends within ISOC-SE who are substantially more active, so I’m quite curious what thoughts they have on these developments. I’ll make sure to ask.