Controversial sale of money grabbing .org domain faces review at ICANN

ICANN is reviewing the pending sale of the .org domain manager from a nonprofit to a private equity firm and says it could try to block the transfer.

The .org domain is managed by the Public Internet Registry (PIR), which is a subsidiary of the Internet Society, a nonprofit. The Internet Society is trying to sell PIR to private equity firm Ethos Capital.

ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) said last week that it sent requests for information to PIR in order to determine whether the transfer should be allowed. “ICANN will thoroughly evaluate the responses, and then ICANN has 30 additional days to provide or withhold its consent to the request,” the organization said.

ICANN, which is also a nonprofit, previously told the Financial Times that it “does not have authority over the proposed acquisition,” making it seem like the sale was practically a done deal. But even that earlier statement gave ICANN some wiggle room. ICANN “said its job was simply to ‘assure the continued operation of the .org domain’—implying that it could only stop the sale if the stability and security of the domain-name infrastructure were at risk,” the Financial Times wrote on November 28.

In its newer statement last week, ICANN noted that the .org registry agreement between PIR and ICANN requires PIR to “obtain ICANN’s prior approval before any transaction that would result in a change of control of the registry operator.”

ICANN can raise “reasonable” objection

The registry agreement lets ICANN request transaction details “including information about the party acquiring control, its ultimate parent entity, and whether they meet the ICANN-adopted registry operator criteria (as well as financial resources, and operational and technical capabilities),” ICANN noted. ICANN’s 30-day review period begins after PIR provides those details.

Per the registry agreement, ICANN said it will apply “a standard of reasonableness” when determining whether to allow the change in control over the .org domain. As Domain Name Wire noted in a news story, whether ICANN can block the transfer using that standard “might ultimately have to be determined by the courts.”

The agreement between PIR and ICANN designates PIR as the registry operator for the .org top-level domain. It says that “neither party may assign any of its rights and obligations under this Agreement without the prior written approval of the other party, which approval will not be unreasonably withheld.”

Concern about price hikes, transparency

The pending sale comes a few months after ICANN approved a contract change that eliminates price caps on .org domain names. The sale has raised concerns that Ethos Capital could impose large price hikes.

Source: Controversial sale of .org domain manager faces review at ICANN | Ars Technica