When I began writing about the dot-org sale, it was out of concern for the loss of what I felt strongly was long understood to be a unique place in the Internet’s landscape. Like a national park, dot-org deserved special protection. It turns out lots of people and organizations agreed.
On April 30th, 2020, The ICANN Board upheld these values. They unanimously withheld consent for a change of control of the Public Interest Registry to a private equity firm. There were real questions about public support, financial stability and ultimately about whether the proposal was in the best interest of those most affected, dot-org domain owners.
Ethos, PIR and ISOC failed to respond to any in a convincing manner. They failed to gather any material support for their approach. As of today, the #savedotorg campaign has nearly 27,000 supporters and 2,000 nonprofits behind it. It dwarfs any campaign Internet governance has ever seen. There’s no way to de-legitimize such an outpouring of concern.
ISOC and PIR’s announcements seem to imply that things will simply go back to the way they were. PIR will continue to run dot-org and ISOC will continue to do what it does. This is the same kind of magical thinking that led to the idea that dot-org could be sold to a private equity firm. It is not grounded in the reality of how decisions that impact massive global communities are made.
Here’s what needs to be done:
First, ISOC and PIR leadership must recognize and apologize for the harm and uncertainty that they have caused both nonprofits and Internet governance. There never should have needed to be a #savedotorg campaign, because dot-org should never have been put at risk.
Second, The ISOC board should invite the leadership of the organizations that led the #SaveDotOrg campaign to an open dialogue to understand their concerns and priorities for the future of dot-org. This dialogue should recognize that it may be agreed that ISOC and PIR may no longer be the appropriate stewards for dot-org.
Third, the leadership of the #SaveDotOrg campaign needs to recognize that this was a closeted decision by a few actors, taken in secret. There are many skilled professionals that work at both PIR and ISOC. While ISOC and PIR may have to change dramatically, solutions must be sought that consider the value and future of these organizations, their staff, and their members.
Fourth, all parties should agree to work together with ICANN to chart a course of action that builds confidence and faith in the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance. While there are many challenges with this model, one being how messy it seems, in the end the right decisions were taken. We must all come together to defend the model that has built and will continue to sustain a single global Internet.