Hi, I’m Richard. I’ve been around the Internet for a while. I work for Cisco now, and used to lead security for Firefox. I’ve published a few RFCs and served on the Internet Engineering Steering Group (the board of the IETF). I was a co-founder of Let’s Encrypt and I currently serve on its board. I care about the Internet, and I care about nonprofits.
I’m also a member of the Board of the Internet Society, and in that role, I joined the board’s unanimous decision to sell the Public Interest Registry (PIR), the registry for the .org top-level domain, to Ethos Capital. Since this transaction has gotten some attention, I’d like to speak a little about why, in my estimation, this deal is a good one for the Internet.
It basically comes down to two things:
- The Internet Society does great work protecting the Internet and bringing it to the people who need it most – work that is way more impactful than leasing domain names. This transaction secures that work’s future and independence.
- Ethos is a worthy successor to the Internet Society as the steward of .org.
The Internet is bigger than .org
There’s no doubt that .org has a big impact on the online brand and identity of nonprofits. But the impact of the Internet Society is much broader than that. For those who might be unfamiliar with the Internet Society, our mission is as follows:
The Internet Society supports and promotes the development of the Internet as a global technical infrastructure, a resource to enrich people’s lives, and a force for good in society. **************
Our work aligns with our goals for the Internet to be open, globally-connected, secure, and trustworthy. We seek collaboration with all who share these goals.
Obviously, that’s a much bigger project than just leasing domain names! Some highlights of our work include:
- Advocating forpolicies that are good for the Internet, including network neutrality, strong encryption, robust privacy protections – and freedom from Internet shut-downs
- Buildingcommunity networks and Internet Exchange Pointsto bring the Internet to those who need it most
- Connecting the Internet community through events likeAfPIFand theIndigenous Connectivity Summit, and through ourglobal network of chapters
- Supporting theInternet Engineering Task Forcein building the interoperable protocols that make the Internet work
- Funding projects that make the Internet bigger and better through theInternet Society Foundation
For more detail on what we have planned, check out the(Action Plan) .
This transaction will put that bigger mission on a solid footing – so that the Internet Society can provide much more substantive help to nonprofits than merely leasing domain names, and with more continuity over time. While it’s true that running .org provided a relatively steady income stream, it effectively staked most of our revenue on a single business, and required a certain amount of our resources to be spent managing that business, distracting from the broader mission. Especially as PIR has grown over time, this situation has become increasingly untenable. Establishing a more diverse portfolio of investments will allow us to have more predictable revenue over time, and to take a longer-range perspective when it comes to achieving our mission.
. org is going to be fine
Many of the current concerns about .org are premised on a presumption that prices will rise, based on a distrust of private equity and the affiliations of some of the investors. Those concerns are understandable, but I would encourage people to look at whatEthos themselves have saidabout their intentions with regard to .org, namely that they intend to:
- Make .org domain names “accessible and reasonably priced for all”, including limiting price increases to no more than 10% per year
- Keep PIR accountable to the community through a Stewardship Council
- Give back to the .org community through a Community Enablement Fund
- Seek certification as a B Corporation, as a commitment to transparency and social responsibility
So if we take Ethos at their word, they should be just as good a steward for .org as the Internet Society has been, with robust ties to the community and an explicit public-benefit orientation.
On the question of the wholesale price of a .org domain, the impact is likely to be very limited. Ethos has said that their plan is to “live within the spirit of historic practice,” that is, to manage prices roughly as PIR would have under the stewardship of the Internet Society. If they impose the maximum 10% price increase plan for ten years, the price will be around $ 26 per year – still quite affordable.
Even in the worst case, if Ethos considers dramatically increasing prices (which, to be clear, we do not expect them to do!), TheRegistry Agreement for .orgrequires a 6-month notice period during which domain owners can lock in a 10 -year registration at pre-increase rates. This should seriously discourage Ethos from doing this, because it would take 10 years for the new high rate to even take effect for existing registrants, and new registrations would likely fall off right away. So while there may not be an explicit prohibition on larger price increases, there is a strong commercial disincentive.
We’re all trying to make the Internet a better place
The mission of the Internet Society is to support and promote the development of the whole Internet. Not the domain name industry, not just .org domain owners – everything. That’s a big, complicated challenge. In making this decision, we considered what would be in the best interests of the Internet Society, .org domain holders, and the broader, global Internet. The Internet Society board did not take this decision lightly. We recognize that there is risk involved, and that we are asking the community to trust in our assessment of the risk. As I’ve outlined above, my assessment is that Ethos is a sufficiently trustworthy partner that the risks in handing over .org are limited, and offset by the potential to put a large pool of capital to work for the good of the Internet.
When this transaction completes, the Internet Society will be in a stronger position than ever to build, protect, and defend the Internet. To all the people who are learning about the Internet Society for the first time as a result of this transaction: Please stay in touch. With our increased resources, it will be more important than ever that we work together as a whole community. I look forward to working with all of you to make the Internet a resource to enrich people’s lives, and a force for good in society.