The controversy over the sale of ORG has taken an ugly turn. As we have made clear in several blog posts related to the sale, what registrants need is not emotional cries to “stop the sale” but an ICANN-mediated renewal of the commitments made in the original grant, and some improved contractual commitments in the Registry Agreement. Once those are in place, it doesn’t matter much whether ISOC or Ethos runs the registry.

Unfortunately, the “stop the sale” meme has now morphed into a patently self-interested land grab. And some of the faces behind this land grab are so familiar and insider-y that they make Fadi Chehade look like a disinterested angel.

Yesterday a group calling itself the Cooperative Organization of ORG Registrants (CCOR) planted an article in the New York Times as part of a bald public relations push to get ICANN to redelegate the domain – to them. Who is behind this group? If you thought Ethos Capital was an insider play, wait until you see this list. Here are a few of the seven directors of the new entity.

Esther Dyson

Those with superficial knowledge describe Dyson as one of the founders of ICANN. She was indeed a member of the controversial initial board and ambitiously volunteered to be its chair as a way of furthering her personal ambitions. What they don’t know, or don’t tell you, is that her name was put forward by IBM, and when it came to ICANN accountability, Dyson was probably the worst board chair ICANN has ever had. She had no grasp of governance and policy issues. She opposed elections for ICANN board members and other accountability measures; she impatiently rolled her eyes at public forums when community members debated policy. Far from being a friend of the noncommercial internet, Dyson was openly hostile to the fledgling noncommercial users’ constituency, actually choosing to block its formation at one point because they were challenging policies and representational structures that were biased towards commercial interests. Despite her current positioning touting “an open and noncommercial internet” and “stewardship,” Dyson is a businessperson who made her money selling newsletters (EDVenture) and conferences for the private, profit-driven tech industry in the 1990s. She is not an “Internet pioneer.”

Mike Roberts

Roberts was the first CEO of ICANN, the consummate insider from the old federal networking community. Unlike Dyson he does have a background in the education and research networking community, at Educause. But Roberts, too, was deeply resistant to ICANN accountability and especially hostile to the influx of public interest groups into ICANN policy making in the early days. Leading up to the divestiture, Roberts wanted ORG to be a harshly restricted domain, in which registration would require proof of nonprofit legal status. Interestingly, Roberts leveraged his ties to the US government to transfer control of the EDU domain from Network Solutions (what is now Verisign) to his friends at EDUCAUSE in October 2001. Perhaps he was enlisted to see if he can work that magic again.

Katherine Maher

Maher is CEO of the Wikimedia Foundation. As a legitimate Internet nonprofit organization, Wikimedia is analogous to the Internet Society just prior to winning the ORG domain. It is constantly in need of a regular source of funds. Is this group any different from, or any better than, ISOC?

Bill Woodcock

Woodcock is one of the original crusty old-line techies. He runs Packet Clearing House, a nonprofit with mostly government and some military funding sources.  Woodcock has been a board member at the American Registry for Internet Numbers (ARIN), which is part of the ICANN regime, though the IP numbers people wisely have stayed at arms-length from ICANN and the domain name industry. Woodcock, however, is deeply conflicted on this issue. The current operator of the ORG registry is contracting with his organization to run certain registry services. The shift of ownership to Ethos threatens that relationship.

Insiders?

So if you thought the Ethos Capital deal was a bit stinky because of the involvement of the  ICANN’s former CEO as an advisor, this group reeks. Frankly, I’d rather have ORG in the hands of an openly for-profit entity that can be controlled than see noncommercial values and interests invoked by people who pretend to be all about “stewardship” but are really just another group of opportunistic insiders.

I see no legal or contractual basis for ICANN to do a redelegation of ORG to some new entity that just popped up in the wake of the controversy. The whole idea would amount to nothing had not a New York Times reporter been punk’d into pushing CCOR’s sales pitch into the global public sphere. Wouldn’t it be nice if journalists would actually covered an issue in depth instead of serving as mouthpieces for interested actors?

Let’s be clear about what has happened here. By selling ORG, the Internet Society has provided the world with a fairly accurate, market-based valuation of what the ORG registry is really worth. Rather than recoiling in horror at the number, we need to accept its value as a fact and derive policies accordingly. Of course we don’t want the new owners to run ORG into the ground or exploit the high switching costs of its registrants. But any new owner is going to be in exactly the same position as ISOC or Ethos unless there are protections in the Registry Agreement of the sort we have asked for.

6 thoughts on “New ORG Stewards? Or Vultures Circling?

  1. When did ICANN overturn RFC 1591 and the stated position of the United States, historical steward of the DNS, that TLDs are global public resources, NOT the property of ICANN (successor to IANA) nor ANY registry operator, see https://www.icann.org/en/system/files/files/litigation-haim-et-al-us-brief-amicus-curiae-29dec15-en.pdf (citing RFC 1591 as authoritative in 2015) and https://www.ntia.doc.gov/files/ntia/publications/icann_081218.pdf (pp 4-11)? While it may be the intent of corrupt or inept ICANN leadership, past or present, to facilitate the largest theft of global public resources in history, please cite where and when the ‘shift in positioning’ was formally approved as formal ICANN policy to negate RFC 1591 both as to new gTLDs and legacy gTLDs, and who at ICANN claims to have sanctioned it on behalf of the global internet community as being in the “global public interest.” I see nowhere in the historical documents of TLD .ORG nor in the grant of a contract to operate the .ORG registry, an intent on the part of the United States government, nor its contractor ICANN at that time, to grant “ownership rights” in .ORG to any entity, much less the Internet Society or its affiliate Public Interest Registry. ICANN, particularly its so-called “Global Domains Division,” staffed with cronies of ICANN’s previous CEO, has played ‘fast and loose’ with the legal principles that are involved in this and related matters, apparently thinking they can just ‘make things up’ as they go, and just ignore the interests of registrants and the wider global internet community. The IANA transition was a MISTAKE, ICANN is a horrible ‘steward’ of the DNS, “ICANN multistakeholderism” is a joke and sham, just another form of “regulatory capture.” ICANN cannot be reformed, its organizational culture is inept and corrupt to the core. The sooner we, the global internet community, replace ICANN, the better.

  2. I am curious that you do not address the fact that the proposed alternative organisation is a cooperative. Cooperatives are controlled by their members, in this case that would be anyone who owns a .org domain. That control would extend to choosing the board. Of course the devil is in the details but a cooperative seems like the right tool in this case.

  3. One of the disturbing aspects of this whole fuss, which I believe leads to most of the emotion involved, is the belief that this is in some magical way more than just the sale of the right to perform the entirely clerical action of registering names. I’ve seen it referred to as “real estate”, which is absurd. “example.org” is “example.org”, whoever performs the trivial act of registering it. The cost will be set by free market forces in any case. If “example.org” becomes too pricy, switch to “example.tv”. (You can get it TODAY for only $150,000, Visa and MasterCard accepted.) Few people will notice. Incidentally, it’s noticeable that aynrand.org doesn’t seem to have an opinion on all this.

    1. In reference to the .ORG registry operator setting wholesale registration and renewal prices of .ORG domain names, the statement “[t]he cost will be set by free market forces in any case” is demonstrably FALSE. It is unfortunate that ICANN did NOT follow the 2008 advice of the U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division https://www.ntia.doc.gov/files/ntia/publications/icann_081218.pdf (pp 4-11). Domain names are NOT fungible, ask Frank Schilling or Rick Schwartz, or better yet, ask anyone who has changed the domain name of their business or organization — the switching costs are immense and prohibitive, and will likely require continuing registration of the “old domain” in order to redirect it, for years, to the “new domain” to mitigate the inevitable customer and traffic (search engine ranking, etc.) loss. Economists refer to these phenomena and effects as “lock-in” and “market power” — read the US DOJ advice above and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vendor_lock-in . Granting gTLD registry operators monopolistic contracts in perpetuity, and then removing price caps, and then allowing registry operators to “sell” the assignment of their monopolistic registry operator contracts to the highest bidder is EXTREMELY anti-competitive, anti-consumer (registrant), and contrary to public policy, as well as potentially subject to multiple legal challenges as void or voidable under applicable laws, see e.g., https://www.bc-llp.com/beware-illegal-contract/ . Under the facts presented, Ethos Capital, the Internet Society, and PIRegistry, are, in effect, asking ICANN to approve a “novation” — see https://www.upcounsel.com/novation-vs-assignment . If approved, not only will unlimited .ORG price increases occur, but eventually, every valuable gTLD will be owned by a state-owned enterprise (SOE) of China — China will just “buy” .COM, .NET, .ORG, .WEB, etc., and thereby control the internet — no private equity firm, and few publicly owned companies (certainly NOT Verisign), can match the financial resources of Chinese SOEs.

    2. You want free markets for consumers but not for registry providers? Let the free market decide what it should cost to perform the clerical action of maintaining a list of domain names. The most efficient provider gets the right, not a perpetual monopoly with no price caps.

      The value created on an existing domain wasn’t created by the registry, it was created by the owner. Increasing the rent on the owner simply because a company can isn’t right. Registries are a clerical service in your mind, they should simply be charging what it costs. Prices have gone down to operate them, consumers should be benefiting from that, not extorted for more money. Pretending there is no switching costs associated with changing domain names is ignorant at best. Once you’ve built a brand you’re extensively locked in.

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