The .org armageddon staved off, for now

Dec 24, 2020

The EFF writes about how .org was saved this year.

Short version: ISOC (Internet Society), caretakers of the .org domain registry, try to make a quick buck (or more accurately, 1.1 billion of them) by selling a piece of the common good bequeathed to their care to a for-profit entity, Ethos Capital. The ICANN, led by Fadi Chehadi, had recently removed the price caps on .org domains, making the registry infinitely more valuable. Soon thereafter, Chehadi leaves the ICANN and co-founds Ethos Capital. The EFF along with a coalition of .org holders spend a year fighting this bald-faced graft. They succeed, but all parties involved in the scandal get away Scot-Free without even the merest suggestion of consequences.

ISOC tried to add the thinnest possible veneer of legitimacy by getting Ethos to agree to cap price increases on .org domains by “only” 10% a year for the first eight years, which would have “only” doubled the prices of .org domains over that period. Beyond year eight, Ethos would be allowed to raise prices to whatever they want.

Chehadi and the ICANN, having realized the incredible profit to be made from tens of thousands of captive non-profits, then using their power to dissolve protections and authorize a sale that should never have been allowed, are obvious villains. Frankly, corruption this overt should be embarrassing to all parties involved – at least try to keep it under the table.

But beyond them, an often overlooked but just-as-culpable villain is the ISOC, which did its best to capture well over a billion dollars by selling out an important piece of the open internet, knowing full well that it’d be taken over by a rent seeker that would go on to pump prices into the stratosphere. I argue on HN that if the ICANN has an ounce of integrity left in the organization, they’d claw .org back from ISOC and find a more deserving steward. CCOR perhaps.

Most concerning of all is the sheer asymmetry of it. Key figures of important public organizations casually formulate low-effort backroom deals that will let them make off with billions at the expense of the common good. The good guys notice, fight tooth and nail for a year, and eventually win, but at great effort and expense. The crooks walk away without losing a second of sleep, already planning their next heist for after the heat’s died off.

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