Private equity firm buys .org domain months after ICANN lifted price caps

ICANN eliminated price protections for .org domain owners earlier this year.

The word DOT ORG written in vintage wooden letterpress type in a wooden type drawer.
Enlarge / The word DOT ORG written in vintage wooden letterpress type in a wooden type drawer.  elinedesignservices / Getty.


The Public Internet Registry, a subsidiary of a nonprofit called the Internet Society, has managed the .org domain since 2002. Earlier this year, ICANN asked for public comment on a new contract for the organization. The most significant change was the elimination of provisions limiting price increases for .org domain owners.

According to one tally, more than 3,000 parties wrote in opposing the removal of price caps. Only six comments supported the change. Yet ICANN ignored this lopsided response and approved the contract in June. At the time, the PIR said that it had “no specific plans for any price changes.”

But earlier this month, PIR announced that its parent organization, the Internet Society, was selling PIR to the private equity firm Ethos Capital.

“This transaction will provide the Internet Society with an endowment of sustainable funding and the resources to advance our mission on a broader scale as we continue our work to make the Internet more open, accessible and secure,” the Internet Society said.

The announcement was little noticed at the time—I only heard about it after seeing a story in the Register about the transaction. The Register story, which is worth reading in full, notes that Ethos Capital has a number of close connections to former ICANN officials.

PIR insists that it “will continue to meet the highest standards of public transparency, accountability, and social performance in line with its longstanding purpose-driven mission.”

But notably absent from the announcement is any commitments to limit future price increases. That means there’s a risk that Ethos Capital could dramatically raise prices for .org customers in the coming years.

It’s not clear if ICANN has any authority to block the transaction or impose additional protections for .org domain holders. It’s also unclear who must approve the transaction, or when the deal will finally close. Ars has reached out to ICANN, the Internet Society, and PIR asking for comment about the possibility of price hikes and the process for completing the transaction, and we’ll update this story if we receive a response.

Update: A spokeswoman for Ethos Capital provided the following statement on Sunday morning:

Ethos is committed to keeping .ORG accessible and reasonably priced for all, in line with PIR’s longstanding purpose-driven mission.

The current price of a .ORG domain name is approximately $10. Our plan is to live within the spirit of historic practice when it comes to pricing, which means, potentially, annual price increases of up to 10 percent on average – which today would equate to approximately $1 per year.

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