A closeup of the letters

ICANN is reviewing the pending sale of the .org domain manager from a nonprofit to a personal fairness agency and says it may attempt to block the switch.

The .org domain is managed by the Public Internet Registry (PIR), which is a subsidiary of the Internet Society, a nonprofit. The Internet Society is making an attempt to promote PIR to personal fairness agency Ethos Capital.

ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) stated final week that it despatched requests for info to PIR so as to decide whether or not the switch needs to be allowed. “ICANN will thoroughly evaluate the responses, and then ICANN has 30 additional days to provide or withhold its consent to the request,” the group stated.

ICANN, which can also be a nonprofit, beforehand advised the Financial Times that it “does not have authority over the proposed acquisition,” making it appear to be the sale was virtually a completed deal. But even that earlier assertion gave ICANN some wiggle room. ICANN “said its job was simply to ‘assure the continued operation of the .org domain’—implying that it could only stop the sale if the stability and security of the domain-name infrastructure were at risk,” the Financial Times wrote on November 28.

In its newer assertion final week, ICANN famous that the .org registry settlement between PIR and ICANN requires PIR to “obtain ICANN’s prior approval before any transaction that would result in a change of control of the registry operator.”

ICANN can elevate “reasonable” objection

The registry settlement lets ICANN request transaction particulars “including information about the party acquiring control, its ultimate parent entity, and whether they meet the ICANN-adopted registry operator criteria (as well as financial resources, and operational and technical capabilities),” ICANN famous. ICANN’s 30-day review interval begins after PIR offers these particulars.

Per the registry settlement, ICANN stated it would apply “a standard of reasonableness” when figuring out whether or not to permit the change in management over the .org domain. As Domain Name Wire famous in a information story, whether or not ICANN can block the switch utilizing that customary “might ultimately have to be determined by the courts.”

The settlement between PIR and ICANN designates PIR because the registry operator for the .org top-level domain. It says that “neither party may assign any of its rights and obligations under this Agreement without the prior written approval of the other party, which approval will not be unreasonably withheld.”

Concern about worth hikes, transparency

The pending sale comes just a few months after ICANN authorised a contract change that eliminates worth caps on .org domain names. The sale has raised issues that Ethos Capital may impose giant worth hikes.

ICANN says it needs to make the transaction-review course of extra clear. But ICANN apparently wants PIR’s permission to publish the request for info and PIR’s responses, and to date PIR has refused a request to make paperwork public. In final week’s letter to PIR and the Internet Society, ICANN General Counsel and Secretary John Jeffrey urged PIR to make the knowledge public:

As you’re properly conscious, transparency is a cornerstone of ICANN and the way ICANN acts to guard the general public curiosity whereas performing its position. In gentle of the extent of curiosity within the just lately introduced acquisition of PIR, each inside the ICANN neighborhood and extra usually, we proceed to consider that it’s crucial that your Request, and the questions and solutions in observe as much as the Request, and another associated supplies, be made public.

While PIR has beforehand declined our request to publish the Request, we urge you to rethink. We additionally suppose there could be nice worth for us to publish the questions that you’re requested and your solutions to these questions. We will of course offer you the chance to redact parts of the paperwork that you simply consider include personally identifiable info earlier than posting and renew that supply right here.

As you, [ISOC CEO] Andrew [Sullivan], said publicly throughout a webcast assembly through which you participated on 5 December 2019, you’re uncomfortable with the dearth of transparency. Many of us watching the communications on this transaction are additionally uncomfortable.

In sum, we once more reiterate our perception that it’s crucial that you simply decide to finishing this course of in an open and clear method, beginning with publishing the Request and associated materials, and permitting us to publish our inquiries to you, and your full responses.

We contacted PIR right this moment and the group stated it is not capable of adjust to the request to make paperwork public as a result of of confidentiality agreements. PIR advised Ars:

PIR is dedicated to being clear with ICANN and the Internet neighborhood, and PIR is working to reply ICANN’s questions and handle why this acquisition shall be good for the .org neighborhood. But like every firm within the center of an acquisition, and per different adjustments of management which were reviewed by ICANN, we’re restricted in what we are able to launch publicly resulting from confidential[it]y agreements with different events and proprietary info involving the transaction.

PIR defends sale

PIR CEO Jon Nevett defended the pending sale in a weblog publish final week, calling it “the best path for .org’s future.”

“[A] diversified portfolio is much better, and less risky, than relying on one company like Public Interest Registry—in one industry—for nearly all of its funding,” Nevett wrote.

Under the Internet Society’s possession, PIR has “been in perpetual ‘harvest’ mode, where PIR sends the fruits of our labor to support the amazing work they do,” Nevett continued. “A relationship with Ethos will allow us to invest in .org, enabling us to deliver more to the .org community, and the Internet at-large.”

But critics of the sale need ensures in writing that the brand new proprietor will not impose large worth will increase. ICANN’s Noncommercial Stakeholders Group (NCSG) has known as on the ICANN board to require public-interest protections within the sale. For instance, the NCSG stated that earlier than any wholesale worth will increase, .org domain registrants needs to be given “six months to renew their domains for periods of up to 20 years at the pre-existing annual rate.”

Ethos Capital also needs to need to decide to content material neutrality with a pledge that it “will not suspend or take away domains based on their publication of political, cultural, social, ethnic, religious, and personal content, even untrue, offensive, indecent, or unethical material, like that protected under the US First Amendment,” the NCSG stated.

If Ethos Capital refuses to make these commitments, ICANN ought to “exercise its right” from the registry settlement to withhold its approval, the NCSG stated.

When contacted by Ars, PIR stated that its current settlement with ICANN “requires that PIR provide notification six months in advance of any price increase” and that “PIR under new ownership will honor the terms of that contract.” However, PIR didn’t decide to accepting the NCSG proposals.

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