Internet governing body blocks $1.1B sale of Public Interest Registry
A Reston-based nonprofit, the Public Interest Registry manages the .org domain.
The governing body of Internet domain addresses voted Thursday to block the $1.135 billion sale of the Public Interest Registry, a Reston-based nonprofit created by the Internet Society in 2002 to manage the .org top-level domain, to private equity firm Ethos Capital.
The Public Interest Registry has operated the .org domain — which is used by millions of nonprofit organizations — since 2003. But in 2019, the nonprofit moved to sell the domain registry to Ethos in order to focus on philanthropic goals. The sale would have increased its endowment.
However, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the governing body of Internet domain addresses, blocked the sale. ICANN said in a statement that the .org domain shouldn’t be operated by a company that is seeking profit, despite Ethos Capital’s pledge to maintain the .org domain as a “socially responsive mission.”
The most valuable top-level domain behind .com, .org has more than 10.5 million domain registrations worldwide.
Virginia Business reported in March that tech experts were worried that the proposed sale to a private equity firm could raise costs for nonprofit organizations using the .org domain, especially since ICANN approved a contract last June to eliminate the $9.93 per year price cap on .org domain registration fees.
ICANN said Ethos would need to service $360 million in debt to secure the transaction and provide returns to its shareholders.
“This decision will suffocate innovation and deter future investment in the domain industry,” Ethos said in a statement. “ICANN has empowered itself to extend its authority into areas that fall well outside of its legal mandate in acting as a regulatory body.”
Ethos was founded by Erik Brooks, the former managing partner of Boston-based investment fund Abry Partners.