EFF rouses rabble over .ORG sale

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has officially made its stance over the sale of the valuable .ORG domain registry to private equity firm Ethos Capital.

The deal between the Internet Society and Ethos Capital was initially announced last month, though the completion of the $1.135 billion transaction has been delayed, partly thanks to the vocal opposition from the likes of the EFF.

“Non-governmental organizations all over the world rely on the .ORG top-level domain,” EFF states in a letter to Internet Society CEO Andrew Sullivan.

“Decisions affecting .ORG must be made with the consultation of the NGO community, overseen by a trusted community leader. If the Internet Society (ISOC) can no longer be that leader, it should work with the NGO community and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to find an appropriate replacement.”

The concern from the EFF is financially driven. Should Ethos Capital be permitted to acquire the Public Interest Registry (PIR), the EFF believes the influence it wields may well threaten the concept of free speech.

The sale to Ethos Capital follows ICANN’s decision to remove price caps on registration fees for .ORG names. Ethos Capital now has the freedom to effectively charge whatever it pleases, as well as the ability to creates features which include ‘protections for the rights of third parties’. EFF argues these protections are often used as a justification and legal cover for censorship.

Aside from the EFF objections, the Packet Clearing House (PCH) recently suggested a sale to a private company would have a “disastrous effect on stability”, as less money would be spent on operational demands. Few will be concerned that The Girl Scouts of North America’s website is a bit twitchy, but .ORG is also used for air traffic control, containment of communicable disease, and verification of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The sale itself has proven to be very controversial in the internet community, though calls to ICANN to block the transaction may well fall on deaf ears. The organisation has already said it cannot do anything to deter the deal unless it impacts security or the stability of the internet.

On the other side of the coin, this could prove to be a very good bit of business for Ethos Capital. According to PCH, operational costs for the .ORG domain is roughly $30 million a year and it brings in revenues of $100 million. Prices vary, though if Ethos Capital was to double the cost of the .ORG domain, it would certainly still be tolerable. Purchasing .ORG for as little as $1.135 billion might prove to be a very clever bit of business.