In November 2019, NTEN and Electronic Frontier Foundation learned of the Internet Society’s plan to sell the Public Interest Registry — the organization that manages the .ORG top-level domain — to private equity firm Ethos Capital. Our message is clear: the NGO community should have a voice in decisions affecting the future of .ORG.
On Friday, November 22, 2019, NTEN and 26 other organizations co-signed a letter to Andrew Sullivan, CEO of Internet Society. Simultaneously, we launched the SaveDotOrg website to make the letter public and allow others to voice their concerns about the proposed sale. On Monday, November 25, 2019, after an incredible response from the community to our call to join us in sending the letter, we transitioned from enabling visitors to send emails directly to endorsing our letter instead. We switched to the endorsement after 7,308 emails had been sent to Internet Society calling for them to stop the proposed sale.
Over the following six months, NTEN and EFF, along with the Access Now, National Council of Nonprofits, Fight for the Future, and many other partner organizations, as well as Internet Society chapters and internet advocates, continued to demand transparency, accountability, and responsibility for the caretaking of our sector’s top-level domain. On May 1, 2020, ICANN rejected the sale. NTEN and EFF are grateful to the 940 organizations and the 64,000 individuals worldwide who joined us in calling for the sale to be stopped.
Below is a timeline of campaign moments from the retired SaveDotOrg website.
- December 7, 2019 — Community call recap
Here’s the transcript and full video of the December 5 public call discussing news of the proposed sale of .ORG.
- December 9, 2019 — ICANN seeks more information and transparency on .org sale
Once ICANN receives a response to its request for more information, it has 30 days to provide or withhold its consent to the sale. Meanwhile, ICANN urges PIR, ISOC, and Ethos Capital to be more transparent in their communications.
- December 24, 2019 — U.S. Senators question the sale of .Org domains to private equity firm
U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., with Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., questioned whether nonprofit groups, free speech, and internet users would be harmed by selling control of .ORG domains to a private equity firm. Their joint letter outlines nine questions and requests answers by January 6, 2020.
- January 16, 2020 — Lawmakers urge ICANN to block private equity firm taking over .ORG
U.S. Senators Warren; Wyden; Blumenthal; and Markey; and Representatives Eshoo and Pocan sent a letter to the leadership of ICANN urging them to block the Internet Society’s proposed sale of the PIR and its contract to operate the .ORG internet domain name registry to the private equity firm Ethos Capital.
- January 17, 2020 — National Association of State Charities officials urge ICANN to consider concerns
The Board of Directors of NASCO issued a letter to ICANN outlining concerns about the sale of .ORG to Ethos Capital, including the implications of converting Public Interest Registry from a nonprofit to a for-profit with undisclosed investors and the impact of the sale on consumers and donors. They urged ICANN to allow appropriate time for regulatory authorities to review the impact of this proposed transaction.
- January 24, 2020 — SaveDotOrg protest at ICANN draws board response
On Friday, January 24, NTEN and EFF hosted roughly 30 protesters outside ICANN’s office in Los Angeles, CA. The protesters had a banner and signs demanding the sale of PIR/.Org to Ethos Capital be stopped. For two hours, the peaceful group talked, chanted, and waited for a potential visit from staff or board to address the crowd and receive the 34,000+ combined signatures from the SaveDotOrg and Fight for the Future petitions. After the scheduled close of the protest, the ICANN full board came outside with brief remarks from Maarten Botterman, ICANN Board Chair, and a response from Amy Sample Ward, NTEN CEO, including a presentation of the signatures. Although ICANN staff had offered, on January 23, for protest leaders to join ICANN leaders for discussions after the protest, that offer was rescinded the morning of the protest, noting that no ICANN leaders were able to meet.
- January 30, 2020 — Internet Society Catalan chapter calls for reconsideration of .ORG sale
“The ISOC Catalan Chapter regrets the ISOC Board’s decision to sell PIR (and the .org domain) and sees with deep concern the consequences. We request the Board to listen to the community and to reconsider seriously the deal.” The statement on the chapter’s website also notes: “Listening to the community means reconsidering the whole deal, and to act as true stewards of the values represented by the ISOC community.”
- January 31, 2020 — California Department of Justice letter issued to ICANN
Xavier Becerra, Attorney General for the State of California, has issued a letter to ICANN outlining 35 questions to be addressed or answered related to a number of topics ranging from ICANN’s role in Top Level Domain pricing and management to all communications from Internet Society and PIR related to the proposed sale to Ethos. On January 30, ICANN acknowledged the request (originally dated January 23, 2020) and gave formal notice to PIR that in order to comply with the request, they will be sharing information PIR has previously designated confidential as well as an extension on the timeline ICANN has for responding to the proposed sale, pushing that deadline to April 20, 2020.
- February 7, 2020 — Internet Society France calls for .ORG sale to be reconsidered
The Internet Society France issued a letter calling on the ISOC Board of Trustees to reconsider the sale of .ORG and open a broad consultation of the stakeholders. The letter outlines the need for changes to the bylaws and governance structures of ISOC, stating, “The Internet Society France stands ready to engage in the governance of structures that will be put in place to ensure that the voice of the .ORG community and the Internet as a whole is heard.”
- February 7, 2020 — France issues warning and request to ICANN
The French government sent a letter to ICANN stating that consumer interest and the respect for the rule of law are pillars of public interest and that both would be negatively impacted by the sale of .ORG. The letter requests ICANN provide them with a detailed opinion on the proposed transaction and that they give ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee access to review and make recommendations to ICANN about the sale before ICANN’s official response to PIR.
- February 13, 2020 — ICANN issues questions to Internet Society
Maarten Botterman, Chair of the Board at ICANN, issued 18 questions to Internet Society via a letter addressed to Gonzalo Camarillo, the Chair of the Board at Internet Society, on February 13, 2020. The questions range in content, including processes employed to engage the .ORG community with respect to the proposed sale, details of other bids received, and protections for .ORG registrations included in the proposed sale’s details or contracts.
- February 13, 2020 — ICANN requests extension and reinforces oversight
ICANN previously requested an extension of their response to the proposed sale of .ORG to April 20, given the CA Dept. of Justice’s request for information and the time necessary for thorough review and preparation. PIR responded in a letter dated February 3 that they would grant an extension only to February 29. Further, the letter from PIR explained ICANN’s purview as limited to the “security, reliability, or stability of services of the .ORG registry”. ICANN responded in a letter dated February 13, requesting again an extension to April 20 and outlining in detail a broader scope of responsibility for ICANN’s review.
- February 14, 2020 — Internet Society Switzerland joins the concerned voices for the .ORG sale
The Swiss Chapter of the Internet Society has published a statement associating the Chapter with the positions of the France and Catalonia chapters. The statement calls for the sale to be stopped until all relevant information is made public and there has been a public consultation.
- February 21, 2020 — Nonprofits call for disclosure of financing details of .ORG sale
On February 21, 2020, Ethos Capital announced new or updated initiatives related to the sale of PIR. Electronic Frontier Foundation, Americans for Financial Reform, and NTEN call for disclosure of the financial details behind the $1.1B sale asking the FTC to scrutinize the deal.
- February 23, 2020 — ISOC’s Chapter Advisory Council issues advice to ISOC board
Internet Society’s Chapter Advisory Council issued advice to the ISOC Board, stating, “The sale of PIR to Ethos Capital should not proceed unless a number of conditions are met.” The letter also notes, “There is a feeling amongst chapters that ISOC seems to have disregarded community participation, failed to properly account for the potential community impact, and misread the community mindset around the .ORG TLD.” The advice was passed on February 23, 2020.
- February 26, 2020 — EFF and NTEN respond to Ethos Capital’s announcement
In a letter to Fadi Chehadé, Erik Brooks, and Jon Nevett, SaveDotOrg campaign partners Cindy Cohn, Executive Director of Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Amy Sample Ward, CEO of NTEN, respond to Ethos Capital’s announcement of “accountability initiatives” and plans for the Stewardship council. The letter states, “While you have clearly recognized that the NGO community demands accountability from its top-level domain registry, this announcement does nothing to display that accountability. Rather than instill trust, it reveals once again that you lack understanding of the NGO community’s needs and are not equipped to manage .ORG.”
- March 18, 2020 — PIR grants ICANN extension
Public Interest Registry has announced they have agreed to the previously requested deadline extension of April 20, 2020. ICANN requested the extension twice before, though previous responses from PIR denied the full extension. The approval today comes just days before the last deadline extension communicated by PIR of March 20.
- March 18, 2020 — U.S. legislators call on ICANN to block sale
Five United States Senators, Richard Blumenthal, Ed Markey, Elizabeth Warren, and Ron Wyden, and Representative Anna Eshoo addressed the ICANN leadership, including board and staff, in a March 18, 2020, detailed letter and called for them to block the sale of .ORG to private equity firm Ethos. The nine-page letter includes the positions that Ethos and PIR have not been transparent about who is behind the plan or their business plan, that Ethos’ commitment to price increase limitations is weak, and that the Stewardship Council “would be toothless.”
- April 8, 2020 — ICANN opens 7-day comment period
ICANN published PIR’s recently updated Public Interest Commitments, which were received by ICANN on 7 April 2020. PIR proposes that these PICs be added to the .ORG Registry Agreement should ICANN approve the change of control request submitted by PIR. In the same post, ICANN opens a 7-day public comment period, breaking the precedent of a 30-day window for public comments.
- April 14, 2020 — ICANN founding president and board chair write to attorneys general
Michael Roberts, ICANN Founding President, and Esther Dyson, ICANN Founding Board Chair, coauthored a letter on April 16, 2020, to the State Attorneys General of both California and Pennsylvania. California is where ICANN is incorporated, and Pennsylvania is where Public Interest Registry is incorporated. The letter outlines ICANN’s deviation from core principles and allowing the circumventing of ICANN’s clearly defined open, competitive, multistakeholder process.
- April 15, 2020 — SaveDotOrg nonprofits urge ICANN to reject sale
In a letter to the ICANN board and staff leadership on April 15, 2020, a coalition of organizations, including Access Now, Domain Name Rights Coalition, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and NTEN, urged ICANN to stop the sale of .ORG to private equity firm Ethos Capital. The letter outlines concerns regarding procedural issues, financial stability risk, Ethos' avoidance of accountability, and issues with Ethos’ proposed PICs.
- April 15, 2020 — California attorney general urges sale rejected
In a letter to the ICANN board and staff leadership on April 15, the U.S. State of California’s Office of the Attorney General wrote, “I urge ICANN to reject the transfer of control over the .ORG registry to Ethos Capital. The proposed transfer raises serious concerns that cannot be overlooked.” The letter highlights concerns expressed about the proposed sale by the At-Large Advisory Committee and the broader community. It highlights a number of specific concerns with the proposed sale.
- April 16, 2020 — ICANN deadline for .Org decision moved to May 4
In a letter dated April 16, 2020, ICANN and PIR agreed to a further extension of the timeline for ICANN to respond to the proposal of PIR/.Org’s sale to private equity firm Ethos Capital. The new deadline is May 4, 2020.
- April 17, 2020 — ISOC’s Chapter Advisory Council issues additional advice to ISOC board
Internet Society’s Chapter Advisory Council issued a second statement of advice to the ISOC Board, stating, “We reiterate that the sale of PIR to Ethos Capital should not proceed until unless proscribed by law, the following conditions are met, and the ISOC Board has taken into account the comments received after the information requested below is made public.” The advice was passed on April 17, 2020.
- April 24, 2020 — Germany highlights concerns with proposed sale
Heads of the Internet Governance and International Digital Dialogues Division and Cyber Foreign Policy and Cyber Security Coordination Division of Germany wrote to ICANN about their concerns about the proposed sale or .ORG to Ethos Capital. The letter from April 24, 2020, specifically calls out the lack of information about the deal and sufficient guarantees.
- April 30, 2020 — ICANN rejects sale of .ORG
“After completing extensive due diligence, the ICANN Board finds that withholding consent of the transfer of PIR from the Internet Society to Ethos Capital is reasonable, and the right thing to do.” The ICANN board’s statement was posted on April 30, 2020.
- June 26, 2020 — Internet Society responds to SaveDotOrg letter
On June 24, 2020, leaders of the SaveDotOrg coalition, including NTEN, EFF, and Access Now, sent a letter to Internet Society and Public Interest Registry in acknowledgment that the end of the proposed sale of PIR to private equity firm Ethos Capital was only part of the original coalition’s request since November 2019. Still outstanding are critical protections in the .Org domain contract. The letter also noted three critical steps ISOC and PIR need to take to build trust: a transparent, independent review, shared findings, and a collaborative process for improving governance and accountability.
On June 26, 2020, Andrew Sullivan sent a letter in response on behalf of ISOC and PIR. The ISOC letter defers any responsibility or accountability related to protections or actions listed in the coalition’s letter to a recently chartered “Governance Reform Working Group” and notes that any changes or recommendations will be considered only after the Working Group has conducted their chartered work. No timeline for the Working Group’s work was included, nor was information about who was in the Working Group or how they were selected. Further, the letter from Sullivan states that PIR will continue operating as they have been without any changes.