Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
ISOC sold the .org registry to Ethos Capital for $1.1B (keypointsabout.org)
994 points by dano on Nov 29, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 247 comments

The major threads so far, from most comments to fewest:

"Save .org": https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21611677

"Why I Voted to Sell .ORG": https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21656960

"ICANN races towards regulatory capture: the great .org heist": https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21626677

"ICA asks ICANN to block .Org private equity deal in damning letter": https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21557779

"Internet world despairs as non-profit .org sold to private equity firm": https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21592297

"Private Equity Is Going to Ruin the .Org Domain System and Screw Nonprofits": https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21582622

Did I miss any?

I posted the original many months when .ORG price caps were being removed: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20263561

My thread didn't get much momentum:


But the linked article has pre-filled form letters you can use to send complaints to the IRS, and a copy of a letter I sent to the AG in CA and VA, which may provide some inspiration for anyone who wants to write a similar letter.


What if all three organizations don't care if they lose their 501(c)3's? A billion dollars is a million dollars a week for 20 years, it can pay for a lot of kickbacks.

".org TLD was sold to private investor": https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21539144

Here are a few more I posted that failed to get much traction:

Ethos/PIR Funded and Led a Scorched Earth Campaign Against Communities at ICANN https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21659409

The .ORG Sale Is a Radical Departure That Puts the Internet at Risk https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21659278

Vint 'father of the 'net' Cerf dodges dot-org sell-off during public Q&A https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21659240

This submission by almostbasic offers an excellent overview:

.ORGanized Takeover – a timeline of the ISOC, PIR & Ethos Capital Deal https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21630179

From https://www.privateinternetaccess.com/blog/2019/11/isoc-pir-... :

"March 2019:

ICANN receives 3,300 comments uniformly opposed to the change and 6 in favor of removing price caps, and sides with the 0.2% minority.

May 2019:

PIR responded to the comments with an open letter that said, “We are a mission-based non-profit, and would never betray the trust that you have put into .ORG and us.”

On 7 May, Chehadé registered the domain for EthosCapital.com.

On 13 May, ICANN decided to lift the price caps anyway.

On 14 May, Ethos Capital was incorporated as a new investment firm founded by Brooks. Ethos Capital has two staff: Brooks and Nora Abusitta-Ouri, a former ICANN SVP who later worked for Chehadé and was also a classmate of Chehadé."

thank you for this illuminating timeline, in the fog of all their PR it makes everything quite clear as to their true intentions.

Vint Cerf did a lot of good but he also worked real hard to undo his legacy over the past decade or so. Unless I'm really mis-understanding him I keep finding myself on the opposite side of what he's arguing for.

If this goes through, I hope this is all he is remembered for.

Like Hans Reiser.

That's beyond the pale. Please don't do internet hell here.


What other example can I draw from? Pragmatism is all I was going for.

I think there is some light between 'murdered his wife, mother of his two children' and 'sold out'. But Cerf was one of the greats and to see him fall so far is sad and depressing.

Everyone has a price.

Why are you openly spam posting so many threads on the same topic? We only need one.

Some of those were both interesting and new to me.

I am sure that is true for others.

The time of .org as 'trusted' is over.

When a private equity investment firm buys something, they plan to extract value, they don't create value.

Ethos Capital was formed in 2019 [1]. Price caps were lifted before it was sold [2]. Combined with the billion plus valuation, something is sketchy. Even if you trust this sale, they could even resell it to a less trustworthy owner after increasing rates making a return on investment, that is probably the plan.

.orgs will be filled with extortion to good .orgs, and fake .orgs will be created which will create distrust about existing .orgs, and allow propaganda to spread.

There will be tons of malware and phishing going on when people think they are on trustable domains.

If they could buy .gov they would. Just more of the turn of the internet to authoritarian/corporate control over the internet's anti-authoritarian/public/independent roots.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethos_Capital

[2] https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2019/11/private-equity-f...

.org is an unrestricted gtld... You don't have to be a non-profit to register a .org.. you just need $10. So I don't know what trust you're referring to.

If you've been putting any trust into a website because it's a .org, that was your mistake... It's been unrestricted for a very long time.

Ethos changes nothing in that regard.

I trusted that some committee somewhere was trying to make an honest go of it with this Internet thing [1]. With the selling of ORG, I lost some trust in the administration of the domain name system. Most people already knew anyone could register a .org domain. That really wasn't the point.

[1] https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc920

That RFC never went into effect. Perhaps it is a good thing that the illusion of .org trust has been shattered for many.

I don't think I know anybody non-technical (and not that many technical people either) that has any idea what these ".com", ".net", ".org" things are or that they can mean different things.

Most people don't even know that there was an illusion that's supposed to be shattered

That RFC hasn't been in effect, unfortunately, since the Internet became mainstream.

Agree. As an owner of a few .orgs I confirm there is no such restriction.

I had some domains using the three, .com .net and .org variants as many of us did years ago. I never used them, though all this news and not using them properly made it really easy for me to let them expire (the org variant), while previous years I would neatly renew them without thinking.

So how long until I need to pay a Shkreli-ton to keep my mail address?

I am going to let my .org return to the pool. I will miss having it, but I feel this move is adding zero value. Money grab, violation of net basics.

We are moving to a new, worse time. Have been for a while.

I do not want to reward that investment at all.

Maybe with the abundance of TLDs .com/.org will eventually be reduced in importance and seen just as another TLD with a bit of special history.

As things stand now, .com is basically seen as just a mysterious string that ends URLs in much the same way that "http" begins URLs. It isn't viewed as having any more significance than that. "Just another TLD" is arguably a step up in importance from "invisible part of the background that nobody ever thinks about".

> .com is basically seen as just a mysterious string that ends URLs in much the same way that "http" begins URLs.

This is 100% true. And yet, for the average person, it's viewed as the default mysterious string that ends a website's "name". Anything else is viewed as slightly questionable, although most people are aware of .org and .net as sometimes legitimate exceptions. I think most people would be less likely to enter their credit card information on a ".biz" domain, even though they couldn't express any accurate reason why that made it less trustworthy. That's significant, even if it makes no technological difference.

Outside US, country tld are also very common.

The same heuristics apply. .<ccTLD> is roughly as trustworthy as .com is; .<class>.<ccTLD> is as trustworthy as .<tld>, where class=tld.

I think the move to more specific domains is better and .org should be a relic of the past. For instance, consider:

people.org people.health people.art

The last two actually imply what they are about, but the .org could be anything.

Trust and faith in the service associated with a domain needs to be built with standard channels like word of mouth, advertising, good business practices, etc.

To me an industry-specific TLD just says "We couldn't think of an original name."

While that's not inaccurate, I don't think it's a problem. It makes no sense to require everything to have a globally unique name.

Hmm, yeah now that I think about it more I agree.

The traditional TLDs, especially .com, are immediately recognizable as www addresses. If you write some_name.com somewhere, just about anyone would know that they could type that into a browser. But some_name.club would not have that effect.

Wait, what? Give people more credit, a lot of people know it stands for the commercial domain name and understand the implications of that.

I was under the impression it had Soviet origins

Da, comrade.

Net comrade, my soviet domain names are still valid [1] and free from this private equity capitalism nonsense.


A lot of English-speaking people, which isn't everyone.

I don't care about that happening with .com

I do care about that happening with .org

The .org matters. I would say these new owners don't get that, but I think they do, and think they have position to just rent seek, essentially trading on something that matters to just about the point where it doesn't so much.

Not going there. End game is .org no longer matters.

Fine. Might as well not contribute to the whole mess.

Rather than pre-emptively throwing your toys out of the pram, why not wait and see whether Ethos proves to abuse their position or not.

Ethos Capital (little bit too much like 'tethics') was formed in 2019 so nobody knows. Their headquarters is in Mauritius [1][2]. They could even be cool for a bit and then sell it to someone worse, though it isn't looking good as there was some insider finagling [3].

The problem is '.org' is in the private equity game now and when you go down that path, value is extracted and entities end up stripped of assets, loaded with debt and eventually stagnate. Private equity investment does not invest for community goodwill, it is a value extraction mission. Even if it is for investment, as much value or growth that can be extracted before it is available for investment is the modus operandi see Softbank with WeWork, Uber etc. You can see Ethos Capital goals and history where again creating returns and value extraction is the only goal. [4][5] Since it is a new entity there is very little ability to predict what this firm does or will do with their investment targets.

If this is the new game in TLDs then there could be some price collusion incoming, meaning more expensive for small/medium/institutions that are trying to compete or do public good.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mauritius

[2] https://ethoscapital.mu/contact/contact-us/

[3] https://www.theregister.co.uk/2019/11/20/org_registry_sale_s...

[4] https://ethoscapital.mu/what-we-do/advisor-ethos-private-equ...

[5] https://ethoscapital.mu/what-we-do/investment-strategy/

That's the wrong Ethos Capital... you want ethoscapital.com !

Just watch: "If we double it, the impact to any one domain will be near negligible..."

That will prove irresistible. Too easy.

And unnecessary.

Flat out, someone got pitched about an easy money machine, with strong second sale potential.

And it is, and will be too.

It is because .org was not supposed to be about these kinds of things.

Well, now it is. With no value added. Just rent seeking.

Maybe in the future much stronger legal means can prevent this kind of thing from happening.

I get it. The money is good.

It just will not come from me. Have seen this movie enough times to know how it ends now.

It is sad, and it sucks.

You are aware this is the situation today trustwise? Nothing new.

fake .orgs will be created which will create distrust about existing .orgs, and allow propaganda to spread

Why? It isn't in their own interest to ruin .org.

You are assuming that we know what "ruining .org" means for everyone. We don't.

From an investor's perspective "ruining .org" means the asset won't produce return on investment. From your or my perspective it may be something entirely different.

It depends on the economic benefit they can extract and get away with.

You can extract more value by squeezing the people who need it than by devaluing it by selling .org domains to scammers and phishers.

You can register a .org domain no matter what purpose you give to it. Scammers and phishers have always been able to buy .org domains.

Long-term? Yes. Short-term? Not necessarily. And it's a rare market entity that prefers long-term value over short-term gains.

You do both. As you squeeze it stops being viable for legitimate players.

Then the scammers dominate.

Because they will raise the prices enough that legitimate orgs don't want to pay it, so they'll be available.

I've seen plenty of scam and piracy sites using it in recent year, don't know if it's China-specific.

Can you sue Ethos Capital for scam .org now?

Value is created by private equity buyouts through operational improvements.

Have you seen my bridge? It's actually for sale! It's crying out for your operational improvements to really get it monetized...

That is a very naive view of private equity buyouts.

The domain business of .org is run by Afilias, they pay about $2 per year for a domain. That is a extremely low price and it would be very difficult to manage to get a lower price anywhere. In fact Afilias might not be motivated to continue with such a generous price if they are a for profit registry now.

In reality value is created by private equity buyouts through an aggressive use of debt, which provides financing and tax advantages and freedom from restrictive regulations.

Please cite a case where this has actually happened.

Most of the information is not public, there are a number of HBS cases with relevant data but they are all behind paywalls. If you do the math, it's clear that ebitda margin improvement, top line growth, and multiple expansion have a much larger impact on returns than debt paydown. Here are some highly quick and dirty numbers (initial equity value is negative bc it's plugged straight into IRR()): https://imgur.com/lGCs5aR

You are clever like a fox.

ISOC is redacting its own meeting minutes. The part here about "PIR business" is about the sale of .org (public interest registry).

What the hell?


Ctrl-f for "redact"

This needs far more attention. US whistle-blower laws are fairly decent I thought (NatSec aside). Surely there's someone out there who can collect a fair sum to drop some info.

Ctrl-f for the involvement of "Goldman Sachs".

I actually missed that part but now the urge to facepalm is even greater.

I suppose the question is who will do something about this.

What group or individual is going to slog through the work of getting this investigated?

What group or individual is going to slog through a lawsuit?

Would the EFF take it up, or is it outside their purview?

Is there any hope of reversal/fines/prosecution? Will it hinge on intent? Does that intent exist, or was ISOC just foolish? If there was intent, can that intent be shown beyond a reasonable doubt? Or is there some rigid, incontrovertible rule that has been broken, such that intent doesn't matter?

All in all, it seems like such a stupid financial decision by ISOC (and one which goes against their mission) that one can't help but presume some sort of foul play. But who knows, perhaps they just messed up.

An alternative "do something about it" option is to just create a new name system (either based on DNS protocols, or something entirely new) that is controlled by someone more responsible. DNS is just an internet application like anything else, nothing is forcing us to use it aside from its broad adoption and lack of support for anything else in modern applications.

What it comes down to is: who is both sufficiently dissatisfied with the way DNS is managed and has the clout to get a large group of organizations to move to an alternative? Or perhaps: what is the killer app that is incompatible with how ISOC runs things that would get people to switch?

> nothing is forcing us to use it aside from its broad adoption and lack of support for anything else in modern applications


IPv6 should give you some idea how easy your "nothing" is to change.

There's already some options, IPFS has IPNS.

That sounds like OpenNIC.

You can contact the IRS and the authorities in Virginia and California; if this sale is as suspicious as it appears to be, they may uncover evidence of wrongdoing and prosecute. Drew DeVault has form letters you can use: https://drewdevault.com/2019/11/29/dotorg.html

The US Government probably can seize control of .org if they're interested since they originally held the rights. The present administration is unlikely to be interested.

The present administration is probably the catalyst for this egregious example of self dealing.

Please don't post partisan flamebait to HN.


The previous administration is actually partially responsible for this allowing to be done without government intervention. See this hacker news post [0] for some more information.

[0]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12612033

Doubtful anyone there has a sustained interest in a domain registrar. any proof?

There is https://SaveDotOrg.org which people that don't support this selling out of .org should sign. It's supported by NTEN and a lot of other site owners and internet users.

This would require a functional government. And the current one is nothing if not dysfunctional.

The linked article pretty much lays out how this aligns with ISOC's mission---$1.1 billion, properly managed, gives ISOC the resources to pursue its mission for the foreseeable future.

Probably nothing to prosecute.

I don't understand this point though, since on a yearly basis it will be roughly the same for them:

"This funding is sufficient to provide the Internet Society with broadly equivalent annual earnings we currently receive from PIR. And through responsible, well managed investment, we believe this fund will provide a comparable level of funding to the Internet Society in perpetuity."

So unless they were worried that .org was not as stable as an endowment, it seems like it didn't help them at all anyway. And this is at the cost of their core mission?

Would you rather sit on a board that has to oversee an actual operation, or one that merely monitors an investment and spends lavishly on board meetings?

I mean, there's not really that much to oversee. ISOC board just has to review payments from PIR and maybe look over an audit report once in a while. PIR has a bit more to do, since they're overseeing the contractor that's running the registry; they may need to approve some expenses and plans and what not in addition to looking at audit reports once in a while, and every three to five years choose a new auditor and solicit bids and evaluate new contractors to run the registry (and then, probably, stick with the current one).

ISOC the resources to pursue its mission for the foreseeable future

Can anyone link me to what the Internet Society has actually, tangibly done in this mission? Because to me they look awfully like that sort of charity that if you look closer all it does is “raise awareness” from the comfort of plush offices

start by looking at who joined ethos capital and related moves by icann to allow for removal of price caps...


Does anyone have a clue if they'll manage to keep their 501(c)(3) status with $1.1 billion in profit for 2019? My understanding is that profits like this unrelated to their normal business activies are taxable, and may also cause the IRS to reconsider their non-profit status and/or levy penalties [1].

[1] https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/unrelated-business...

HN comment thread on how you can file a complaint with the IRS about this deal and their non-profit status:


From their press release: https://thenew.org/the-internet-society-public-interest-regi...

> Once the transaction is completed, PIR will continue to meet the highest standards of public transparency, accountability, and social performance in line with its longstanding purpose-driven mission, and will consider seeking B Corporation certification.

I guess they intend to abandon their non-profit status soon?

My understanding is that being a non-profit simply means the organization can never pay money out as shareholder dividends.

This is not the same as the organization can never end the year with more money in the bank than it started. This is not counted as profit, it's simply money that must eventually be spent for charitable purposes in later years.

Large amounts of money can enter the organization, but it can never end exit. (Though, there are some loopholes, like admistator salaries)

There are more rules. I don't know the specifics of the US, but in most countries the activities of a non-profit have restrictions.

I agree. Becoming and staying a non-profit is harder than you'd think. The IRS's rules are vague and subjective. This is specifically what I'm talking about: "If unrelated business income comprises a 'substantial' portion of an exempt organization's income, loss of tax-exempt status may result" [1].

[1] https://www.hurwitassociates.com/taxation-of-unrelated-busin...

501(c)(3) status has nothing to do with operational profits. There are many entities that aren't losing money and still have 501(c)(3) status. That status just means the entity is not created to deliver profits to shareholders - like regular commercial company does - but it doesn't mean it has to burn money. It can very well have positive operational cash flow, it just can't redirect that cash flow to pay out the shareholders. I don't see how you conclude that "profits like this unrelated to their normal business" - any evidence substantiating this claim?

Well, reading the IRS guidelines on what qualifies as UBI, it seems like it might fall under that category, but I'm also not an expert, which is why I'm asking for a more qualified opinion. However, assuming it's UBI, it's pretty clear to me that having a large percentage of their income this year being UBI would be a red flag to the IRS.

IRS regulations say:

1. It is trade or business - sure, it's trade as in sale, so that matches.

2. It is regularly carried on - not really, there's only one .org domain so one can't regularly sell it.

3. It is not substantially related to furthering the exempt purpose of the organization - that one would be the toughest to prove, the purpose of the organization is "to promote the open development, evolution and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world". Of course you can think that selling .org to a particular company may not benefit the world, but surely it's just your opinion, you can't prove that it has no relation to the original mission.

Also, using taxation as a tool in policy disagreements is a really bad idea. It is tempting to say "ah, so do this bad thing so we retaliate against you by attacking your tax status" but that's not what tax status is for. If it's a non-profit, it remains a non-profit even after it does bad thing, and whether it is a non-profit or not should not depend on whether we like what they're doing. Tax status is not a form of punishment or reward, at least it shouldn't be.

> 2. It is regularly carried on - not really, there's only one .org domain so one can't regularly sell it.

You're right. I misread #2 as the inverse so misunderstood what UBI was.

> 3. It is not substantially related to furthering the exempt purpose of the organization - that one would be the toughest to prove...

Kinda a moot point given #2, but the IRS elaborates (emphasis mine), "... only when the conduct of the business activities has causal relationship to achieving exempt purposes (_other than through the production of income_)"

The $1.1 billion isn't profit. They're selling an asset (the .org rights). That transaction should be entirely neutral in terms of profit/loss.

In what world are the majority of asset sales untaxed? Look at stocks, bonds, bitcoin, homes, art, gold, silver... All assets and all taxable upon realized gains and losses.

P&L is the basis for corporate income taxes. There are many other taxes, such as capital gain.


From the “Why I Voted to Sell .ORG” article

> This transaction will put that bigger mission on a solid footing — so that the Internet Society can provide much more substantive help to nonprofits than merely leasing domain names, and with more continuity over time.

I’m really disappointed in this perspective - the mission is now growing outside of its current operations (ie conquesting) AND will now have a slug of cash which they’ve never properly managed before.

The Internet needs them to be conservative stewards but they want to grow outside of that.

Further more the article goes through “protections” that are in place for Ethos to keep prices reasonable. The issue is these protections aren’t all contractually obligated and even those written are weak.

Of course private equity is going to get a return on capital on $1B invested. Their incentive is to push the boundary as far as it can possibly go to find the profit maximizing point.

Would love to hear more arguments for and against.

I read this as “everything has a price.” Disappointing.

Sounds like a lot of money for something that should actually only be a minor administrative cost.

Something smells. Perhaps a few audits, some regulation and a lot more oversight by people who are less "enthusiastically driven by negotiable pleasantries" would help?

Domain names were initially provided free of charge. I once saw an estimate that put the administrative cost of a domain name at less than 20 cents. Then came "NewCo", now known as ICANN, and the "business" of "selling" domain names.

Verisign, the operator of .com, arguably the most important TLD, operates the com registry subject to agreements with US Department of Commerce and ICANN. These contracts now let them keep raising prices gradually. It is doubtful that these increases reflect or are in any way proportional increases in administrative costs.

When ICANN was founded, the DNS was almost entirely monopolized by Network Solutions who sold domains for $100 per year. The process was very manual and time consuming (think old-style TLS certificates). ICANN’s purpose was to break up the monopoly by setting up the two-level registry/registrar system, by creating more TLDs, and by taking away some TLDs. Verisign, through various acquisitions and sell-offs, the descendent of Network Solutions, and still dominates.

I also remember it was $50/year for a time. A 100% increase/decrease. The fees were/are arbitrary and do not correlate to administrative costs.

The transition from InterNIC to Network Solutions was botched, but ICANN was a very complex and still expensive fix for that mistake.

I figured that domain names were essentially just an excuse for taking rental money (or printing money if you add a bit of poetic license).

I understand why the sale price can vary. Stuff has a market price and some are now more valuable. Initial setup for new domain should be negligible however.

I also understand there are costs for keeping the lights on but I can't see that rental being much more than a dollar per month. It can't cost THAT much to serve a single name entry. Not when I can get a generic server for $20/month or so. And that is without much effort. With a minimal bit more effort I could probably get something a lot cheaper.

The whole pricing structure seems like a scam.

AFAIK a .org domain costs ~$10/year; ~$5 is a mandatory "donation" to ISOC, <$2 goes to Afilias to actually operate .org, and I guess there is some kind of PIR administrative overhead. So yeah, your intuition is right.

Details in my comment here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21658218 (Clarification: by $0-2 goes to Afilias I meant that much goes to the profit of Afilias.)

In addition to that, apparently $2 to Afilias (for-profit, actual registry operator) was a recent development[1]; it was more like $4 before 2018.

And guess what, former PIR CEO (2011-2018) was Vice President of Discovery Services for Afilias (2018-2011).[2] (This was pointed out to me by [3].) So the shenanigans have been going on long before the monumental .org sale we're discussing here.

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21658218

[1] https://domainnamewire.com/2019/10/28/pir-org-slashes-regist...

[2] https://icannwiki.org/Brian_Cute

[3] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21659856

They were reporting ~$90m/year revenue, so it's not an outrageous multiplier - no idea how they earned so much from the domain service though.

This is quite cheap actually. 12x multipler - raise prices(10%) 3 times and it's down to 9x :)

Viewed as a perpetuity the income should have been valued way higher - around 4 billion.

This deal just stinks.

But what was their profitability? I saw in some other thread it estimates like 50%, which would put this at around a 24x p/e, kinda normal/high?

Indeed, revenue multiples are dangerous. I’m guessing they bought it at a significant ebitda multiple making the deal sweet for the sellers. However, the private equity MO is going to be value creation through margin improvement. When they flip it their proceeds will be much sweeter. They’ve most likely modeled in multiple contraction as that’s rather common with tech buyouts these days. If the market stays hot they make a killing.

If they simply make something more lean, no real impact to domain name holders, fine. There is some value there.

But, nobody drops numbers that large without very fully exploiting what they see as an opportunity.

The opportunity is to raise prices to max market will bear, then flip it.

Given the intent behind .org, this is artificial value, created out of both position and leverage.

I am beginning the work to be rid of my .org

That will cost me. Fine.

I abhor this kind of thing. A lot more money will move unnecessarily.

I do not want to be a part of that.

This comment and its parent are the two keys for me in this whole rotten situation. ISOC are like Esau selling his birthright for a mess of pottage (i.e., a bowl of lentils). They could have done so much better for themselves, for the Internet and for society at large by holding on to the domain.

What makes you think that this won't be repeated for other domains? The high level leadership at ISOC/ICANN now have the model for exiting into a lucrative future career as an equity partner. The top officials at ICANN are merely paid in the $300K-$600K annual compensation range, surely an insult for the rulers of the Internet...


Question: what even gives ISOC the right to sell it? IIRC, they were granted control by the US gov, but that is not the same as ownership.

Likely the same contractual basis that granted the transferal of Network Solutions to VeriSign via acquisition, which brought along control over .com and .net. There are probably terms that allow for the control to be transferred via sale in some manner. Ultimately, either way, the US Government allows it to happen; they could intervene if they cared to and make the sale untenable.

It's such a good rent extraction business that Berkshire Hathaway has accumulated 11% of VeriSign. Last year VeriSign's gross profit margin was 82% and their net income margin was a staggering 47% (a level you never see from major public companies, outside of rare cases like Visa or Facebook).

.org was moved from Network Solutions / Verisign to PIR by ICANN. ISOC can (apparently) sell PIR without affecting the .org contract.

That's a very good question

This x 1000000.

You know what an NTEN in partnership with a mega tech company (e.g. Google) should do? Buy a TLD that replaces .org and seamlessly transition (for free for 2 years or so) every .org owner. It's not impossible to imagine a mass exodus from .org that the search engines, browsers, and DNS providers quickly respond to.

And give ICANN the biggest sign of how this should never happen again.

What about individuals like me? I'm not a non-profit. I'm a hobbyist who's been using a .org domain for 25 years, very nearly my entire adult life. My entire digital identity is tied up in it. I have hundreds of accounts and email addresses and subscriptions that I'd have to change if my mail domains suddenly became unaffordable. This is madness.

Non-profit doesn't matter. The idea is that we create a replacement for .org and update all the DNS resolvers to prefer it for resolving .org lookups and only use PIR as a legacy fallback.

The dream of the Internet is dead. The web is being replaced with mobile apps and silos.

It's going against the grain now to do things on your own.

When did the internet become HTTP:80 and HTTPS:443

>When did the internet become HTTP:80 and HTTPS:443

When you no longer needed ports 20, 25, 70, 110, 119 or 143.

At least a decade ago.

Yes good point, that is why a TLD which recognizes you as a non-profit would not be a good idea. You would probably be just fine with .org regardless of whether a more apt TLD is going to be created.

> why a TLD which recognizes you as a non-profit would not be a good idea.

.org hasn't been restricted to non-profits since forever ago (even when it was the restriction wasn't enforced). It was, until very recently, a TLD supposedly run by a non-profit as part of the Internet infrastructure so that people would expect reasonable pricing, unlike others.

> You would probably be just fine with .org

Similar to gp I built my identity around an .org (though not as long). I certainly won't be fine if Ethos decides to jack the price of my domain to hundreds of dollars per year.

I after. How is it any way desirable if .org doesn’t actually represent non profits? If anyone can register a .org regardless of status then it might as well be sold to the highest bidder, as it was meaningless for a long time already.

Many .org’s like the ACLU are mired in politics and thus have enemies.

Remember, not only could a new owner send e-mails posing as somedude@wellknown.org; even worse, they would be able to collect ^all^ the e-mail going to that domain.

I don’t believe for a moment that the ACLU, or Planned Parenthood, or any org of that scale could transition in two or even ten years.

If they have truly crazy plans for .org, one can drop a domain name and still block its assignment based on IP infringement..

The oddity here is that no matter what they do it makes no real difference to the kind of organization that regularly hires lawyers. I see this as more of an existential threat that every name connected with ICANN could end up in a free market pricing similar to rent.

Agree. Not sure what the TLD could be though. .ngo is a bit too specific. .non (for non-profit) is a possible option.

Why does everyone think .orgs are all non-profits?

My personal domain is .org and has been for 20+ years. I chose .org because .com and .net were taken.

I don’t ever recall anything where anyone even mentioned non-profits in relation to my .org registration.

I registered my personal domain in the summer of 1999. I vaguely remember that Network Solutions was the only option (you had to fax them) and for .org I would have needed to provide some additional justification. Maybe that changed after the monopoly was broken?

I registered my .org in 1999 via Network Solutions. I did not need to show any proof that I was a non-profit.

I did mine in 1999 also. I definitely did not have any proof of anything in 1999.

Com, org, gov, net, edu.

Peasants like us were never meant to have their own domain names.

Both good ideas! I would have probably come up with .public or .world or something less representative of organization legal structures.

Isn't .www the obvious choice? ;)

Why do you need a special TLD for these organisations though? Having non-profit tax status tells me about zero about the organisation.

And .gov tells you nothing about a government organization, and .com tells you nothing about a commercial organization... Oh, wait.

Right, so why worry about it?

Sounds like a cash-out or a kickback. Still not worth any more money than ISOC was already making. ISOC should listen and row back on this decision.

There are more than ten thousand signatures on https://savedotorg.org/.

That's seriously a tiny drop in the bucket in terms of total internet usage.

That's only because most internet users don't even know what a domain is.

Then why would they care if the domain is .org, .com, or .xyz?

This whole concern sounds like a tempest in a teapot.

It matters, because large scale domain migration would have very serious consequences for users even if they didn't know what a domain is.

This isn't a defense or a criticism of the decision, but it looks like the board of ISOC voted unanimously to enter exclusive negotations with Ethos - their minutes are available online:


That could indicate that there's more background and context than has been published, since the outcry seems so contrary to the vote.

Either way there's missing public information and for an important resource like .org that's going to cause problems given a sudden change.

I don’t understand what you’re implying, other than “this thing exists”.

Read those minutes, and you’ll find that every “interesting” section is filled with redacted text. If anything, that should make any outside observer more skeptical.

What other TLDs does ISOC control directly? Why sell .org and not another TLD? Is not .org at the heart of the ethos of a free and open internet? This feels like an intentional corruption of ISOC to discredit it's future activity and thereby change the course of future mechanisms for control of TLDs by changing narratives, public opinion, etc. This is so odd I would not be surprised if it one day comes to light that there were State actors at play making sure this deal happened. To me it seems like a point of immediate international security to scrutinize this transaction and invalidate it if required.

What was sold is PIR, "Public Interest Registry", which controls not only .org but also .ngo, .ong, and some other language specific TLDs.

Can you please elaborate on what you judge to be potential international security concerns in this case?

Outside of the recent TLD expansion (which presents its own ethical concerns similar to this one), TLDs are almost all controlled by governments. In an ideal world those that aren't should be operated as a utility and prices kept at a legal minimum to support operations, due to their critical nature for human communication and the fact they are natural monopolies. Anything that moves away from that, such as moving from a nonprofit control to a venture capital control, should be rejected due to the risk of pricing out legitimate users of the tld and other unregulated behaviors which might benefit a business but not the democratic nature of the internet (such as allowing for preferred pricing or other transaction details with certain entities, or anything else they can imagine and get away with). These concerns are compounded by the intention of the Public Interest Registry, which is to provide TLDs for nonprofits -- which should be proactively protected from predatory business practices. Further, the buyer openly plans on raising prices extremely fast and will definitely price out at least some of the most vulnerable users of the TLD, and introduce hardship on others. If you love the internet you should hate this.

On the situation of gaming the system by a State actor, obviously there has been a long standing push to get ICANN and the US GOV out of the internet infrastructure. Creating chaos, little, by little, lends credence to this push or another similar one. That vacuum would probably be filled in places like Russia, Saudi Arabia, China, etc by easier government censorship, including (they would hope) more control over their smaller neighbors' internet. The current situation is of course not perfect, but one can see why subversive action could be a chosen path by any one of several state actors.

The seizing of .org is a scheme. I hope the US government steps in and puts the crooks in prison. Seriously, removing the caps right before the sale is a scheme with ICANN people paid under the table.

"The Internet Society will receive this as a fund that it will invest as an endowment... This funding is sufficient to provide the Internet Society with broadly equivalent annual earnings we currently receive from PIR. And through responsible, well managed investment, we believe this fund will provide a comparable level of funding to the Internet Society in perpetuity."

Translation: "We sold the Internet to vultures (super-nice vultures! you won't believe how nice they are!) so that we could have... basically the same cash flow that we already had. But now we're going to deal with bankers instead of Afilias."

"Our mission is to support and promote the development of the Internet around the world — an Internet that is open, globally connected, secure, and trustworthy."

Prediction: they will achieve nothing, at all, whatsoever.

Everyone who voted for this should be ashamed of themselves.

I wonder how good their investment strategy is that 1.1B will earn them $120M/year in income, that's nearly 11% return...

No, it sounds like they're aiming for $50M/year.

Which then, if so, doesn't really add up... how is $50M "broadly equivalent" to $120M??

The .org TLD isn't "The Internet."

Hey, give it time. Maybe next they'll sell the IETF to Cisco for another billion.

>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.

This is very weasel worded way to say that price would double every 7.27 years... (and this is only "Our plan")

10% is at least 3x annual inflation rate. That's too much imho.

Monopolies should be regulated - domain name administration is a natural monopoly.

I would go further, they shouldn't be "regulated", this is a public service that should be run in the interests of society as a whole and not for the benefit of a private actor. We should have a tax funding mechanism, and run it either as a nationalized utility or through an international commission.

How so? There are a great many TLDs in the market.

There's only 1 .org TLD - and it's meaning cannot be replicated with another TLD.

It's the same as a TV series - there are great many TV series , but only 1 Game of Thrones on HBO, and it's not substitutable. Therefore, HBO has a monopoly on Game of Thrones.

That's not at all how monopolies work, and nobody is going to break up HBO for having exclusive control of Game of Thrones.

> and it's meaning cannot be replicated with another TLD.

anything-org.us, anything-org.xyz, anything-org.com, or even just disregard bothering with .org entirely since it literally has no meaning; there's no enforcement on the soft policy that it represent non-profits. For example, slashdot.org is owned by BizX.

Old-guard nerds have nostalgic attachment to the .org TLD's history; that's it. It's hardly a case that it's a monopoly.

What if you already have a .org domain that you actually use?

How would you like it if your phone company started charging you extra to keep your phone number, and told you, there's plenty of other phone numbers you can have, we won't charge extra for those

You mean "How did I like it when my email provider increased their rates?" I switched email providers and updated my email address with my relevant contacts.

It was annoying, but nobody claims seriously that email providers are a monopoly.

Well, if this is a disagreement over the word "monopoly" I'll just cite wikipedia:

Patents, copyrights, and trademarks are sometimes used as examples of government-granted monopolies.

Third paragraph from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monopoly

So, yes, HBO does have a monopoly on Game of Thrones, and my email provider does have a monopoly on my email address.

This is, for example, why they explicitly passed a phone number portability law, because phone companies were abusing their monopoly power over individual phone numbers, to keep people from switching to different providers.

Do you anticipate passage of an email or domain name monopoly law? Could such a thing be passed (i.e. what government would enforce it)?

No? I'm not sure what the relevance of that is though?

I mean, it would certainly be right for the government to limit the increase in the cost of .org registrations to inflation, or better to cap the profit margin, since costs are likely to decrease, but just because it's right, doesn't mean it'll happen. .org domains are an artificial scarcity that wasn't even created by a corporation. At least the telephone was invented privately, so you could argue phone numbers are fair game, but with domain names even that argument doesn't hold. There's no reason a private company should be extracting economic-rent from it.

Only if one thinks .org has value over .anything-else. If one isn't hung up on having a .org at the end of their URL, there is a world of alternatives.

.org does have value over .anything-else because .org domains already exist.

The value is, for starters: branding, people remember sites.

The value is also vendor-lock in. What you called "annoying" above. The value is not having to do that annoying thing, that is value, and it's what the registrar can now use to extract money from existing .org domains.

The value is also, that if you let your .org domain lapse, since you don't want to pay for it, now someone else can take it and pretend to be you.

10% per year!

That 3 to 4 times recent historic and near future projection for inflation rates.

And where are bigger news outlets to be found when it comes to reporting on this? Who besides those of us inside the tech bubble have even heard of the issue, much less would even care?

It reminds me of the struggle to communicate to the general population the issue of Net Neutrality. That issue seemed to enjoy MUCH more coverage and yet (anecdotally), all my non-techie family and friends still didn't know what it was.

Recently I sent a "story idea" submission to NPR to ask them to cover this issue in a way that can help illuminate the dark corners of this story to the broader population. Unfortunately so many of the other major news outlets are so sensationalized that I wouldn't trust them to report on it accurately.

What other organizations have a broad reach that we should be contacting to encourage covering this? I don't know anyone outside tech checking in with eff.org on a regular basis, and many certainly don't have save.org on their radar. Any suggestions?

Translation: the annual max of 10% price increases are gonna happen.

Can somebody help understand the pricing of domains?

Reading the threads, I came across various prices. In case of .com, I saw ICANN fees of $0.18, Verisign fees of $7.85, and then there are registrar fees, eg. Godaddy $18.17.

Is Godaddy paying Verisign or only ICANN? The reason I'm confused is that the threads mention domain brokers hoard domains because they are so cheap ($0.18?). On the other hand, I understand Verisign is operating .com, so they would always get their fees as well?

All domains go through the registry; for .com that's Verisign. So you can't get a .com domain cheaper than ~$8. Nobody is hoarding domains for cents, although domain tasting was a hot thing for a while.

Really...what the hell do they do to deserve a 1.1b$ evaluation? Are they manually checking the validity of .org domains? What do they do??? Christ, this is just blatant corruption its so depressing

Why do they need to make a profit in the first place?? Do everything needs to be profitable??

They earned that valuation by having a monopoly on a desirable TLD. They don't provide that much value, this is simple rent seeking.

> Are they manually checking the validity of .org domains?

There are no restrictions on registrants for a .org domain. It was intended as a place for non-profit organizations, or other uses that didn't fit within .com or .net, and that was never enforced or enforceable, and the restrictive intent was removed.

This is one of those thought processes that makes me laugh at the human brain. You have no idea what's going on, but it seems strange, so you decide you know exactly what's going on. We really are irrational creatures.

move you domains off isoc-controlled tlds as soon as you can. It'll probably take some time for them to actually raise prices. Use this time to point your visitors/search engines to your new domain.

What other major tlds do they own?


A lot of comments in these threads talking about the "maximum price increases" as 10%/year.

There aren't any maximum price increases. .org can increase to $5000/name/year, or $50,000.

Anybody can ELI5 me why it's such a huge deal? I mean .org does not have any special meaning for a while now. Anybody can have a .org. Most commercial entities don't do that because .org kinda implies "not business" which is contrary to the impression most businesses want, but there's no limitation on that if any commercial entity wants to have a .org, they can.

TLDs are virtually unrestricted now (not entirely but close to it), so you can have me.sexy and spaghetti-monster.church if you wanted to. I know there were price caps on .org, but frankly unless you're in heavy SEO/marketing game - which most nonprofits aren't - domain name costs aren't that major expense even for commercial companies. And dozens, now hundreds of TLDs are being managed by commercial entities without Internet descending into chaos and ruin. So why does the Internet world "despair" about this thing?

I don't understand how a non-profit can be purchased. Virginia must have some strange corporate law.


Wouldn't this be a sale of a non-profit's assets, rather than a sale of the non-profit itself? I see no legal reason a non-profit can't sell, e.g., a building it owns.

Everything else seems skeevy, but this particular angle does not seem promising for a basis of any legal proceedings.

The press release says "Ethos Capital’s acquisition of Public Interest Registry from the Internet Society". Public Interest Registry says on its website: "Based in Reston, Virginia, Public Interest Registry is a not-for–profit organization created by the Internet Society (ISOC), originally to manage the .ORG domain." and has links to IRS Form 990.

It's possible that Ethos Capital is being imprecise are not technically acquiring PIR, but it certainly reads that way.

Ah, my mistake. Yes, that does seem... well, legally complicated, to say the least.

You can buy a non-profit so long as you 1) are a non-profit, or 2) continue the concern as a non-profit... in every state of The Union, no? A non-profit can also sell assets, obviously. Isn’t this just an asset?

Edit, to add: or 3) you convert the non-profit to some other type of ()corp() and then pay appropriate taxes.... though I’m not as familiar with how this would work.

They aren't selling the non-profit... they are selling an asset (the .org registry)

They are selling PIR, the non-profit registry controlling .org (and other TLDs). And now "PIR will (...) consider seeking B Corporation certification."


I'm surprised it was considered an asset of theirs. How did they acquire it in the first place?

It sounds like PIR is converting to a for-profit corporation then ISOC will sell it.

At least in NY that requires permission of the attorney general. It isn’t automatic.

Ok, Read the story/read the comments - the 1.135 billion $USD got my attention. First "WTF?" was same as "corndoge": Who the hell is "The Internet Society?" Lotta reading... and then the penny hit the floor: "Ah! A bunch of clever boys in Cali got the US gov. to give them admin. of the ".org" domain name that folks used if they hacked/outbid/cheatedoutof their .com TLD? (I lost mine to Serbian jewel thieves..) It became the PIR, and the guys running it got to drop the $ from registrations into a non-profit, and claim administrator salaries, board seats, nice Cali. offices, and all the perks. But their was both risk and work involved, and the non-profit status, meant they cculdn't pocket profits and make a big score. But along comes this idea: They can flog the ".org" registry, and its recurring revenue-stream, to a "for-profit" entity that a couple of insiders create just for this purpose. "Whoopdedo" notes that dns data indicates each user of .org is valued at about $135. Based on telco and cable company purchases, that valuation per subscriber looks about right. The two insiders take the valuation data to moneyboys, and suggest that the rev. stream can be jacked maybe 10% per year, best case. The moneyguys agree to fund the deal into the 10 digit range, and the project gets the greenlight. The plan offers "The Internet Society" a massive payday, which as even their own pressnotes say, will give them the same revenue, but without having to do any work, deal with actual users, or take any operational or legal risk of any kind. As another users suggests - They can "raise awareness" from nice Cali. offices, and then break for lunch.

But the whole deal smells a bit of sulfur and hotwind, no?

Or did I miss something? How did the "Internet Society" get its "ownership" of the .org TLD registry? Did they buy it? If they bought it, then for how much? From my understanding, they just got given it, by the US Gov't., with a mandate to run it at cost, more or less.

So, as some suggest, there is a risk that the $1.1 billion could be considered a pure profit - which would seem to put their non-profit status at risk.

Also, by selling the very thing they were established to administer, that should maybe terminate their mandate, and one might also argue that the $1.1 billion represents funds that belong to existing .org registrants, and should be refunded to them all.

The "Internet Society" is not a for-profit corporation, right? So where do they get off by just wrapping up their administrator-role in a big package, and selling - without any bidding process even - to a couple of folks who promise to maybe raise the user-fees by 5 times the rate of inflation for the next few years?

How do "Board Members" of the "Internet Society" actually get to become "Board Members" of the "Internet Society"? Who appoints them? Shareholders? Not likely.

The note from the "Barnes" fellow is interesting. He was the "Security" guy at Cisco, apparently. Now, those guys at Cisco, I've heard of them. They sell all those American-designed routers that beacon all their traffic and meta-data back to the NSA servers. I'm sure that's a fine thing to do, as it keeps us safe from bad guys.

But when I look at the details of this proposed deal, I start to wonder who the "bad guys" really are.

I have an alternate "deal" idea: Fire all the "Board Members" of "The Internet Society". Tell them "Thank you for your contribution." and send them home. Replace them all with different folks who might be expected to have a better understanding of what their role should be. Just an idea. And it won't cost $1.135 billion USD. And it won't require the .org domain be re-priced.

My thought is "and so what?"

Domains are a monoploy with outrageous fees for new TLDs. This is what should be fought and not the fact they one of the TLDs is under the control of yet another entity.

Good, let them have it. If they screw over .org owners as everyone fears, then perhaps there will be increased awareness and incentive to use or develop alternatives to registrars.

OpenNIC is looking better and better.

ISPs buying in were OpenNIC's stumbling block (as no normal user is changing their default DNS), ultimately that is why OpenNIC never took off.

The only way an alternate DNS could become popular is if Apple, Google or Mozilla (assuming a resurgence in Firefox popularity) were pushing an alternative DNS.

It's not too late. Eternal vigilance! I fight for the user!

OpenNIC could work if there'd be an easy way to instruct e.g. dnsmasq and dnscrypt-proxy to resolve only certain TLDs using only OpenNIC, I'd definitely have it enabled then.

Does anyone remember the dotp2p project to create a mobile-first decentralized DNS? Probably around 2011? The core ideas are still valid today it seems.

I control a three-letter .org domain on behalf of a non-profit. Was offered $500K for it a decade ago, by a for-profit entity.

.org has never meant non-profit in reality.

Considering the non-profit this domain supports is 95 years old and the domain was registered in 1995, though, selling it and switching is a non-starter. Unnecessarily annoying times ahead.

Anyone know what is the likely outcome if I pay in advance for several years to keep my .org domains?

Who the fuck is the internet society

Layer 8

In my experience a lot of corporate and government wrong-doing is targeted/revealed around Thanksgiving holidays, so that people and the media don't notice.

This is quite strangely written, but if I understood correctly:

- they got $1.1 B for selling PIR - the will build a new misterious endowment to manage this money,


Can Firefox and chromium give OpenNic a bump with DNS over https?

I am just learning about OpenNic, so apologies if what I said makes no sense.

"This funding is sufficient to provide the Internet Society with broadly equivalent annual earnings we currently receive from PIR."

How is it possible to sell something for the value of annual earnings? That means that Ethos Capital will return their entire investment in 1 year — that's preposterous!

What am I missing? I can't imagine any business deal like this going through, it's clearly detrimenal to Internet Society which's going to lose a big regular income.

I'm sure this means if they invest the $1 billion they'll get annual returns equivalent to the money they get from .org

Thanks for the clarification: that, at least, makes more sense than my original reading.

Still seems weird Internet Society would move from maintaining .org to investing for no real gain, but at least it's not "preposterous" as I originally claimed.

There's slightly under 10MM .org domains registered, according to statdns.com. So each name is worth $135 to them.

That’s actually not completely unreasonable, given that domain registration payouts are essentially perpetuities. If a popular, long-standing domain gets dropped, it’s likely it’ll just get picked up by someone else.

Cool how technology allows us to decentralize DNS yet no one uses it.

they should have auctioned it... and get 10x more

i think the point was to sell it to friends at a discount

Specifically at a 10x discount.

Time for blockchain based DNS.

Well thank God: wasm.org already forwards to webassembly

I'm going to copy and paste my own comment from 7 days ago, because I think the quote contained within the Register article is so damning.


Some further background on what happened. I don't see how this can be interpreted as anything other than corruption, plain and simple.


"Former ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade personally registered the domain name currently used by Ethos Capital in May and it was registered as a limited company in the US state of Delaware on May 14. That date is significant because it is one day after ICANN indicated it was planning to approve the lifting of price caps through its public comment summary.

As such it appears that the plan to purchase the .org registry was predicated on the price caps going ahead and that those behind the deal had intricate knowledge of ICANN’s internal processes."

Please don't copy/paste comments here. It lowers signal/noise ratio and isn't good for conversation.


Is this potentially illegal?


No. Can't possibly be.

Until someone lies under oath about it.

Note that I've not found confirmation of this story and hope that someone has a second source.

So they expect to be able recoup that billion dollars. There’s no way that’s going to be done without screwing everyone.

just fucking wow. ISOC didn't need that money, the internet is fucked. We need to start working to decentralize naming. I loved the internet before ICANN and DNS. We fucked and built a monster.

What was pre dns like? Just ip addresses?

No there was a hosts file. DNS solved the problem that the file was getting too large and took too much admin overhead to copy around.

Maybe this event will force us to take alternative dns more seriously. Maybe OpenNIC, Namecoin or other related technologies I'm not aware of will finally gain more traction?

DNS need to move to blockchain. End this shenanigans with centralized ownerships.

Public key crypto as used by tor is probably a satisfactory level of decentralisation without all the extra steps and inevitable fraudulence from blockchain types.

Convincing people to use alternate resolvers is the real problem. Already chrome has stripped out most of a URI, and from memory they are planning to go further, changing public perception around an "ugly" address is very much a social challenge rather than technical.

Tor also allows everyone to keep an URL instead of having to worry about being outbid or just being able to pay anything.

Exactly, it's a fair and equitable process, I have my doubts about the various blockchain implementations despite being quite close to some of them. If you are a company with branding needs you can always go the facebookcorewwwi.onion route.

Namecoin is able to hand out arbitrary addresses rather than ugly ones. It's one of the earliest coins and predated the get-rich-quick goldrush.

> changing public perception around an "ugly" address is very much a social challenge rather than technical

Memorability matters regardless of the public perception

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact