The OISTE Foundation welcomes the news: public interest prevailed. ICANN’s board decided not to pursue the sale of .org to a private equity fund.

ICANN, the Internet Corporation of Applied Names and Numbers is a nonprofit public benefit corporation, organized under the California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation Law for charitable and public purposes, whose mission is to run the Internet. To measure the scope of its influence: more than half the world’s population, or around 3.6 billion human beings, are connected to the Internet.

The OISTE Foundation belongs to the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO), the policy-making body of ICANN, responsible for generic top-level domains, such as .com and .org. The GNSO recognizes four stakeholder groups that are potentially interested in generic top-level domain policy development; one of them is the Not-for-profit Operational Concern (NPOC), where OISTE is a recognized, voting member since 2013.

ICANN’s governance is all but simple. It is engineered to represent a multi-stakeholder community. The voice of stakeholders is expressed through the Board of Directors. The Board has 16 voting members, where the Nominating Committee appoints half of them. The other members are appointed by several stakeholder organizations: the Address Supporting Organization (ASO); the Country Code Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO) and the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) – two members each. The “end users”, i.e. “the people” are represented by the At Large Advisory Committee (ALAC), which appoints one board member. Finally, ICANN’s appointed President occupies the remaining voting chair.

What the world has witnessed recently is the direst threat to the multi-stakeholder governance policy so far: the announced sale of the rights of the .org registry domain to Ethos, a private equity firm. Though, what happened shows that ICANN bent to the judgment of the Attorney General of the State of California’s office, not to the pressure of any of the recognized stakeholders. It was the State of California’s office of the Attorney General that determined that ICANN’s board had to reject the sale to protect the global public interest and the benefit of the Internet community as a whole.

In other words, the multi-stakeholder governance model has no jurisdictional enforcement other than American law.

The protagonist of this saga are, one the one side, the Internet Society (ISOC), a worldwide lobby whose mission is to defend the Internet and the Public Interest Registry (PIR) which is in fact the owner of the .org top domain name. On the other side stands, Ethos, a private equity fund with no experience and little empathy with the not-for-profit world. Today, there are over 10.3 million .org domain names registered (for instance: or Income from registered .org domains amounted to more than USD 50 million per year, which has been, in fact, the endowment that allows the Internet Society to function. The rationale of the projected sale was to increase this amount and enjoy a larger endowment: USD 1.13 billion was the price tag for .org or the Public Interest Registry. The disappointment at ISOC quarters is understandable, but for the holders of .org domain names, the news came as a relief since there was a high risk that domain right prices would follow a for-profit logic under Ethos.

“This is the right decisions”, stated Carlos Moreira, Secretary General of the OISTE Foundation. “The world needs evidence that the Internet is run having the public good as the paramount consideration”.

Founded in Switzerland in 1998, OISTE was created with the objectives of promoting the use and adoption of international standards to secure electronic transactions, expand the use of digital certification and ensure the interoperability of certification authorities’ e-transaction systems. The OISTE Foundation is a not for profit organization based in Geneva, Switzerland, regulated by article 80 et seq. of the Swiss Civil Code. OISTE is an organization in special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC) and belongs to the Not-for-Profit constituency (NPOC) of the ICANN.


Dourgam Kummer 

Foundation Council Member