Why Keela Stands Up Against the Sale of the .ORG Domain

Ines Alvergne • Nov 28, 2019

Central to everything we do at Keela is our value of social responsibility. As a company building tools to help the nonprofit sector overcome a variety of problems – low budget, over-complicated tech solutions, lack of time – we feel we have a role to play in protecting the sector from for-profit abuse.

When we heard the news about the control of “.ORG” being sold to a private equity firm, we knew something was wrong. The day after the sale was announced, Keela’s CEO, Nejeed Kassam, immediately came to me: “ We can’t just sit back and do nothing. This might threaten millions of nonprofit organizations…. Can you look into this?

We quickly realized we were not the only ones worried about the sale. The National Council of Nonprofits initiated a petition calling to block the deal. As of today, the petition has already received almost 10,000 signatures and the support of organizations like the YMCA, Crisis Text Line, and Volunteers of America.

Before inviting you to sign the petition, we think it’s important to put the sale into context and explain why we believe this decision might hurt the nonprofit community.

A brief history of the .ORG domain

With more than 10 million domain names, .ORG has risen to become the largest purpose-driven domain used by nonprofits across the globe. The domain, originally intended for strict nonprofit use only, was not regulated, but still generally attracted nonprofits and other collective organizations.

The .ORG domain was created in 1985 as an alternative to .COM, the domain earmarked for commercial entities. The idea behind this creation was to offer a low price point for the nonprofit sector, aka for the organizations changing the world for the better.

The creation of the .ORG domain made possible the birth of well-known online communities like wikipedia.organd change.org , opening online knowledge to everyone across the globe or facilitating petitions by the general public.

Since 2002, .ORG belongs to the Public Interest Registry (PIR), a nonprofit created by the Internet Society to manage and operate the domain on behalf of nonprofits, charities, and NGOs.

Recently, the PIR announced they had reached an agreement to be acquired by Ethos Capital , a private equity firm founded in May 2019. The firm is expected to close the sale during the first quarter of 2020 for an undisclosed price.

Why we think the sale might hurt the nonprofit sector

In addition to the fact that selling the control of .ORG to a for-profit company seems at odds with what the domain represents, there are a few reasons why we worry about the purchase.

First, the sale betrayed the 2002 Internet Society’s promise that all decisions related to the .ORG domain should be led by the non-profit sector. This decision to sell was made without any input from the sector. As underlined by the SaveDotOrg initiative, we cannot afford to put the .ORG domain “into the hands of a private equity firm that has not earned the trust of the NGO community. .ORG must be managed by a lead that puts the needs of NGOs over profits”. In other words, this decision must be made with the endorsement of the nonprofit community.

Most importantly, we worry about a potential increase in domain prices . The current price of a .org domain is approximately $10 a year. Although Ethos Capital’s CEO, Erik Brooks, said to CNN Bussinessour motivation and intention is to grow and build this business for all stakeholders’ benefits ”, it remains unclear how the sale will affect domain prices. And the fact that they have been in business for only 6 months raises concerns.

Additionally, on June 30th, ICANN agreed to remove the price cap of 10% on renewals for all domain names – including .ORG. This means the domain’s owner can now charge as much as it wants for the domains – something a for-profit organization might take advantage of. Considering most nonprofits and NGOs have a restricted budget, this could harm their operations.

The sale is also worrying because it opens the doors to censorship and potential arbitrary decisions to shut down websites . The fact that .ORG was managed and operated by a nonprofit guaranteed some security for the sector, but a private firm could decide to shut down sites on the basis of charges of “activities contrary to applicable law”. This power might be abused by certain state actors who regularly challenge nonprofits and NGOs by claiming that their activities are illegal. Censorship can and has been abused for a variety of reasons and with .ORG at the mercy of an unknown entity this has the potential to cause problems.

What you can do to stop the sale

As we said before, associations and nonprofits immediately took action and called the Internet Society to stop the sale. This initiative, called SaveDotOrg, rejects the sale decision on the basis that it was made without consulting the nonprofit community.

Click hereto read the letter, sign the petition and #SaveDotOrg.