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The .ORG Sale Is a Radical Departure That Puts the Internet at Risk

It can be hard to take a side. Especially when you are with a big organization. I know, I used to work for the United Nations and ICANN. Neutrality is a huge part of that work. Your role is not to take a stand; it’s to create the space for other people to take stands. To create and protect a neutral platform.

That’s what we all thought the Internet Society (ISOC) was doing for us by running .ORG. While some have said that the .ORG domain wasn’t always non-commercial, it was ISOC itself that created this expectation. Their 2002 proposal to run .ORG states that ISOC will run it as:

“The established home for non-commercial entities on the Internet.”

ISOC goes on to say:

Trust among its constituents is critical to non-commercial entities. Research shows that .ORG is one of the most trusted domains on the Internet—and is, therefore, the ideal domain to house a non-commercial’s site.

By positioning .ORG for non-commercial entities, we expect to extend this “trust” element, further differentiating .ORG from other domains.

Trust was the basis upon which the Internet Community gave ISOC the right to run .ORG. This is not about a transaction. It is not about what Ethos Capital will or won’t do. It is about a promise made and then broken.

ISOC promised the Internet Community that it would steward and differentiate .ORG. That was the reason the Internet Community gave ISOC the right to run it.

ISOC promised us that it would protect a heritage that grew up independently and organically, just like the Internet. It doesn’t matter what a technical document said that .ORG was intended to be. The Internet Community, the public, the world and nonprofits, imbued it with something more. ISOC recognized this:

“Hundreds of thousands of non-commercial entities already populate .ORG, providing a solid base of history and a clear “neighborhood” feel that is understood and appreciated by Internet users. By joining these legions of respected colleagues, a non-commercial entity will find itself in good company.”

* * *

ISOC should not have the right to sell .ORG. It was given that right by the community. It promised that it would work with the community. It should be the community that agrees with what happens next. That is the approach aligned with historical practice.

But instead of doing that, 13 people on the ISOC Board have decided that they know best. They abruptly sold .ORG with no prior consultation. This, in no way, approaches any model for Internet Governance.

Everything I have worked on since I left the United Nations fought against this kind of top-down decision-making. It injects a huge amount of instability and risk. This is the decision-making that will destroy the very processes that keep the Internet stable.

So much of what we hear about online is risk-taking. The risk-taking entrepreneur. The radical advocate who uses the Internet to share their message. But Internet Governance is not about being radical. It is about maintaining resilient community collaboration to KEEP the Internet stable.

The Internet needs conservatives more than it needs radicals. It’s important not to make rash or unexpected decisions. We work together. We focus on our duty of care, our responsibilities, and our engagement with the community to find the right solution, not the radical one. We rely on inclusive processes that put the community first.

* * *

That is why we need to hit reset. This deal will not go away. It will become a stain. Every time we talk about Internet Governance, every time we talk about stakeholderism, every time we talk about open and transparent decision making, every time we talk about Nobody Internets Alone, this will be the response:

But you didn’t do any of that when you sold .ORG.

What will ISOC do with all that money, when it has lost the legitimacy it needs to do its mission?

Joining the #SaveDotOrg campaign is not radical. Selling .ORG is radical.

All we are doing is asking 13 people to listen to the community and observe the principles on which it relies.

Please sign this letter and lets’ help them do that.

By Jacob Malthouse, Fmr UNEP Staffer, Ex ICANN VP, Co-founder dot-eco domain registry.

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