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How Our Public Interest Commitment Ensures a Bright Future for .ORG

The discussion about the future of the .ORG domain registry has been partly rooted in stewardship. Who will guide the Public Interest Registry (PIR) so it continues to serve the .ORG community? For those of us at Ethos Capital, the company acquiring PIR, this has been a central focus.

We understand that owning PIR makes us stewards of an essential part of the fabric of the Internet. The .ORG domain is bigger than the 10 million domain names registered. It is both a symbol of many non-profit organizations on the Internet and a means by which millions of organizations operate, communicate, fundraise, and provide services to those in need. For that reason, stewardship of .ORG is paramount.

Recognizing that the community valued enforceable assurances, Ethos has taken a powerful additional step: we’ve voluntarily proposed to add a Public Interest Commitment amendment, or a “PIC,” to the ICANN Registry Agreement. This will formalize our commitments, making them legally binding and enforceable by ICANN and also by members of the community through the Public Interest Commitments Dispute Resolution Procedure, or “PICDRP.” Public Interest Commitments were introduced in the ICANN community in 2013 as new domain names were created. Ethos listened to the .ORG community’s request for strong enforceability measures to ensure that we would be held accountable to our promises—and we took action.

With this Public Interest Commitment, Ethos undertakes an explicit contractual obligation to limit price increases to no more than 10% per year on average, and we are committed to maintaining prices within this framework for 8 years from the start of the current Registry Agreement. One of the key questions raised about the sale was whether Ethos, as a private company, would dramatically increase prices. We had made numerous prior announcements articulating this commitment, but the PIC makes this ironclad and legally binding. The .ORG community will be able to judge us by our track record, and our performance will demonstrate to everyone that claims put forward by some of wild and indiscriminate price increases will prove to be unfounded.

But stewardship of .ORG goes beyond prices. The PIC will also dictate how PIR looks at .ORG’s future and the decisions it makes that could affect the overall .ORG community. Ethos and PIR have always believed the community needed to have a strong voice in shaping .ORG’s future. For this reason, the .ORG Stewardship Council will have a specific oversight mandate on PIR’s policies regarding freedom of expression and the protection of customer information.

In addition to describing the role of the .ORG Stewardship Council within the PIC, Ethos also publicly released the .ORG Stewardship Council Charter outlining concrete principles and protocols that will govern the administration and operation of the Council. This includes overseeing a Community Enablement Fund—which is expected to receive a minimum of $10 million over the remaining life of the current Registry Agreement—which will finance existing and new initiatives serving the .ORG community, including the .ORG Impact Awards and other meaningful educational and outreach programs. Having a Council of this nature will be important in shaping .ORG’s future for years to come.

It’s fair for anyone who is passionate about .ORG to weigh what all this means. How are .ORG’s prospects for its future different than they were prior to news of the sale? Let’s take stock:

The .ORG community will now have a contractual guarantee that limits price increases. A new independent .ORG Stewardship Council, composed of representatives and leaders from the community, will play an instrumental role in ensuring that the needs of all .ORG registrants and users remain central to PIR. As part of the PIC, PIR will also be required to release an annual report that assesses compliance with the PIC commitments. And additional funding will be invested in philanthropic initiatives to benefit non-profit organizations and the overall community.

That last point is worth underscoring. Up until now, the revenue from .ORG domain name sales went to the Internet Society to fund a myriad of initiatives. With the sale, the Internet Society will have an endowment to continue powering the organization’s mission of an Internet that is open, globally-connected, trustworthy and secure. But moving forward, profits from .ORG can now go to the benefit of non-profits and .ORG users.

What does .ORG need additional investment for? We can expand .ORG’s presence in new markets, which takes time and capital, because broadening the .ORG community benefits everyone. And Ethos will invest in helping identify the products and services that can further build the online presence of mission-driven organizations around the world. This can enable development of new products and services to strengthen and grow the .ORG brand, enabling .ORG registrants to do what they do best; feed, shelter, heal, educate and inspire all of us.

The commitments that Ethos and PIR are making towards strengthening .ORG will have a positive impact on the millions of non-profit, mission-driven and other organizations and individuals who rely on it to benefit the public. They will provide certainty to .ORG users about price, future operations, and the security and stability of a critical piece of the Internet infrastructure. Broadly, they will strengthen .ORG for the future.

Ethos and PIR will continue to listen to the community before, during and after the sale. We’re glad we had the opportunity to provide more clarity on these initiatives through the community discussion we held yesterday, and look forward to our upcoming community events including a more thorough discussion around the PIC being held next Tuesday, March 3. More information about this event can be found here. By combining good stewardship with private investment, .ORG will thrive.

By Nora Abusitta-Ouri, Chief Purpose Officer at Ethos Capital

Nora Abusitta-Ouri is the Chief Purpose Officer at Ethos Capital, where she oversees the development and execution of social impact and ethics initiatives for the firm and the companies in which it invests. She also serves as the Executive Director of the Digital Ethos Foundation, a global nonprofit committed to fostering a trustworthy, just and peaceful digital world.

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