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The .ORG Debate Should be About What Its Users Want

Ken Silva

I watch the controversy over the proposed sale of the .ORG domain with a mixture of bemusement and concern. Some in the ICANN community — mostly those who resent that the Internet ever became commercialized — oppose the sale of the Public Interest Registry to the for-profit company Ethos for $1.1 billion.

The basis of their concern is that the domain for non-profits should be in the hands of a non-profit and that the new owners might increase the current $9.93 fee PIR charges for a domain. Neither of those issues focuses on the most important thing: What is best for a .ORG user?

Much like the dial-tone on our landlines, we expect the Internet to simply work. I mean, for the most part it always has right? In 2007, the country of Estonia was viciously attacked by a massive distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that crippled the country's infrastructure.

But it wasn't just Estonia that suffered that day. Much of the internet infrastructure was pushed to the brink of collapse across the globe. As the person at VeriSign in charge of keeping our systems operational, I was glad we had properly invested to counter these attacks.

In 2003, VeriSign agreed to give up its operation of the .org domain. My concern at that time was the safe and uninterrupted service of .ORG during its transition to the new registry operator. We spent a year of coordination, handover and backup planning. Ultimately the transition went smooth and Internet users never noticed.

I spent years making sure I understood what Internet users and website owners want. For Internet users, it's that the website they want to visit — whether it's CNN.com or unitedway.org — is available when they need it. For website owners, it's the exact same thing. That's what the current discussion about the sale of .ORG should be about: what is the best thing for the .ORG community and its users.

Whether a registry manages 10 million domains, as PIR does with .ORG, or hundreds of millions of domains, as I did at VeriSign with .COM and .NET, it takes a mix of expertise, processes and continuous security upgrades to keep it operating at the highest level. It takes recruiting the most talented workforce to manage through the complexity of operating a domain registry. As the seventh-largest domain in the world, it's vital that PIR be able to recruit and retain its workforce. That is more likely to occur with a private sector owner.

The Internet is constantly changing, and so is the domain industry. That means companies such as PIR have to continually upgrade their processes and implement new features. That takes investment. That investment is more likely to occur with a private sector owner.

New security protocols are routinely added to the Internet infrastructure. When I was at VeriSign, we and PIR implemented an important security upgrade called DNSSEC that protected the core of the Internet from hackers by authenticating Internet traffic. Changes can be costly; setting aside the money to pay for them is more likely to occur with a private sector owner.

Which brings us to the current owner of PIR, the Internet Society. Owning PIR, and therefore .ORG, is a sweet deal for the 64,538 members focused on Internet standards and governance. Each year, PIR turns over the hefty profits from .ORG to the Internet Society to create programs for the overall betterment of the Internet. Noble efforts, but if I was a .ORG website owner I'd rather those profits flow back to .ORG to make sure it stays up and running.

Which brings me back to my original point: what is best for .ORG users and website owners? The Old Guard of the Internet thinks it's having .ORG run by the non-profit Internet Society. But I bet 99 percent of .ORG website owners don't know who the Internet Society is or who actually owns the .ORG registry. And visitors to .ORG websites? It's probably 100 percent.

Both of those groups care about only one thing: Does .ORG work? As we learned in 2007, we can take the Internet for granted. But the reason it stayed up then was because VeriSign and others spent tens of millions of dollars to defend it. Let's make sure that the stewards of .ORG and the rest of the Internet have the means to keep the Internet safe and secure in the future.

By Ken Silva, VP for Operations and Infrastructure at Ionic Security
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