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What's Next for Dot-Org

When I began writing about the dot-org sale, it was out of concern for the loss of what I felt strongly was long understood to be a unique place in the Internet's landscape. Like a national park, dot-org deserved special protection. It turns out lots of people and organizations agreed.

On April 30th, 2020, The ICANN Board upheld these values. They unanimously withheld consent for a change of control of the Public Interest Registry to a private equity firm. There were real questions about public support, financial stability, and ultimately about whether the proposal was in the best interest of those most affected, dot-org domain owners.

Ethos, PIR and ISOC failed to respond to any in a convincing manner. They failed to gather any material support for their approach. As of today, the #savedotorg campaign has nearly 27,000 supporters and 2,000 nonprofits behind it. It dwarfs any campaign ICANN has ever seen. There's no way to de-legitimize such an outpouring of concern, though effort was put into trying.
The question of who will run dot-org, and for whom, was opened by the Internet Society. It is still far from answered. ISOC and PIR have so far shown little concern about the damage they've done to their reputations. Ethos has called the effort an "agenda-driven pressure” campaign, which of course it was. It was a massive amount of pressure behind an agenda that demanded a dot-org domain run by and for nonprofits, and not a single for-profit.

ISOC and PIR's announcements seem to imply that things will simply go back to the way they were. PIR will continue to run dot-org and ISOC will continue to do what it does. This is the same kind of magical thinking that led to the idea that dot-org could be sold to a private equity firm. It is not grounded in the reality of how decisions that impact massive global communities are made.

Here's what needs to be done: First, ISOC and PIR leadership must recognize and apologize for the harm and uncertainty that they have caused both nonprofits and Internet governance. There never should have needed to be a #savedotorg campaign, because dot-org should never have been put at risk.

Second, The ISOC board should invite the leadership of the organizations that led the #SaveDotOrg campaign to an open dialogue to understand their concerns and priorities for the future of dot-org. This dialogue should recognize that it may be agreed that ISOC and PIR may no longer be the appropriate stewards for dot-org.

Third, the leadership of the #SaveDotOrg campaign needs to recognize that this was a closeted decision by a few actors, taken in secret. There are many skilled professionals that work at both PIR and ISOC. While ISOC and PIR may have to change dramatically, solutions must be sought that consider the value and future of these organizations, their staff, and their members.

Fourth, all parties should agree to work together with ICANN to chart a course of action that builds confidence and faith in the multi-stakeholder model of Internet governance. While there are many challenges with this model, one being how messy it seems; in the end, the right decisions were taken. We must all come together to defend the model that has built and will continue to sustain a single global Internet.

This has been a tough slog. Just as I am elated by the prospect of a dot-org run by and for the nonprofit community, others will be disappointed by what they felt was a rejection of an approach they believed would be better for everyone.

Any victory without empathy is hollow. Now is the time to think about how we can move forward together. I hope ISOC and PIR rise to this challenge and act on these recommendations.

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

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Comments

No mention of changes needed at ICANN? By Kevin Ohashi  –  May 02, 2020 3:01 am PDT

No mention of changes needed at ICANN? ICANN is and continues to be hostile towards its own public comment. This whole fiasco would have likely been avoided without the removal of price caps which ICANN staff pushed through and the board abdicated responsibility on. ICANN staff continually push a narrative through their reports that it's a few actors pushing these issues and not the public will or for the public good. ICANN's board only reluctantly when faced with a true threat from the CA AG backed down on moving forward on deals that made registry interests lots of money.

It's a great victory for .ORG but it's still a symptom of the overall failure of the multistakeholder model at ICANN and the regulatory capture there.

Ok, but possibly a naive or presumptively premature perspective By William Blackwood  –  May 02, 2020 7:07 am PDT

Despite only a tactical retreat feint, their strategic price cap relief remains captured, withholding unrestricted customer cost offensives as entitlement, and civil liberties, civil rights, private property rights, and all persons’ rights and interests be damned hostage.  To them, fundamentals of Enlightenment reason are anathema.  The embittered angry self-entitled are only in Swiss chalet ensconce, and still clad in yesterday’s stained ascot, seek continued aggression against America and against her waning Free Internet.

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