Reston-based .org manager Public Interest Registry will no longer be acquired - Technical.ly DC

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May 11, 2020 12:09 pm

Reston-based .org manager Public Interest Registry will no longer be acquired

An oversight body blocked the sale of the nonprofit to Ethos Capital, which would have transitioned it to a for-profit business.
The Public Interest Registry team.

The Public Interest Registry team.

(Courtesy photo)

Reston, Virginia-based Public Interest Registry (PIR) will not be acquired as planned.

Established by advocacy org the Internet Society in the early aughts, PIR is the nonprofit that manages the .org domain used by more than 10 million organizations. Back in November, the Internet Society announced that investment firm Ethos Capital was set to acquire PIR in a transaction that was expected to close in the first quarter of this year, but oversight body Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) blocked the sale of PIR to the investment firm.

ICANN coordinates the maintenance and procedures of internet systems to maintain secure operation. The nonprofit corporation had until May 4 to either approve or withhold Ethos’ acquisition of PIR, and ultimately denied it. To make this decision ICANN’s board said in an April 30 blog post that it reviewed documents from both parties, reviewed more than 30 letters from stakeholders and considered input from a public forum before deciding that the public interest of the .org and other top level domains should remain with PIR.

“ICANN is being asked to agree to contract with a wholly different form of entity; instead of maintaining its contract with the mission-based, not-for-profit that has responsibly operated the .ORG registry for nearly 20 years, with the protections for its own community embedded in its mission and status as a not-for-profit entity,” the organization said.

The deal would have been worth $1.13 billion. Critics of the proposal, such as several Democratic lawmakers and California’s attorney general, had noted concerns such as the possibility of Ethos introducing service cuts and an increase in prices.

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PIR will continue its work with no operational changes following the denial of the acquisition. At this time, PIR has no further plans to work with Ethos Capital.

“PIR has always been an exemplary registry and that will continue. PIR will continue to operate .org and support the amazing mission-driven .org community,” Andy Shea, a PIR spokesperson, told Technical.ly.

On May 1, PIR President and CEO Jon Nevett shared his sentiments about the situation in his own blog post.

“Now that the dust is settling, each of us who cares about .org needs to remember that the Internet and .org will be here long after we’ve left the stage,” Nevett wrote. “We have the honor to serve as the responsible stewards of the crown jewel of the domain name system and, together, we will give the next generation an even stronger .org.”

Though the deal was on the table, PIR wasn’t actually seeking an acquisition, Shea said; instead, Ethos Capital first approached the Internet Society regarding the sale.

“Ethos came to us with an extremely good offer,” Internet Society President and CEO Andrew Sullivan said in a YouTube video published in March, “an offer that would be good for the Internet Society because it would put us on a solid financial footing.”

Sullivan said at the time that this deal was especially good for the .org and other top-level domains that PIR manages because it would have allowed for “investments in them.” If this acquisition had gone through, PIR was prepared to transition from a nonprofit to a for-profit business.

PIR has 35 employees working out of its Reston office who have been working remotely for the past few weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and will continue to do so indefinitely.

“The health, safety, and well-being of PIR’s employees and their families are of the utmost importance,” said Shea. “Therefore, PIR’s return to the Reston office has not yet been determined.”

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