[Editor’s note: The following is a guest editorial from Nat Cohen, who provides interesting details about the birth of Public Interest Registry and its role with Internet Society. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of the conclusions, I think it’s a good contribution to current discussions about the sale of Public Interest Registry to Ethos Capital.]
The Internet Society (“ISOC”) generates tens of millions of dollars for itself each year through its control of the .org registry, Public Interest Registry (“PIR”), which makes money each time a .org domain name is registered or renewed. Running .org has become so lucrative that PIR is now a target for acquisition by private equity firm Ethos Capital. Much of ISOC’s revenue comes from nonprofit organizations which predominantly use .org domain names. As a consequence, funds needed by those nonprofit organizations to pursue their own worthwhile missions are transferred to ISOC. This raises the question as to whether ISOC’s control over .org serves the public benefit.
The way the nonprofit funding model usually works is that the nonprofit does good work and raises funds from contributors who voluntarily wish to support the mission of the nonprofit. A nonprofit, such as Doctors Without Borders, must demonstrate that it is a good steward of donated funds in order to be able to attract continued contributions.
In contrast, ISOC uses its modest financial support of the Internet Engineering Task Force (“IETF”), where most of the actual work is carried out by “thousands of volunteers from around the world”, to justify fat compensation packages for its own executives, while imposing a $70 million upcharge on its base of .org registrants, and enjoying control of a public resource valued at over a billion dollars. The funds it extracts are not contributed voluntarily but come from compelled payments from those wishing to use .org domain names. It spends vast sums of money without needing to justify that the money is being put to a worthwhile or efficient purpose and with no accountability to discipline its spending.
ISOC’s Purpose and its Profligate Spending
ISOC’s primary mission is to support the modest funding needs of the IETF. The IETF is an Internet standards body made up of thousands of people volunteering their time and effort to accomplish the IETF’s goal of “making the Internet work better.” The IETF conducts three meetings per year, runs mailing lists and publishes Internet standards documents. ISOC contributed $3 million to the IETF in 2018, yet most of that was merely passing along outside contributions earmarked for the IETF. Click here to continue reading…