Decision to Block Private Equity Takeover of Dot Org a Victory for Nonprofits

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) rejected the proposed private equity takeover of the Public Interest Registry (PIR), the non-profit that manages the non-commercial, charity, and non-profit internet domain registry for all Dot-Org websites.

For 20 years, Dot-Org has been the online home for nonprofits, NGOs, and community-based groups around the world.

It serves both those organizations and the public, helping navigate and support trust, information and resource sharing, and advocacy. 

The current global pandemic has further illustrated the importance of nonprofit websites, as most of the world’s leading scientific and research institutions, health and safety resources, and educational services are on Dot-Org websites.

The need for reliability and security of the Dot-Org domain is as high as it ever has been, and the proposal to convert PIR from a nonprofit to a for-profit entity and then sell it to private equity firm Ethos Capital would have jeopardized both. 

The decision recognized  that the private equity debt loads and extractive business model would hinder Dot-Org’s ability to serve its non-profit clients without raising prices, compromising service, creating new revenue streams that comprise users’ data and privacy, or otherwise imposing unfair costs on 10 million organizations.

“ICANN did the right thing saying no to the private equity takeover of a vital public resource,” said Patrick Woodall,  senior research fellow at Americans for Financial Reform Education Fund. “It is critical to protect the millions of non-profit groups from private equity’s profit extraction, which could compromise their ability to communicate with their members and supporters.”

While ICANN’s rejection of the deal with Ethos Capital protects Dot-Org customers and users from such extraction for the time being, the predatory practices of the private equity industry pose a real threat to workers and consumers throughout the economy.

Unfortunately, unless Congress and the Federal Reserve act to stop them, private equity firms are poised to profiteer mightily from the present crisis, with tremendous costs for the rest of us.

Congress must resist calls from private equity executives to gain access to pandemic-related bailout programs, including limiting access to the Federal Reserve lending facilities. In addition to other immediate steps, Congress needs to make structural changes to this often abusive industry, primarily by passing  the Stop Wall Street Looting Act.

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