What the .org sale could mean for healthcare

With the nonprofit Internet Society's November announcement of its intent to sell control of all .org domains to private equity firm Ethos Capital for $1.1 billion, .org users have expressed outrage and worry about the potential impacts of the sale.

In an op-ed for The New York Times, Josephine Wolff, PhD, an assistant professor of cybersecurity policy at Medford, Mass.-based Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, outlined the consequences on .org domain holders — the majority of which are nonprofit organizations, including many hospitals and health systems — should the sale be approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

Among these are the fear that the private equity firm may attempt to boost profits from the acquisition by increasing domain prices; a .org domain currently costs less than $10 annually. The Internet Society signed a contract in 2013 instituting a price cap on .org domains and limiting increases to 10 percent per year, but the price cap was eliminated in June 2019 — just a few months before Ethos Capital's purchase, Dr. Wolff noted.

"Ethos has said it will continue to raise prices for .org domains by no more than 10 percent per year," she wrote, referring to a letter issued by Erik Brooks, Ethos' CEO and founder, in December, "but it's not clear how those promises will be enforced, or by whom, and the timing of the sale — following immediately on the elimination of the price cap — has contributed to some of the skepticism surrounding the deal."

Even if the price of a .org domain does increase, however, organizations will likely be unable to avoid paying the higher amount. As Slate reports, it would be "prohibitively expensive" for established .org holders to convert all website and email addresses to a different domain.

The acquisition has not yet been finalized: ICANN recently requested further information regarding the sale from the Internet Society and extended its review period until Feb. 17.

In the meantime, Dr. Wolff wrote, "ICANN should publicly investigate this sale so that all of its stakeholders can see exactly which safeguards will be put in place to protect .org customers. And if those safeguards are not sufficient or enforceable, if they meet with widespread disapproval and dissatisfaction from .org customers and registrars, then ICANN should make good on its promise to provide consensus-based multistakeholder governance and, if necessary, block the deal from going through."

Read more here.

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