Private Equity's Billion-Dollar-Bid to Control Dot.Org Website Domains Faces Sharp Criticism
Tami Abdollah is dot.LA's senior technology reporter. She was previously a national security and cybersecurity reporter for The Associated Press in Washington, D.C. She's been a reporter for the AP in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times and for L.A.'s NPR affiliate KPCC. Abdollah spent nearly a year in Iraq as a U.S. government contractor. A native Angeleno, she's traveled the world on $5 a day, taught trad climbing safety classes and is an avid mountaineer. Follow her on Twitter.
A private equity firm that's trying to purchase control of all dot-org domains for more than $1 billion said Friday that it is planning to put in place legally-binding measures to address concerns and ongoing criticisms about the deal by lawmakers, nonprofits and activists.
The latest announcement is the most recent turn of events in a complex, technical but important discussion over the future of a critical segment of the internet. In November, Boston-based Ethos Capital publicly announced the deal to acquire the nonprofit Public Interest Registry (PIR), which manages the dot-org domain, setting off public debate over the appropriateness of such a deal. The purchase would give The Internet Society, a nonprofit that controls and created PIR, a $1.135-billion endowment to continue its other good works it engages in to strengthen the internet, without having to rely solely on fees from dot-org registry users.
Earlier this month, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra stepped into the fray. His office said it wanted to review such a deal's potential impact to the nonprofit community. Though you don't need to be a nonprofit to own a dot-org domain, the registry is the online home to more than 10 million domain names registered worldwide including to well known organizations, nonprofits and media like Farm Aid, The Sierra Club, Amnesty International, Girl Scouts of the USA, The Associated Press and ProPublica.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees what's essentially the address book of the internet from its Playa Vista, California offices, still needs to bless the deal. Ethos said Friday that PIR has agreed to push the deal back to March 20 to give ample time to review the additional terms.
Among the new initiatives announced jointly by Ethos, PIR and The Internet Society in a press release Friday are "legally-binding measures to enforce price limits, safeguard against censorship and protect personal data" by amending PIR's registry agreement with ICANN, which allows PIR to operate the dot-org domain. Such changes could not be unilaterally changed by PIR and would apply to dot-org regardless of who operates it, Ethos said.
"We have been listening closely to stakeholder feedback — both positive and negative — and have been working diligently to address these specific issues head on," said Erik Brooks, founder and CEO of Ethos Capital. He said the private equity firm was trying to address requests for measures that were strongly enforceable to ensure Ethos is accountable.
Per Ethos, the legally-binding provisions in the amendment include the following:
- Ensuring dot-org domains do not increase more than 10% annually on average for eight years under a formula that prevents "front-loading" of those increases. Right now it costs roughly $10 for an annual dot-org domain renewal fee.
- Establishment of a "stewardship council" to provide independent advice plus a binding right to veto modifications proposed by PIR to its policies regarding censorship, freedom of expression and use of user data.
- Creation of a $10-million "community enablement fund," contributed by PIR over the life of the current registry agreement, to support initiatives to benefit dot-org registrations that would be approved by the Stewardship Council
- PIR will publish an annual report on its own compliance with the above commitments and account for how it pursued activities to benefit dot-org registrants that year.
A review by dot.LA of the stewardship council's charter makes it clear that it serves as an independent body for advice and that its duties are to be requested and assigned by the PIR board, rather than proactively reviewed by the council.
More than 21,000 people, 660 organizations and six members of Congress have written letters to say they oppose the deal, which internet governance experts have worried will lead to unsavory efforts to make back the more than $1 billion to please investors at the expense of nonprofits doing good or monetize the data's registry at the expense of the public.
ICANN's President and CEO Göran Marby said that the nonprofit is in the process of analyzing information it has received and has no comment. The AG's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Representatives for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit defending digital privacy, did not immediately comment.
Ethos, PIR and The Internet Society will have representatives available to discuss and provide additional details on Feb. 27.
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If you've ever watched Shark Tank and wished that you could hop in the waters and invest alongside Mark Cuban and Mr. Wonderful, "Going Public" may be just the show for you.
The new series will showcase five companies preparing to go public on the NASDAQ stock exchange. Over the course of 10 episodes, viewers will follow the company founders as they promote their offering and receive feedback and advice from mentors, professional investors and other executives. Those watching at home who think they've spotted a winner will have a chance to get in on the action at the initial public offering (IPO) price for the companies that end up going public.
Offices are likely to get bigger, not smaller. Major cities could hollow out. And more people will work remote.
Those are some of the takeaways from dot.LA's virtual strategy session held Tuesday on the future of commercial real estate with Brendan Wallace, co-founder and managing partner at Fifth Wall; Justin Bedecarre, co-founder and CEO of HelloOffice and Jen Nguyen, founding partner of TEAMWERC.
Jen Nguyen, Founding Partner of TEAMWERC
Jen Nguyen, Founding Partner of TEAMWERC<p>Jen Nguyen is a founding partner of TEAMWERC, delivering best in class turnkey workplace as a service. She has a back to back track record building hyper growth inclusive award winning workplaces from the ground up. Founding workplace leader at Pinterest, Zynga, Tesla Motors and SAP Successfactors from their infancy through IPOs.</p><p>TEAMWERC will create a mindshift in how you approach your workplace bridging the gap between people and places, offering a plug and play expert team embedded into your organization. </p>
Brendan Wallace, co-founder & managing partner at Fifth Wall
Brendan Wallace, Co-Founder & Managing Partner at Fifth Wall<p>Brendan Wallace is a co-founder and managing partner at Fifth Wall, where he guides the firm's strategic vision.</p><p>Prior to starting Fifth Wall, Brendan co-founded Identified, a workforce optimization data and analytics company that raised $33 million of venture funding and was acquired by Workday (NYSE: WKDY) in 2014. He also co-founded Cabify, the largest ridesharing service in Latin America, and has been an active investor, leading more than 60 angel investments including Bonobos, Dollar Shave Club, Lyft, SpaceX, Clutter, and Philz Coffee.</p><p>Brendan started his career at Goldman Sachs in the real estate, hospitality, and gaming group before joining The Blackstone Group's real estate private equity practice.</p><p>Brendan is from New York City and currently lives in Venice. He graduated from Princeton University, where he received his BA in political science and economics. He received his MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.</p>
Justin Bedecarre, Co-Founder & CEO of HelloOffice<p>Justin is Co-Founder and CEO of HelloOffice. a modern commercial real estate brokerage on a mission to help everyone find a workplace they love. By empowering experienced brokers with innovative technology, HelloOffice turns the painful traditional process of searching for office space into a faster and more collaborative experience. <br></p><p>From headquarters to hybrid workplaces, HelloOffice works with companies like Palantir, Y Combinator, Afterpay, Brex and many others around the world. </p><p>Justin started HelloOffice in 2016 in San Francisco, and before that co-founded 42Floors which was acquired by Knotel.</p>
Ben Bergman, Senior Reporter
Ben Bergman, Senior Reporter at dot.LA<p>Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior reporter, covering venture capital. Previously he was a senior reporter/host at KPCC, a producer at Gimlet Media and NPR and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times. Bergman was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. He enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.</p>
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