[Published on behalf of the Internet Society Board of Trustees.]
Last Friday we held a webinar with Internet Society members to answer questions about the sale of the Public Interest Registry (PIR). We were also able to unveil more details about the sale and its long-term contribution to the stability of the Internet Society (ISOC). On that call, we listened to our community members carefully. We heard the concerns regarding this decision from those who are worried about the future of the .ORG community, and who believe that we – as a non-profit and mission-driven organisation- are risking undermining our own legitimacy and responsibility to the public Internet.
First and foremost, we take the reaction from our community very seriously. Clearly, some members of the community believe that the decision to move forward with this transaction is harming our reputation. We fully understand the concerns expressed by our chapters and members, and we know that a lot of the criticism we have faced since announcing the transaction stems from the fact that we have not consulted openly, or been as clear as we should have been about what this sale would mean for both .ORG, and the Internet Society. It has always been the Board’s intention to be as open, transparent, and forthcoming about this deal as realistically and legally as possible, while keeping in mind that there are still more steps to go through before it is expected to close in Q1, 2020. I hope it is evident that we have had to balance the need to listen and communicate with the need to keep parts of the negotiations and decision-making confidential in the interests of the transaction itself. We remain committed to communicating as much as we can, when we can.
Let me emphasize again however, that we continue to believe that this deal will help protect ISOC’s future and ensure its long-term stability and growth. It is our job as the Board to do what is the interest of ISOC, its community and its mission, even when that may not be popular or well-received in the media. It was for this reason that the board voted unanimously to approve the deal (aside from one trustee who is recused from PIR matters). Hopefully through this conversation we can share our thinking and help the rest of the community have the same confidence we do.
This is a good deal not just for ISOC, but also for the .ORG community. Under the Internet Society, PIR has always been constrained in the amount of investment it could make in growing the business, because of the need to produce a reliable revenue stream. Under Ethos, PIR will have an opportunity to invest more in the registry and expand services for all registrants. Ethos Capital has stated its commitment to building upon PIR’s success, and to supporting its continued growth so that it can become an even more reliable and useful home for non-profit organizations and members of the .ORG community. So the .ORG community should expect to see continuity in how .ORG is managed, with opportunities for improvement in the future.
The deal also helps the Internet Society focus on its vision “the Internet is for everyone”. It not only frees the organization from the time it takes to oversee the management of PIR, but means that we will no longer be reliant on one single revenue stream, from one company, in one industry. The diversification that becomes possible for the Internet Society through this sale will ensure far, far greater stability in our funding going forward, meaning that we will be able to plan longer term and focus fully on work that takes us toward our mission. I would like to be clear that this is about stability and risk mitigation, not about profit. It’s about the Internet Society’s mission, and doing more to fulfil our mission, which remains our focus.
In the same vein, I would stress that this is not abandonment of the Internet Society’s principles. We have an important role to play in expanding the Internet’s reach, and making it stronger for everyone, and we believe the sale of PIR will enable us to focus on this. This doesn’t mean we are turning our backs on the .ORG community. We want to see that community grow, and we want .ORG to continue to be a place for non-profits to live online and to help them fulfil their online goals. One of the key considerations of the Board was to ensure that through this deal, we uphold the brand and message and mission of PIR, and keep its strength working in service of the public interest. In particular, the establishment of a “Stewardship committee” with representatives from the community was an important aspect of our consideration of Ethos’ proposal, because it will help to ensure that the community has a say in how PIR is run in the future.
I have every confidence that .ORG will be able to thrive under new ownership, and that the non-profit community will continue to be well served in future.
We will continue to listen. We have heard loud and clear that there is a sense of broken trust with the community that we are part of. I will acknowledge that while we have communicated quite factually about the deal, we regret not showing enough empathy for these concerns, as they are real and valid. And for that, we acknowledge our shortcomings, and will use this as a lesson moving forward in striving to be more empathetic and engaging with our community. While there will be work needed to bring the community back together after all this is settled, we are committed to seeing that work through, and building a community that is stronger than ever.