Behind the “.org”, the business of domain names on the Internet

“org” or “.fr” or even “.com”: these three lowercase letters appended to the end of a website’s name become a “domain name extension”, just like a zip code. The domain name is the full address, for example “la-croix.com”.

→ READ. ICANN, an ‘internet government’ under the influence

If the “.fr” logically refers to websites linked to France, the “.com” indicates that the sites have a commercial scope. The “.org” is normally used for non-profit organizations, for example Wikipedia or Secours Catholique.

A domain name where places are scarce

This extension is managed by the Public Interest Registry (PIR), an American association. It was appointed manager of “.org” by Icann, the global internet regulator. In exchange for maintaining the technical infrastructure necessary for the proper functioning of “.org”, PIR charges anyone who wants a web address in “.org”. Kind of like a tenant has to pay a landlord for housing and get an address.

PIR somehow owns the “.org” building. But land is scarce both on the web and in the metropolises. There are about 11 million “.org” sites and most of the addresses are already taken. “Many domain names are already taken and buying back is very expensive”, confirms Lucie Loos, Marketing Director at Nameshield, a company specializing in domain name management and protection. Not to mention that buying a website besides the simple name comes down to acquiring the references and visitors, the ‘weight’ in the digital economy.

“You have to present domain names as brands, continues Lucie Loos. You pay to register your brand, you pay an annual fee to maintain your brand infrastructure and in the event of an acquisition, your customer base will leave with your brand. †

Ethos Capital, New Owner of “.org” Sites

With the money earned from the sale of “.org” sites, the American association PIR funds actions in favor of digital development, a rather virtuous operation because the amounts paid by the owners of websites are reintroduced into the web. invested. But last November, PIR announced its impending sale to the investment fund Ethos Capital. Proposed price: more than 1 billion euros.

An unprecedented amount for this type of transaction and which digital defenders did not fail to respond to. “Many small extensions, such as “.best”, have been sold, but this is the first time an acquisition has involved such an important suffix”explains Stéphane Bortzmeyer, specialist in computer networks.

Due to the approximately 11 million sites in “. org” would be a huge windfall for Ethos Capital. “Not to mention that a few months before this announcement, Icann approved an increase in “.org” prices”let an expert know who the sale would be for “maybe legal but not ethical”

“We are concerned that Ethos Capital will drastically increase prices, confirms Stéphan Ramoin, president of Gandi, a civil registry, a kind of real estate agency between the PIR owner and the tenants, individuals or companies.We would then be forced to pass on the increase to our customers, including many small associations. † In reality, “.org” is not a cheap extension. The suffix costs about ten euros per year, compared to less than five euros for the “.fr”.

The problem lies in the use of this money. “With this acquisition, the marketing of “.org” would no longer be used to develop the actions of a non-profit organization like PIR, but to compensate shareholders,” storm Pierre Bonis, CEO of Afnic, the association that manages the “.fr”. “The money that managers earn should be reinvested to maintain and develop the Internet, not to pay dividends! †

“It’s an incredible appreciation, he continues. Ethos Capital has put more than 1 billion euros on the table and if they write such a large check, it is good that they intend to earn more. † In comparison, the American company Verisign received just over 1 billion euros in 2018 thanks to the 144 million sites in “.com”, an extension for which it is responsible.

The “.tv”, illustration of a business done at the expense of the United States

Market juggernaut, Verisign also runs “.gov” on behalf of the US government and “.tv”, a fashionable extension for all video sites… but which actually refers to Tuvalu, an archipelago lost in the world. Peaceful. The Tuvalus and their 11,000 inhabitants spread over a cluster of islets do not have the opportunity to exploit this extension assigned to them by Icann, as the “.fr” is assigned to France. It is impossible to install computer server farms where the “.tv” sites would be physically located. The Tuvalese themselves only have access to the internet via expensive and limited satellite connections.

The archipelago has therefore delegated management of the extension to Verisign, which pays about $5 million a year to the government of Tuvalu for all “.tv” sites. A drop of water compared to the income of the American company, experts in the sector denounce.

Sometimes some countries are completely expropriated. “The “.cd” attributed to Congo, and for a time very popular, brought nothing for the Congolese, describes Pierre Bonis. In France, the management of “.fr” is regulated by law. But many countries have not considered the issue of the Internet and are today depriving themselves of a financial windfall and digital sovereignty. †

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