Back in May, we covered a document on OneVC’s investors explaining how it would start “operating through corporate governance.” It continued, “We’ll see how it goes … But we’re certainly looking to further our work (e.g. e.g. getting companies to be more transparent around leadership, decision-making, record-keeping and health and safety).”
That’s because the private equity firm believes that Internet users have the right to know when their companies receive grants or special payments from government agencies. (Can you imagine that?)
OneVC is now seeking to become a registrar for .org domains, according to a filing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Its venture partner, Nao Jones, CEO of the .Net Foundation, wants to apply for the rights. Jones, it seems, has been “ground zero” for inquiring about accepting government funding.
“He’s spent a significant amount of time talking to the various parties, from the registrar to the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), about how we’d be different than other companies in how we run the business,” said OneVC spokesman Harry Rogers.
Sanders warned Congress that critics would seize on the .com registry firm GoDaddy. They did. Back in 2015, GoDaddy “accidentally” posted sensitive data about parents and teachers, often called “Invisible children,” on a website for the ACLU. (GoDaddy wrote an apology, and the fact that the website was in violation of its own rules is relevant.) Sanders warned Congress again in 2016 of “Propaganda, impersonation, fraud, and spam masquerading as .org top level domains (TLDs).” Then, in 2017, GoDaddy “accidentally” posted data about supporters of Bernie Sanders, a Democrat, on the website for his presidential campaign. Then GoDaddy, once again, apologized.
But there is no rule-breaking in the proposed private registry. And the filings at the PTO are mainly related to zoning and handling fees. “It sounds like they have some interest in .org as part of their Internet agenda,” said ICANN spokeswoman Sarah Raskin.
A handful of third-party organizations have stepped in to do public opposition to the bid, like the Co-ed Registry Alliance. Greenpeace USA and the ACLU have jointly launched a campaign against OneVC, called .
“Even if they just owned a handful of .org TLDs, the private sector profit-motive and lack of transparency would be a death blow to the public interest,” Greenpeace said in a statement.
Representatives from American Indian tribes, teachers unions, and other civil society groups, such as Color of Change, are also calling on ICANN to reject the deal. The organization wrote in a statement, “ICANN should reject any applications for direct ownership of a top level domain to avoid further entrenching corporatists and corporate interests over community organizing and meaningful expression.”
Even if ICANN approves the OneVC application, OneVC could still change its mind. It could change its mind about owning a single TLD, if necessary. That’s because .org is not just a TLD. It’s a set of policies, most notably the recommended underlying registry policy, that encourage diversity of participation in the Internet.
That means allowing for companies and individuals to establish even more specific interpretations of what a .org policy is supposed to mean. It’s entirely possible that OneVC could change its mind about buying a TLD.
“Over the last year, there’s been an ongoing conversation about what the bottom line is for OneVC,” said Rogers. “And it is not necessarily cash flow.” In other words, this could turn out to be more about politics than about business.