Over the last few months, numerous nonprofit organizations have come out to express concern over the sale of the nonprofit entity that operates the dot-org internet domain to a private equity firm. I will go into detail on why I disagree with them, but I would like to address something voiced by an opponent of the sale during an interview with National Public Radio.
Esther Dyson, one of the leading critics of this privatization of dot-org, opined, “You do not take a person and sell them. It is not the same as slavery, but it is in that same direction.” Sorry but that is comparing a business acquisition to slavery. I understand she did not have callous intentions here, but I do hope that Dyson will offer a sincere apology.
At issue, and the reason things have become so heated in this debate, is because some Americans have become so openly hostile to business and believe the private sector is inherently sinister. This mindset plagues both conservatives and liberals, however, it has become more pronounced as a rallying cry on the progressive side of the political fence in recent years.
It all started last fall when the Internet Society had announced the sale of Public Interest Registry to the private equity firm Ethos Capital for more than $1 billion. In response, a coalition of dot-org groups wrote a petition opposing the deal. They raised concerns about cost, censorship, and data sharing if the dot-org domain moves over to a for profit business model.
Here is why those fears seem unfounded. The current cost of a dot-org domain is about $10 per year. While the cost of a dot-org may go up over time, Ethos Capital has agreed to abide by a 10 percent annual price limit, which is about $1 per year. As for the concerns about censorship or data sharing, Ethos Capitol said that Public Interest Registry will operate the same way that it does today. It will maintain identical policies regarding censorship and abide by regulations that restrict them from selling data.
Keep in mind that all dot-orgs are free to choose another domain. If Ethos Capital suddenly spikes prices and alienates its customer base, then all of the dot-orgs are free to use another domain. Public Interest Registry has been struggling to keep up with the financial demands of maintaining the dot-org community. Ethos Capital has said that it wants to invest money into Public Interest Registry to grow the dot-org domain and improve it.
At the heart of the displeasure of the petitioners is the simple fact that a for profit business will own the dot-org domain. Nonprofits are entitled to their point of view. But comparing it to slavery? The left too often finds itself with tunnel vision, blindly attacking corporate interests as bad. In reality, nonprofits rely on for profit businesses every day. I have worked with many nonprofits over the years. They all gladly use Apple, Google, Microsoft, and countless other corporations to maintain their functions.
In fact, some earnings from for profit companies fund nonprofits. Some companies, like Microsoft, have spurred organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which seeks to make transformative changes in the lives of the most underserved people in the world. My point here is that it is not very sensible to reflexively oppose anything that is for profit.
What Dyson said was particularly disheartening, considering it took place the same week we celebrated the life of Martin Luther King. After all, he believed that to overcome the injustice of slavery and Jim Crow, he had to defeat his enemies with love. As he said, “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.” These days, from the president on down to everyday citizens, we could all do better with toning down the rhetoric. So on that note, I do hope that Dyson offers a sincere apology.
Michael Starr Hopkins is the founding partner of Northern Starr Strategies. He served on the Democratic presidential campaigns for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John Delaney. Follow him on Twitter @TheOnlyHonest.