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

“org” or “.fr” or even “.com”: these three small letters joined to the end of the name of a website are what is called a “domain name extension”, much like a postal code. The domain name is the entire address, for example “la-croix.com”.

→ READ. ICANN, an “Internet government” under influence

If the “.fr” logically designates 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 rare

The management of this extension is in the hands of Public Interest Registry (PIR), an American association. It had been appointed manager of “.org” by Icann, the global Internet regulator. In exchange for maintaining the technical infrastructure necessary for the proper functioning of the “.org”, the PIR charges all those who want a Web address in “.org”. A bit like a tenant must pay a landlord for accommodation and obtain an address.

PIR somehow owns the “.org” building. However, on the Web as in the metropolises, land is scarce. There are some 11 million “.org” sites and most of the addresses are already occupied. “Many domain names are already taken, and it is very expensive to buy them back”, confirms Lucie Loos, marketing director at Nameshield, a company specializing in the management and protection of domain names. Not to mention that beyond the simple name, buying a website amounts to acquiring its referencing and its visitors, its “weight” in the digital economy.

“You have to imagine 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 a takeover, your customer base leaves with your brand. »

Ethos Capital, new owner of “.org” sites

With the money earned by the sale of “.org” sites, the American association PIR finances actions in favor of digital development, a rather virtuous operation because the sums paid by the owners of websites are reinvested in the Web. . But last November, PIR announced its upcoming sale to the investment fund Ethos Capital. Price offered: more than 1 billion euros.

An unprecedented sum for this type of transaction and which did not fail to make digital defenders react. “A lot of small extensions, like “.best”, have been sold, but this is the first time that an acquisition concerns such an important suffix”explains Stéphane Bortzmeyer, specialist in computer networks.

By getting our hands on the approximately 11 million sites in “. org”, Ethos Capital would capture a huge windfall. “Not to mention that Icann had authorized an increase in “.org” prices just a few months before this announcement”slips a connoisseur, for whom the sale would be “maybe legal but not ethical”.

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

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

“It’s an incredible valuation, he continues. Ethos Capital has put more than 1 billion euros on the table and if they also make a big check, it is good that they intend to earn more. » By way of 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 to the prejudice of the States

Market juggernaut, Verisign also manages “.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 possibility of exploiting this extension which has been allocated to them by Icann, as the “.fr” has been allocated to France. It is impossible to install computer server farms where the “.tv” sites would physically reside. The Tuvalese themselves only access the Internet through paid and limited satellite connections.

The archipelago has therefore delegated the management of its extension to Verisign, which pays some five million dollars by the government of Tuvalu for all “.tv” sites. A drop of water compared to the income garnered by the American company, denounce specialists in the sector.

Sometimes, certain countries have completely dispossessed themselves. “The “.cd” attributed to the Congo, and for a time very popular, brought nothing to the Congolese, describes Pierre Bonis. In France, the management of “.fr” is enshrined in law. But many countries have not considered the question of the Internet and today deprive themselves of financial means and digital sovereignty. »

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