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

“org” or “.fr” or even “.com”: these three lowercase letters connected to the end of the name of a site are what is called a “domain name extension”, much like a zip code. The domain name is the entire address, for example “”.

→ READ. ICANN, an “internet government” under the influence

If “.fr” logically indicates sites linked to France, “.com” indicates that the sites have a commercial scope. “.org” is commonly used for non-profit organizations, such as Wikipedia or Secours Catholique.

A domain name where there are few places

The administration of this extension is in the hands of the Public Interest Registry (PIR), an American association. It had been named head of “.org” by Icann, the global Internet regulator. In return for maintaining the technical infrastructure necessary for the proper functioning of “.org”, PIR charges all those who wish a URL in “.org”. A bit like a tenant having to pay a landlord for housing and get an address.

PIR somehow owns the “.org” building. But on the web, as in the metropolises, there is hardly any land. There are about 11 million “.org” pages, and most of the addresses are already busy. “Many domain names have already been taken and it is very expensive to buy them back”, confirms Lucie Loos, Marketing Director at Nameshield, a company specializing in domain name management and protection. Not to mention that in addition to the simple name, buying a website equates to acquiring its references 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 clientele leaves with your brand. »

Ethos Capital, new owner of “.org” sites

With the money earned from the sale of “.org” sites, the American association PIR is financing actions in favor of digital development, a rather virtuous operation, because the amounts paid by the website owners are reinvested in the web. . But in November last year, PIR announced its upcoming sale to investment fund Ethos Capital. Suggested price: more than 1 billion euros.

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

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

“We are concerned that Ethos Capital will increase prices drastically, confirms Stéphan Ramoin, chairman of Gandi, a registry office, a kind of real estate agent between the PIR owner and the tenants, individuals or companies.Then we would be obliged to pass on the increase to our customers, many of whom are small associations. » In fact, “.org” is already not a cheap extension. The suffix costs about ten euros a year, against less than five euros for “.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 association such as PIR, but to remunerate shareholders”, storm Pierre Bonis, CEO of Afnic, the association that manages “.fr”. “The money that managers earn must be reinvested to maintain and develop the Internet, not to pay dividends!”

“It’s an incredible assessment, he continues. Ethos Capital has put more than 1 billion euros on the table, and if they write such a big check, it’s 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 pages in “.com”, an extension for which it is responsible.

“.tv”, illustration of a business done at the expense of the states

In terms of marketing, Verisign also manages “.gov” on behalf of the US government and “.tv”, a fashionable extension to all video sites … but which actually refers to Tuvalu, an archipelago that has been lost in the world. Peaceful. The Tuvalues ​​and their 11,000 inhabitants spread over a cluster of islets do not have the opportunity to take advantage of this extension, which has been granted to them by Icann, since “.fr” has been granted to France. It is impossible to install computer server farms where the “.tv” sites would be physically located. The Tuvales themselves only access the Internet through expensive and limited satellite connections.

The archipelago has therefore delegated the management of its expansion to Verisign, which pays about five million dollars a year to the Tuvalu government for all “.tv” sites. A drop of water compared to the income of the US company, condemns specialists in the sector.

Sometimes some countries are completely displaced. The “.cd”, which was attributed to Congo, and for a time very popular, brought nothing to the Congolese, describes Pierre Bonis. In France, the management of “.fr” is legal. But many countries have not considered the issue of the Internet and today deprive themselves of a financial windmill and digital sovereignty. »

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