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.ORG Applications Submitted to ICANN in June 2002:







Ellen Rony 

Copyright © 2001 Ellen Rony. All rights reserved.

The .ORG top level domain (TLD) is the weakest sibling of celebrated .COM. A slowing economy has turned dot-com into dot-comatose, but dot-orgs have always languished on the sidelines, receiving attention mostly by spillover. Attached at the hip through shared registry administration, ORG is a proverbial pretender to the throne. If you can't get the domain name you want in COM, you check whether it is available in .NET or .ORG.

While the growth of .COM is often described in superlatives--unprecedented, extraordinary, singular, boundless, staggering --. ORG has been comparatively lackluster. It is home to all types of institutions (commercial and non), charitable foundations, professional societies, self-help groups, hobbyists, clubs, credit unions, open source projects and public interest advocates. It is used, as well, for personal expression and vanity domains by individuals who feel a .COM moniker is inappropriate. Recently, it has been flashed on the television screen--TRIBUTETOHEROES.ORG, LIBERTYUNITES.ORG. Yet, .ORG domain names are often eschewed for the widely-heralded .COM to promote a cause (SAVEASTRAY.COM, BOYCOTTADOBE.COM), create a memorial (FLAGOF REMEMBRANCE.COM), protest an injustice (FREEJENNER.COM) and disparage a company (MICROSOFT-SUCKS.COM).


Since 1993, the .ORG registry has been administered by Network Solutions Inc. (NSI), now a subsidiary of VeriSign, Inc. Before the Internet began growing exponentially, NSI was the beneficiary of a Cooperative Agreement awarded by the National Science Foundation to manage registration services for the three generic TLDs--COM, .NET and .ORG. In November 1999, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) negotiated an agreement to extend NSI's control of its registry services for four additional years if it divested its registrar or registry activities by May 10, 2001. As VeriSign prepared to sell off its registrar operations, it secretly negotiated a proposed new agreement with ICANN, which was announced on March 1, 2001.

The revised ICANN/VeriSign Agreement creates dramatic change in the long familiar structure of gTLD administration. It splits the .COM, .NET and .ORG registries into three separate agreements, with VeriSign permanently relinquishing its right to manage .ORG on December 31,2002. A new registry operator from the non-commercial sector will be sought, and VeriSign will fund a $5 million endowment to be used by ICANN in its sole discretion for the future operating expenses of the successor.

According to ICANN, "The net result of this would be a .ORG registry returned, after some appropriate transition period, to its originally intended function as a registry operated by and for non-profit organizations."

This statement raised a firestorm of controversy, and it is small wonder that people are furious. Such a change in .ORG's charter lacks historical basis and threatens to displace many of the 2.8 million occupants who were encouraged to "protect" their unique identity by registering in .ORG and .NET as well as in .COM. From an industry perspective, a plan to convert.ORG into a restricted registry restricted to non-profits could undermine the competitive effect of the VeriSign divestiture.


The technical evolution of the domain name system is tracked by a document series called Requests For Comments (RFCs). The domain name system was developed in 1983 to decentralize the task of maintaining information on host computers connected to ARPANet, the Internet's predecessor. The flat global namespace, designated as .ARPA, was reorganized into an initial set of five general purpose top level domains introduced in the landmark RFC-920, "Domain Requirements" :


Government, any government related domains meeting the second level requirements


Education, any education related domains meeting the second level requirements


Commercial, any commercial related domains meeting the second level requirements.


Military, any military related domains meeting the second level requirements.


Organization, any other domains meeting the second level requirements.

RFC-1032, "Domain Administrator's Guide," published three years later, noted that the general categories of top level domains were designated so that each could accommodate a variety of organizations:

"ORG" exists as a parent to subdomains that do not clearly fall within the other top-level domains. This may include technical- support groups, professional societies, or similar organizations.

RFC-1591, "Domain Name System Structure and Delegation," is considered a defining document. Written by Jon Postel in October 1994, .ORG was notably described not by what it is but by what it is not. It is not .COM, not .NET, not .EDU or .GOV, .INT or .MIL. It could aptly be called the "none-of-the-above" domain

ORG - This domain is intended as the miscellaneous TLD for organizations that didn't fit anywhere else. Some non-government organizations may fit here.

The term "organization" may be misleading regarding the original nature of .ORG. Many identify "organizations" with non-commercial entities such as trade associations, professional societies and various non-profits. However, the term is used here in a broader sense. A domain name is considered to be registered to an organization, even if the "organization" is an individual. Event planners, corporate philanthropists, hobbyists, ad hoc advocates, and personal users alike who register a domain name today with the legacy registrar are doing so as an "organization".

.ORG registrants unfamiliar with the RFCs relied, instead, upon NSI's representations of the gTLD, as incorporated into its Domain Name Registration Template. NSI's templates have undergone numerous iterations and reveal how the definition of .ORG has been reworked in the past six years to favor the broadest possible customer base (Table 1). Template Versions 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 offered NSI-spin unsupported by the historic RFCs but referred registrants to RFC-1591 for the authoritative definition. Before Version 4.0 was posted in March 1998, NSI was already marketing .ORG as an open namespace, available to any registrant. Currently, NSI advises, "Anyone may register Web Addresses in .COM, .NET, and .ORG. In fact, the best way to protect the uniqueness of your online identity and brands is to register your Web Addresses in all of the top-level domains."

Table 1. NSI Domain Name Registration Templates
Definition of .ORG
NSI Template
Template Description of .ORG

Version 1.0*


.ORG is for not-for-profit and non-profit organizations.

Version 1.0*


.ORG is for not-for-profit and non-profit organizations.

Version 2.0*


.ORG is for miscellaneous usually non-profit organizations.

Version 3.0*


.ORG is for miscellaneous, usually non-profit organizations.

Version 3.5


For second-level domain names under .COM, .ORG, .NET, .EDU or .GOV, insert the name of the domain you wish to register as in, EXAMPLE.COM".. . . GOV registrations are limited to top-level United States federal government agencies.

Version 4.0


For second-level domain names under .COM, .ORG, .NET, or .EDU, insert the name of the domain you wish to register as in, "EXAMPLE.COM"

Version 5.0


Instructions at:

Version 5.1


Instructions at

Version 6.0


From NSI Glossary: .ORG: The top-level domain originally designated for miscellaneous entities such as non-profit organizations that do not fit under any of the other top-level domains. Any person or organization may now register a domain name in .org, a worldwide top-level domain.

* Registrants are directed to "consult RFC 1591 to determine the most appropriate top-level domain to join."


On June 4, 2001, ICANN's board referred the issues raised by the impending change in .ORG management to the Names Council which, in turn, seeks policy recommendations from the Domain Name Supporting Organization. The Names Council established a Task Force which drafted a Proposed Statement of Policy for .ORG. Its basic points include:

  1. .ORG should be a sponsored top level domain with no eligibility restrictions imposed on prospective registrants.
  2. .ORG should be intended for the non-commercial and non-profit community, including individuals and groups seeking an outlet for non-commercial expression, social initiatives and information exchange.
  3. Marketing rather than eligibility restrictions should be used to differentiate and strengthen the special identity of .ORG. Defensive and duplicative registrations should be discouraged.
  4. Administration of .ORG should be delegated to a non-profit sponsoring organization with international support and participation of .ORG registrants and non-commercial organizations within and outside of the ICANN process.
  5. Current .ORG registrants should not have their registrations cancelled or their renewals denied due to the change of TLD administration.
  6. Administration must be consistent with ICANN policies, including registrar accreditation, shared registry access, UDRP dispute resolution, and access to registration contact data.

A public list for discussion of the proposed .ORG policy was established at The ICANN Board will take up thereassignment of .ORG at its meeting in Ghana.

Two quintessential insiders weighed in early recommending future restrictions in the use of .ORG. Michael Roberts, ICANN's former president, asserts, "The need for an appropriate transition period for the .ORG registry to non-commercial status is fully recognized by those working on the proposed agreements."

Among those he references is VeriSign's CEO, Stratton Sclavos, who explains, "ICANN has agreed that, at a minimum, existing registrants would be permitted to remain in the new .ORG registry for one renewal cycle under its new management. In addition, and as another part of the transition process, all ICANN-accredited registrars would continue to be permitted to register qualifying names in the .ORG TLD for three years after termination of our operation of the .ORG registry, during which period the new registry could develop whatever registration policies for the future it thought appropriate."

People are roiling over the threat of new rules to "purify" .ORG. On a public forum, critics of the revised ICANN-VeriSign agreement quickly heaped scorn on the plan. They repudiated ICANN's proposal to remove certain .ORG domains as a profound betrayal of public trust within the spirit of RFC- 1591 and NSI's registration policies for .ORG as an open name space. The adjectives they use to describe a retroactive change in the charter of .ORG are terse and caustic: "counterproductive, costly, harmful, unreasonable, unfair, unacceptable, arbitrary, disrespectful, disruptive, destabilizing, heavy-handed, punishing, incredibly daft, and downright rude " The call to action was unequivocal: "No mandate, no consultation, no way"

For VeriSign, the opportunity to relinquish its weakest producer is a brilliant strategic trade-off for the right to maintain control over the lucrative .COM registry while retaining registrar operations. Registrations in .COM outpace .ORG nearly eight-fold and hold an insurmountable lead over all other TLDs. Even NET, originally intended only for networking infrastructure, is growing at a brisker pace than .ORG.

According to recent domain registration counts (Table 2), of 29.9 million gTLD registrations by mid-June, 22.7 million are in .COM, 4.37 million in .NET and .ORG lags far behind with 2.8 million.


The uncertainty in the future ORG administration has created a state of rising tension among domain registrants. Driving commercial entities out of the TLD would leave homeless many companies that chose .ORG when the preferred .COM domain name was unavailable. Advocates for this approach claim that eventually, no one will expect to find commercial business in .ORG. However, evictions would also invalidate the many thousands of links that have propagated throughout the Internet and create an explosion of failed lookups and 404 alerts in a no-longer nascent Internet.

ICANN recognizes that grandfathering current registrations (not subjecting existing ones to cancellation) will create the least public disruption. During its June 4, 2001 meeting in Stockholm, the ICANN board urged that "consideration be given to the positive effects on stability of assuring the ability of present registrants to continue their registrations."

That may leave .ORG with a double standard which sparks lawsuits and aggravates any effort to enforce a restricted charter. Indeed, NSI gave up trying to do so five years ago. There is no universal definition for non-profit. The formal variations can stretch from completely volunteer organizations to those with indirect commercial goals. Non-profits can be established for public benefit, mutual benefit or strictly charitable purposes. The permutations are manifold.

.ORG registrants may migrate to the new .INFO top level domain. INFO is being introduced to compete with .COM, but the nomenclature suggests a more business-neutral milieu. Holders of registered trademarks had a preferential opportunity to register domain names during a sunrise period, so many of the most desirable names and acronyms are already unavailable to non-commercial entities and individuals. In response to complaints, Afilias, the .INFO registry, announced plans to review "suspicious" registrations of generic words grabbed during the Sunrise period reserved solely for certified trademark owners

Rather than tightening the noose on .ORG, the proposal which has collected greatest support is the introduction of additional TLDs chartered specifically for non-profits (.NPO), non-governmental organizations (.NGO) and other types of non-commercial entities (.NCO). These would still be difficult to enforce without strict guidelines, which may make registrants balk, as uses for domain names often change over time.

Like other hotly contested domain name issues, the battle lines are clearly drawn. NSI promoted the open use of .NET and .ORG TLDs to all registrants and now advocates a restricted role for the .COM competitor, which will be under new management in 2003. Respondents are neither impressed nor persuaded by the arguments to restrict .ORG's future use, supported by ICANN's current and former presidents and VeriSign's CEO. Registrants call it as they see it--market manipulation and an ICANN scam which threatens to remove the opportunity for self-selection within the gTLDs. One individual underscored the nature of personal expression in .ORG and immediately registered HANDSOFFMY.ORG.

ICANN's initial threat to restrict .ORG registrations looms over the Names Council policy recommendations like low hanging fruit waiting to be plucked by members of the board. Strip the debate of its political outwear, and the troubling notion of a marketing ploy emerges, as described in one pithy message on the public forum: "Sell a product, then take it back, then sell it again to someone else. Pure genius."

Other reading:


Ellen is co-author of The Domain Name Handbook: High Stakes and Strategies in Cyberspace, published by R&D Books. She maintains a website with links to domain name policies, disputes, news and the activities of ICANN at







Other articles, editorials and domain-related comments by this author:

At Large Membership: ICANN's Ultimate Tarbaby

The Divine Right of Names: New TLDs Prep for Start-up

The Envelope, Please: New Top Level Domains on the Horizon

Procter & Gamble Bids Adieu to SINUS, THIRST and FLU

Words First!

Sunrise+20: The Numbers Tell the Story

Famous Marks

Clicks or Mortar: Are Domain Names Property?

Res Ipsa Loquitur

RDND: Reverse Domain Name Denigration

IIR: Internet Impact Report

The Devil is in the Details

An Alternative to ICANN?

Comments on the WIPO Interim Report RFC-3




















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