The .uk.co domain was wiped off the face of the Internet this morning with no notice, leaving more than 8,000 livid individuals and businesses - including Amazon and Priceline - with no Web presence or email.
The only proof of its existence is a posting on www.uk.co from the top-level domain .co owner - the University of the Andes in Bogota, Colombia - saying that the registrar for the .uk.co domains Net Registrar had failed to agree terms of a new arrangement and so it was "no longer entitled to operate uk.co sub-domains". Therefore, "Net Registrar is not entitled to permit you to use the uk.co domain names that you had registered with them".
Net Registrar managing director, Robert Fox is not happy. He told us he was "very surprised" at the sudden decision to switch off all the domains and has "no idea" why they took the step. Inevitably, he has been fielding calls all morning from furious domain owners but says "all I can do is take legal action".
That legal action is thought to be the reason behind the switch off and is just part of a wider battle between the university and the government of Colombia over the .co domain.
The university announced in June 2001 that it was selling off the domain to the highest bidder, in much the same as the island of Tuvalu made a tidy profit from selling the rights to its .tv domain. However, this privatisation attempt upset the Colombian government which decreed on 12 July 2002 that the Minister of Communications in Colombia would take over the administration of the domain no later than 31 December 2003.
In December 2002, the University informed Net Registrar of the impending transfer and tried to draw up a new arrangement with the company. Net Registrar immediately put a stop to all new registrations and attempted to get assurances from all involved over maintenance of the .uk.co domains.
What went wrong we may find out tomorrow as a Colombian judge decides whether Net Registrar has the continued right to the domain. Until then, Robert Fox tells us, he considers the matter sub judice and so does not want to comment further.
The university claims that it "sought to agree a new arrangement with Net Registrar to facilitate the transition by Net Registrar's customers to new domain names", but "Net Registrar did not agree to the terms of this new arrangement", and so it cut them off.
Net Registrar on the other hand said in a statement today: "Since we received notice from the Registrar that it may cease to have responsibility for the .co domain we have been trying to obtain assurances on the maintenance of the uk.co subdomain. To date we have received no such assurances. In order to prevent the possible termination of the service we have been obliged to issue proceedings in the High Court of Colombia."
With the Colombian government assuming control of the domain and wishing to invite international investment, it is unlikely to adopt a year zero approach to domains and so Net Registrar should retain control of www.uk.co and hence continue to be able to sell .uk.co domains.
La Universidad de Los Andes is likely to know this and so the switch off may be interpreted as an attempt to annoy or damage Net Registrar. It has certainly done that, although it may backfire horribly. Robert Fox tells us he doesn't think he is liable for any lawsuits from domain owners claiming loss of earnings because the situation is entirely out of his control. Indeed, the university's stunt may see it loaded with lawsuits itself in the coming weeks. Today's court judgement may increase that possibility.
The idea of the .uk.co names is either to act as an alternative to .co.uk if the domain has already gone or to capture the large number of Internet users that type the address in the wrong way around. With over 25 domain sellers signed up with Net Registrar and 8,000 domains sold, it was doing good business. The domains cost £15 for two years.
Whether the domain is resurrected we should know by tomorrow. ®