Irish blogger and Internet consultant Antoin O'Lachtnain has succeeded in his bid to force the secretive company running Ireland's .ie domain into the open.
Following a lengthy battle with IE Domain Registry Ltd (IEDR) and the University College Dublin (the original owner of the registry) using the Freedom of Information Act, an appeal has finally seen the not-for-profit director-owned company ordered to release large amounts of correspondence concerning the .ie domain.
The company has attempted to block the release of any material by claiming alternately that it is commercially sensitive, would break others' privacy, may prejudice upcoming trials, would break the laywer-client privilege and doesn't exist or can't be found.
The Information Commissioner refused to entertain nearly all grounds and ordered the information be released, despite IEDR and UCD's concerns that doing so would "expose the company to prejudicial media comment".
IEDR has eight weeks to appeal on a point of law, after which the workings of Ireland's most important Internet company will be laid bare. Mr O'Lachtnain told us he doesn't even know if there will be anything of interest within the huge pile of paperwork but his intention was to force greater transparency onto the company.
He doesn't intend to stop either until the private company running a very public resource is made more accountable, in line with domain registries across the world. "We want IEDR to immediately publish its accounts, replace its current board members and introduce new procedures," he told us.
Despite officially spinning off IEDR in July 2000, UCD remains in control of the company, remains registered as its official owner at IANA, and chooses four of the company's five directors. IEDR currently charges one of the highest prices in the world for its .ie domain. For one year, and assuming your registration is accepted, a .ie domain will cost you €69.95 or £49.58. This compares to £36.36 for purely commercial domain .tv; £10.56 for a .com domain; and just £3.04 for a .uk domain.
IEDR executives have, in the past, attributed this disparity to extra costs associated with running a restricted domain (i.e. manually checking applications). However, with numerous mistakes and errors made and with more relaxed rules now operating, pressure has been building for several years for the prices to come down. IEDR's refusal to disclose or even discuss operating costs has made it impossible to put its claims to the test.
IEDR's first published accounts, published on 14 May 2002, saw the company produce an operating profit of just €91,670 (£65,613) on turnover of €1,936,535 (£1,386,073). This seems rather small, especially when the company had &242,529 in reserves from operating profit from when the registry was run by the University College Dublin.
The profit to income percentage comes out at 4.74 per cent. This compares to 16.8 per cent recorded by .uk domain owner Nominet in the same year, despite Nominet investing heavily in new equipment and infrastructure. IEDR says the financial results were "satisfactory" due to a series of "one-off costs" that included unquantified "necessary legal, accounting and technical costs".
Also, poor performance was also attributed to "the foot and mouth disease alert" and "the tragic events in the US on 11 September". How did this affect the market for buying Irish Internet domains?
The turbulent history of the Irish Internet (ignoring the fury surrounding high-cost Internet connections and poor ADSL roll-out), including its restrictive, arcane system and over-priced domains can be attributed to ancient Internet roots.
Nearly every country domain was originally started up and run by academics. But across the world, the same problems (lack of legal knowledge, business nous, marketing expertise, ability to see future problems) has caused those academics to slowly let go control to realise the Internet's wider potential. In Ireland's case, however, the UCD has not taken its hands off the tiller and the country's homegrown domain industry has suffered as a result.
Antoin O'Lachtnain's victory at releasing what will no doubt be hugely tedious paperwork should at least make IEDR realise it can no longer live in its own cocoon. Once UCD relinquishes control, Ireland will soon catch up with the rest of the world and we may see .ie domains rise from the pitiful 35,000 currently registered to potentially millions, each one advertising Ireland to the rest of the world. ®
Antoin O'Lachtnain wins