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Nominet acts over Firevision debacle
But stranded customers forced to pay £15
UK registry operator Nominet has at last acted against domain name registrar Firevision, which has left thousands of customers in limbo and unable to access their domain names.
Some Firevision customers - none of whom have been able to get access to their domains or a response from the company for months - have received an acknowledgment email from Nominet which states: "Currently Firevision are unable to make any changes to .uk domain names, this includes changing the hosting tag."
However, the response falls far short of what furious customers want. We warned Nominet nearly two months ago that Firevision, run by 27-year-old Graham Briggs, was not responding to any requests from customers or making any changes through its online system, effectively putting thousands of .uk domains, as well as .com, .net. org and .info domains, in a state of limbo.
At the time, Nominet's director of operations, Eleanor Bradley, assured us that Nominet was keeping a "close eye on things" and that it would act on any reports of problems. She also advised that for a fee of £15 per domain - up to a maximum of £30 - Nominet would step into and transfer the domain details to another authorised registrar.
Even when we provided details of half-a-dozen complaints from readers that stated they had been unable to do anything with the domains they had paid for, Ms Bradley refused to discuss individual companies or "specifics".
She promised again to "keep a close eye on things" but when pressed confirmed that Nominet can and will terminate the contract of any registrar that does not update its files. The company will first be contacted and given notice of termination for 14 days and then its customers will be contacted by Nominet.
There is nothing to suggest that Firevision has received such a notice. However, the Firevision website also fails to make any mention of the last few months' extensive problems, or answer any queries, or mention that its company accounts are over two-years late.
Even if Nominet does act and terminate Firevision's contract, the only recourse for customers will be to pay Nominet £15 to move their domain to another registrar - something that is angering domain owners. One reader told us: "£15+vat to change this is extortion at the very least, Nominet is supposed to be a not-for-profit organisation".
Indeed, the rules and fees stem from an earlier time where Bradley admitted registrars were going to the wall every week. These days, as she herself admitted, it is "quite rare" for a registrar to go under.
The way the UK system for registrars works is that the customer has the right to demand their domain to be moved to a competitor but it is the registrar that has to allow the transfer to take place. In the past, this approach has caused fury when companies have made a large charge to transfer people's domains, despite it being an extremely simple and cheap transaction. Nominet has preferred to stay out of the argument arguing instead for a competitive market with a variety of charging models.
It is arguing the same point again with regard to its £15 charge for changing registrar details. "The current system provides security for the registrant," Ms Bradley argued, since it means only the company that someone bought a domain from can move it. That also puts the legal onus on the registrar and not Nominet. As she correctly points out as well "the system works for the vast majority of cases".
However, with the crazy days of the internet behind us, it is time for Nominet to reflect on its policy of charging let-down customers £15 for tiny changes in an infrastructure that it runs and maintains.
And the very people that will decide whether the policy needs charging are Nominet's Policy Advisory Board, whose elections a fortnight ago selected two new and two old members to stand again.
Nominet's former chairman, Willie Black, was perhaps an unsurprising winner. He left Nominet in December but was asked by many to lend his experience to Nominet's policy formulation so he put himself forward.
Re-selected were the passionate and popular Hazel Pegg, and highly respected Sebastien Lahtinen. Old-hand Clive Feather was ousted by new boy Jason Johns of The Positive Internet Company.
Interestingly, Johns stood on a manifesto of altering Nominet's registrar process to be more like international domain systems. We shall see. ®