Brexit has hit the internet, and not in a good way.
In an official statement Thursday, the European Commission announced it will cancel all 300,000 domains under the .eu top-level domain that have a UK registrant, following Britain's eventual departure from the European Union.
"As of the withdrawal date, undertakings and organizations that are established in the United Kingdom but not in the EU and natural persons who reside in the United Kingdom will no longer be eligible to register .eu domain names," the document states, adding, "or if they are .eu registrants, to renew .eu domain names registered before the withdrawal date."
Going even further, the EC suggested that existing .eu domains might be cancelled the moment Brexit happens – expected to be 366 days from now – with no right of appeal.
"As a result of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom, a holder of a domain name does no longer fulfil the general eligibility criteria... the Registry for .eu will be entitled to revoke such domain name on its own initiative and without submitting the dispute to any extrajudicial settlement of conflicts."
According to the most recent statistics available, there are just over 317,000 .eu domains registered in the UK – roughly a tenth of the registry's total. Cancelling them would have a huge impact on the company that runs .eu, EURid, and on the EU itself which receives millions of euros annually in surplus funds.
Even more remarkably, EURid made it plain that it was not consulted over the plans or even informed what they were before the news was made public. A statement on the registry's site begins: "Yesterday afternoon, EURid, the registry manager of the .eu TLD, received the link to the European Commission’s communication concerning Brexit and the .eu TLD."
The EU has the right to decide the policies for registering .eu domains; it wrote the rules and contracts and was awarded the extension in 2005 by domain name overseer ICANN. This was a largely diplomatic effort to get Europe on board with supporting the US-based organization, overseen at the time by the US government, when others wanted the job moved to the United Nations.
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Giving the task of setting up a new internet registry to a bureaucracy did however land EURid – which was chosen as the operator following an open tender - with a host of unnecessary red tape in a highly competitive market. That over-bureaucratic approach was due to be revised this year following an EC public consultation.
The consultation closed in August but it remains unclear what is happening and industry insiders have been critical about how little the European Commission has engaged with industry experts. That same lack of engagement was on display in this week's domain Brexit announcement.
The news was greeted with bafflement from an industry that has a long-held norm and best practice that registered domains are retained, or "grandfathered", whenever there is a structural change.
That has even applied to top-level domains that have been officially removed from the internet – such as the .su extension (Soviet Union) that was officially phased out when the .ru Russian extension was added to the internet in 1993.
There are numerous examples of grandfathering in the domain name industry, perhaps the most recent and high profile being when .uk operator Nominet allowed owners of .co.uk domains the first right to register .uk domains when those domains were allowed for the first time.
The internet has always adopted a general philosophy of accepting all connections. This approach has caused problems but remains fiercely protected within internet institutions because it is a big part of why the global communications network has been able to grow exponentially while remaining stable.
There is a glimmer of hope for those 317,000 individuals and organizations in the UK that have registered .eu domains, however. Today's announcement notes that its decree is "subject to any transitional arrangement that may be contained in a possible withdrawal agreement" – meaning that it could form part of a large Brexit agreement between the UK government and EU.
In that sense, it is likely that .eu domains have simply been swept up in a broader sweep and strategy (if you can call it that) over how to handle the departure of the UK from Europe. But that doesn't make this policy from the Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology any less stupid. ®
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