It's official! The Register is fake news… according to .uk overlord Nominet. Just a few problems with that claim, though

We translate domain registry CEO's hit piece


The core issue, highlighted

Notably, Howarth does not say Nominet will prevent the registration of these valuable names by the registrars themselves – to avoid a clear conflict of interest where they can grab names and then seek to sell at a higher price later on. In fact, he argues:

Retail registrars are not in the business of paying for domains that their consumers will not want to buy… It has always been possible for registrars to pay for and register domains in their own name, this release is not a special case.

Which is precisely the point. Nominet is actively providing its members a £100m .uk windfall and consciously excluding the very people that will end up paying more for those names by giving registrars an entire week to pick up any names they want.

Haworth expects registrars to do exactly that and acknowledges as much, though claims it doesn't matter because "the number of domains that could carry a significant resale value is extremely small."

We can only assume that he is using the word "small" to characterize the percentage of valuable domains that will be released, as opposed to their actual value. Because the name "FedEx.uk" for example is worth a small fortune. Haworth doesn't mention it but Nominet has a domain resolution system that would allow a large company like FedEx to claim ownership of that name.

It costs money and takes time but in that case, FedEx, a big established brand, would likely win. The same would not be true for a domain like Mars.uk (a planet) or Heinz.uk (a common name). There are literally thousands of other examples – and it is precisely these names that the registrars will want to grab first: a process made possible by Nominet's bespoke system.

As to why Nominet is doing this at all when it doesn't need to, the argument put forward by its CEO is that organizations have had their chance to register them and if they haven't taken advantage of it by now, that’s on them.

Registrants with rights have had five years to decide, with opportunities to get their domain for free. The fact remains that many customers are simply not interested. They’re happy with what they have already. That’s a choice for them – their existing domain will continue to operate as normal.

Nominet makes a similar argument when it comes to its own members' complaints that they weren't aware of the sell-off process: you had a month to register and we sent out several emails is the official response from the board's chair:

We believe that we provided a clear and adequate period of time for participation, including notifying all registrars through the usual channels. Members who attended the recent Annual Conference will recall specific reminders to sign up to the release and no issues at all were raised by those present about this being difficult or unreasonable.

We understand that the meeting where Nominet's staff actually walked through the process and highlighted the different access tiers that would exist was restricted to invited members only. Other Nominet members have since told us that in the past they have been refused access to such meetings and that Nominet typically only invites its largest members.

What's this about? Money

Nominet has said it plans to run an "awareness campaign" over the fact that millions of .uk domains will soon be up for sale. But details are non-existent, and with just one month to go before the release happens, it is questionable what impact it could realistically have.

And just in case you are wondering what the value to Nominet is of all this: the answer is between £10m and £15m each and every year as millions of new .uk domains are registered and renewed.

Haworth makes one more claim of fake news in our piece. We pointed out that he killed off the organization's charitable trust in 2018 – something that the company has contributed roughly £10m to every year for the previous decade – and kept all the money in-house, underlying just how far from its non-profit, public interest mandate the organization has strayed. He took issue with this point:

I'll end by correcting the charge that Nominet has pulled back from our public benefit programme. Not so. We did change our set up – bringing the programme in-house – but the commitment hasn’t dwindled. Far from it. We now have an ambitious programme in place to use technology to help improve the lives of 1 million young people. New programmes include partnerships with the Samaritans, the Internet Watch Foundation and The Scouts. We fund this by running a commercially viable operation; it’s our profit for a purpose and we’re proud of it.

That investment in The Scouts? Nominet literally announced it yesterday: it is £170,000 over three years for development of a "digital badge." In March this year, the Samaritans received £175,000 although it's not clear over what timeframe. There is no mention yet of any funds provided to the Internet Watch Foundation.

So that is £345,000 over three years compared to £30m under the previous charitable trust, or just over one per cent of Nominet's earlier commitment. Fake news? We beg to differ. ®

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