UK internet registry operator Nominet has responded to criticism of its plan to overhaul the distribution of expiring .uk domains by promising to listen to feedback… and then immediately refused to accept a petition calling for the plan to be scrapped.
At a testy online roundtable between Nominet’s staff and members at one of two consultation meetings earlier this month, one group opposed to the proposed changes put forward a petition [PDF] of over 100 organizations asking for the same first-come, first-served system to be retained.
But Nominet’s general counsel Nick Wenban-Smith refused to accept the petition, arguing that there was a formal mechanism for responding to the consultation – a mechanism that forced respondents to make a series of binary choices between the options that Nominet had put forward.
When pushed on the point, Wenban-Smith then reportedly told those assembled that the company had to consult beyond just its members – despite Nominet being legally set up as a member organization – and then sought to diminish the feedback by noting that there were 2,400 members but only 100 names on the petition.
In response, the petition’s main organizer, Andrew Bennett, pointed out that Nominet’s consultation has only received 55 responses and his petition had 101. Bennett told The Register that he subsequently contacted the chairman of the Nominet’s board about the petition and was told that “the board will take note of it.”
That exchange came shortly after another Nominet senior executive and the person in charge of consultation, Eleanor Bradley, published a blog post in which she criticized coverage of the consultation, insisting that no decision had been made.
“It’s worth saying that the assumption in some quarters that an auction approach is our preferred option – a fait accompli – are wide of the mark,” she wrote.
But she failed to mention the fact that Nominet itself had included its own criteria for deciding what approach was best within its briefing document for the consultation – and then, amazingly, marked each option under those criteria with ticks and crosses in the same document [PDF, page 9 onward].
The only option that got ticks in every box was the one that saw Nominet take over the entire process for allocating expired domains and run its own auction on those domains, thereby maximising the amount of money it would make from those auctions.
Many .uk domains are worth hundreds or thousands of pounds on the resale market and the annual market that Nominet proposed taking over is worth millions of pounds a year. Currently, Nominet oversees the process and only receives its wholesale price of £4 per domain.
The clear preference to award millions of pounds that currently go to its members to itself is just the latest in a series of decisions that Nominet has made to financially reward itself at the expense of members and UK domain name holders.
Most egregiously, Nominet killed off its charitable trust, to which it had donated its excess revenue for more than a decade. It then kept the $5m to $10m annual sum in-house, using it to fund a series of explorations into commercial markets. To date, not one of those efforts has been successful and many are losing money.
Members don’t know the full details because the board has stopped publishing minutes and reports, and refuses to break out the different businesses in financial reports.
In her post on this consultation, Bradley responded to member anger that they had been presented with a list of options without asking members for their own ideas by saying: “We have also heard ideas for alternative approaches. All the feedback received will feed into our decision on the ultimate approach.” Members were quick to note however that Nominet did not promise to allow any other options than the ones it had presented.
Adding insult to injury, Bradley then blamed the companies that grab and sell expiring domains, so-called drop-catchers, for the fact that Nominet was going to take over the process itself. She wrote:
“We’ve heard from aggrieved registrars who feel frustrated that their competitors appear to be suspiciously adept at securing desirable domains. Our consultation ideas set out to tackle this another way – by making this sort of activity redundant.”
But it was drop-catchers that warned the organization about a recent jump in members who have been registering new entities as a way to game the system, and in response Nominet staff refused to carry out an investigation.
Critics have also pointed to the fact that Nominet launched the consultation during the summer holidays – a big no-no in the policymaking world – and that Bradley herself was on holiday for two weeks of the month-long consultation period. It ended on Friday, August 14.
“In the end, I know our ultimate decisions are unlikely to satisfy everyone,” Bradley wrote. “But I am confident that by inviting as many inputs to our thinking as possible to inform how we evolve the .UK domain will ensure it continues to best serve those who rely on it.” ®