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Former Reg vulture takes on Nominet – by running for board seat
After extensive coverage of .uk missteps, Kieren McCarthy now vows to fix registry from the inside
Though it's been 18 months since the CEO and chairman was ejected from Nominet, the entity that runs the .uk top-level domain still requires dramatic reform, says one of the candidates standing for election to the board of directors.
That vocal candidate is none other than Kieren McCarthy, a veteran technology journalist whose investigations into Nominet's failings for The Register fueled a successful campaign last year to reboot Nominet's board.
That effort resulted in the Nominet membership voting to remove the chief exec, chairman, and three others from the board of directors amid concerns over the for-profit direction of the not-for-profit registry.
In the aftermath, the organization acknowledged it had lost people's trust, and promised it would rebuild, hoping that pledge would quell the membership rebellion.
"But even though Nominet has admitted the scale of the problem," McCarthy told us, "it still hasn't made the changes that would prevent it from happening again."
This time, rather than writing about the troubles plaguing Nominet, McCarthy said he plans to fix the issues from the inside – by standing for the Nominet board. Four of Nominet's nine board directors are chosen by Nominet members, and one of those positions is up for election this month, with the ex-Reg man standing against two former directors for the seat.
McCarthy said he wants to bring some accountability to Nominet by pressing for an overhaul that will make decisions "more transparent" so that members are fully informed and consulted, a process he says he focused on when he was general manager for public participation at global DNS overlord ICANN.
"For far too long, Nominet has made decisions based on its own interests rather than those of its members or .uk end users," he argued. "I plan to flip that around by making sure members are properly engaged and Nominet reports extensively on what it is doing. The truth is that everyone will benefit if we can rebuild confidence in a Nominet that it is trying to do the right thing and will actively listen to people when they disagree."
McCarthy highlights a "listening exercise" [PDF] undertaken by Nominet in October, months after half its board left, during which members made clear to registry officials that poor communication and low levels of trust were sticking points.
"That was a year ago," said McCarthy. "But aside from a few blog posts and a smattering of Zoom meetings, very little has changed."
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Simon Blackler, who ran the Public Benefit campaign that put a wrecking ball through the Nominet senior management team, won a place on the Nominet board in November. McCarthy told us even though Blackler did well to oust the chairman and others at an EGM last year, he's not gone far enough in reshaping the .uk registry.
"I think Simon ran an extraordinary campaign and forced Nominet to confront its own failings but he's not pushing the kind of reforms that are necessary to shift Nominet's culture," said McCarthy.
"Things like more comprehensive board minutes, publishing staff reports, digging into why things went wrong, putting metrics around member engagement, and so on. Nominet has a lot of ground to make up and it needs someone whose sole focus will be on building member trust. That's what I intend to do."
What Nominet needs is someone on the board who understands what the problems are, knows how to fix them, and is willing to put in the hard work to make it happen
McCarthy added: "What Nominet needs is someone on the board who understands what the problems are, knows how to fix them, and is willing to put in the hard work to make it happen. That's why I've put myself up for election."
"I think the culture has changed massively as a result of the EGM," Blackler, whose board seat is not up for election, told The Register.
"We have a new chair and CEO, and the board will be nearly entirely new by the end of the year. I think the changes have been positive but complacency is the enemy of progress so I recognize there'll always be more to do."
Running against McCarthy for the open non-executive board seat are Jim Davies and Volker Greimann.
Davies was previously on the board of Nominet but fell out with other members after they accused him of a conflict of interest in his work as a lawyer for domain industry companies. Davies denied any conflict and decided to resign.
Davies told us that Nominet should act as a non-profit and intends to focus on three areas.
"Price cuts: a central part of the Public Benefit platform that has not yet happened," he told us. "I am in favor of an immediate return to an annual wholesale price of £2.50 per domain, down from the £3.90 it rose to fund the commercial projects. It would cost close to Nominet's current operating surplus, but with around £110 million in the bank, it can manage to trade at break even, while putting around £5-7 million back into the economy.
"Governance review: Nominet's weighted voting is 'clearly unlawful' and so 'void.' There are also other serious governance issues that the CyGlass catastrophic loss and the need for an EGM to remove half the board highlight. Finding out what's wrong, listening to the membership, and then helping to change things to help Nominet heal are things I would focus on. My long career in law, combined with my extensive knowledge of Nominet and its membership, mean that I believe I am well placed to be part of that healing process."
Regarding CyGlass, Davies is referring to the cloud security company Nominet shelled out £5 million to acquire in 2020, only to two years later give up on that cyber strategy and release it as a standalone, independent, employee-owned business. It was, by accounts, sold back to staff for £1.
The final area for Davies is trust. "Not only does Nominet need to rebuild trust with the members. It also needs to learn to trust the members. Having worked with many members over many years, I think I can help build those bridges."
Davies claimed he is the "only candidate who is not funded by one of the biggest registrars," saying Greimann works as chief legal officer for Key-Systems, owned by CentralNIC, and McCarthy is an executive director of the International Foundation for Online Responsibility, which is ultimately funded by domain giant GoDaddy.
Greimann was on the board during Nominet's more challenging years. He was not available to comment.
The election for the Nominet board vacancy is open to the organization's 2,500 members and is scheduled to run for two weeks. It started on Monday, September 12. ®