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Smaller registrars say .uk release is biased towards the Big Boys

A group of small .uk registrars have complained to Nominet that the imminent release of three million second-level .uk domain names is biased towards their deep-pocketed rivals.

So far, 33 registrars have signed a petition, penned by Netistrar’s Andrew Bennett, against Nominet’s rules.

On July 1, the registry plans to start releasing .uk 2LDs that are currently reserved under its five-year-long grandfathering program.

These are domains that match existing third-level domains in .co.uk, .org.uk, etc.

The 3LD registrants have until 0500 UTC on June 25 to claim their 2LD matches. A week later, Nominet will start releasing them in alphabetical batches of 600,000 per day, over five days, to the available pool.

It’s going to be a little like “the drop” in gTLDs such as .com, with registrars all vying to pick up the most-valuable names as soon as they are released.

In the gTLD space, each registrar is given an equal number of connections, which is why drop-catch specialists such as SnapNames own hundreds of registrar accreditations.

Nominet’s doing it a little different, instead throttling connections based on how much credit registrars have with the registry, which the petitioners believe rigs the system towards the registrars with the most money.

According to the Nominet, registrars with £450 of credit get six connections per minute, rising to nine per minute for those with £4,500, 60 per minute for £45,000 and, at the top end, 150 per minute for registrars with £90,000 stashed in the Bank of Nominet.

Larger registrars with multiple Nominet accreditations, known as “tags” in the .uk space, will be able to stack their connections for an even greater chance at grabbing the best names.

Registrars such as GoDaddy are already taking pre-orders and will auction off the domains they catch to the highest bidder, if there are multiple pre-orders for the same names, so there’s potentially a fair bit of money to be made.

The small registrars say these credit-based rules are “disproportionately unfair” to their business models.

They point out that it doesn’t make much sense to rate-limit connections based on their proven ability to pay, given that there’s no link between how many they plan to register in the crucial first minute after the drop and how many they intend to register overall.

Nominet says on its web site that the tiers as described are provisional and will be firmed up the week of June 24.

The petitioners are also bothered that Nominet has not made any EPP code available to help the smaller guys, which have fewer engineering resources, to adjust to this temporary, time-sensitive registration system, and that the release plan was not communicated well to registrars.

They further claim that Nominet has not conducted enough outreach to .uk registrants to let them know their grandfathered rights will soon expire.

Many well-known brands have yet to claim their trademark.uk names, they claim.

Nominet has previously told DI that it planned to advertise the end of grandfathering in the press and on radio in the run-up to the release.

At eleventh hour, most .uk registrants still don’t own their .uk names

Less than a quarter of all third-level .uk registrants have taken up the opportunity to buy their matching second-level domain, just a few months before the deadline.

According to February stats from registry Nominet, 9.76 million domains were registered under the likes of .co.uk and .org.uk, but only 2.27 million domains were registered directly under .uk, which works out at about 23%.

Nominet’s controversial Direct.uk policy was introduced in June 2014, with a grandfathering clause that gave all third-level registrants five years to grab their matching .uk domain before it returns to the pool of available names.

So if you own example.co.uk, you have until June 25 this year, 110 days from now, to exercise your exclusive rights to example.uk.

Registrants of .co.uk domains have priority over registrants of matching .org.uk and .me.uk domains. Nominet’s Whois tool can be used to figure out who has first dibs on any given string.

At least two brand protection registrars warned their clients this week that they will be at risk of cybersquatting if they don’t pick up their direct matches in time. But there’s potential for confusion here, after the deadline, whether or not you own a trademark.

I expect we could see a spike in complaints under Nominet’s Dispute Resolution Service (the .uk equivalent of UDRP) in the back half of the year.

Nominet told DI in a statement today:

The take up right now is roughly in line with what we envisaged. We knew from the outset that some of the original 10 million with rights would not renew their domain, some would decide they did not want the equivalent .UK and some would leave it to the last minute to decide or take action. The feedback from both registrants and registrars, and the registration data, bears this out.

The statement added that the registry has started “ramping up” its outreach, and that in May it will launch “an advertising and awareness campaign” that will include newspapers, radio and trade publications.

Most businesses don’t care about .uk domains

The majority of businesses in the UK don’t care about direct second-level .uk domains, even when the benefits are spelled out for them, according to Nominet research.

The new survey found that only 27% of businesses would “definitely” or “probably” exercise their new right to buy a .uk domain that matches their .co.uk or .org.uk name.

That number only went up to 40% after respondents had seen a brief Nominet marketing pitch, the survey found.

Another 16% said they had no plans to get their .uk, post-pitch, while 44% remained undecided.

This was the value proposition the respondents saw (click to enlarge):

Nominet sales pitch

Under the direct .uk policy, all registrants of third-level domains, such as example.co.uk, have the right of refusal over the matching example.uk.

If they don’t exercise that right by June 10, 2019, the matching SLDs will be unfrozen and released into the available pool.

The new Nominet research also found out that most registrants don’t even know they have this right.

Only 44% of respondents were aware of the right. That went up to 45% for businesses and down to 33% for respondents who only owned .uk domain names (as opposed to gTLD names).

A quarter of respondents, which all already own 3LD .uk domains, didn’t even know second-level regs were possible.

Of those who had already bought their .uk names, over two thirds were either parking or redirecting. Individuals were much more likely to actually use their names for emails or personal sites.

The numbers are not terribly encouraging for the direct .uk initiative as it enters into its third year.

They suggest that if something is not done to raise awareness in the next few years, a lot of .co.uk businesses could find their matching SLDs in the hands of cybersquatters or domainers.

Nominet members (registrars and domainers primarily) were quizzed about possible ways to increase adoption during a company webinar today.

Suggestions such as making the domains free (they currently cost £2.50 a year, the same as a 3LD) or bribing a big anchor tenant such as the BBC to switch were suggested.

There’s a lot of dissatisfaction among the membership about the fact that .uk SLDs were allowed in the first place.

The number of second-level .uk names has gone from 96,696 in June 2014 to to 350,088 last year to 593,309 last month, according to Nominet stats.

Over the same periods, third-level regs have been shrinking, from 10.43 million to 10.22 million to 10.08 million, .

.uk launches with Stephen Fry as anchor tenant

Nominet has launched its controversial .uk service, enabling Brits and others to register directly at the second level for the first time.

It did so with an endorsement from quintessential uber-Brit, gadget nut, Apple slave and national treasure Stephen Fry and a marketing splash including a .uk domain apparently visible from 35,000 feet up.

This sign has been placed in one of the main flight paths into Heathrow. Readers flying in to London for ICANN 50 later this month might want to ask for a window seat.

Nominet

Actor/author/comedian Fry was the first to be given a .uk today. He’s switched from stephenfry.com to stephenfry.uk as a result — the .com is already redirecting to the .uk.

He said in a blog post:

It’s only three harmless key-presses, you may think. A year or so back I wrote that it seemed to me annoying and lax of the British internet authority (if such a body ever existed, which it didn’t and doesn’t) when domain names were being handed that they were so inattentive and their eyes so off the ball. How come Germany could have .de, France .fr, South Africa .za, Italy .it etc etc etc? And we poor British had to have the extra exhaustion of typing .co.uk. Three whole keystrokes. It doesn’t stack up to much when compared to other howling injustices in the world. The length of time poor students and tourists have to queue to get an Abercrombie and Fitch polo shirt for example, but nonetheless it has been a nuisance these twenty years or so.

His involvement has helped the news hit many of the major daily newspapers in the UK today.

This is how to launch a TLD.

Fry’s friend Prince Charles was given princeofwales.uk last December, among 69 domains previously under .gov.uk that the government requested receive special treatment.

While new .uk addresses are available to register now, you won’t be able to immediately register one that matches a .co.uk unless you’re the owner of that .co.uk.

All .co.uk registrants have been given five years to decide whether they want the .uk equivalent, which carries a £2.50-a-year fee ($4.20), assuming a multi-year registration.

That’s the same as a .co.uk. Assuming .uk gets good uptake and that most registrants will keep their .co.uk names for the foreseeable future, Nominet’s accounts could be in for a significant boost.

Owners of .org.uk or .me.uk names only get the free reservation if the matching .co.uk is not already registered. Otherwise, they have to wait five years like everyone else.

Nominet names the date for shorter .uk addresses

Kevin Murphy, January 31, 2014, Domain Registries

Nominet is to start selling .uk domain names at the second level for the first time on June 10 this year.

The controversial Direct.uk service will enable people to register example.uk names, rather than example.co.uk names.

If you already own a .co.uk name, you’ll get five years to register the matching .uk before it is released into the pool of available names.

Nominet has created a new web site to market the sea-change in how .uk names are administered.

Prince Charles first to get a second-level .uk name

Kevin Murphy, December 16, 2013, Domain Registries

The household of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, has become one of the first bodies to receive a second-level .uk domain name, Nominet announced this morning.

The name princeofwales.uk was among four delegated to organizations that have previously used third-level .gov.uk names but which are actually independent of the UK government. Nominet said:

Nominet has delegated the new second-level .uk domain names royal.uk, princeofwales.uk, supremecourt.uk and jcpc.uk to the Royal Household, the Household of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, the Supreme Court, and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council respectively.

These were among 69 second-level names requested by the British government for special treatment in advance of the broader Direct.uk initiative, which is due to kick of mid-2014.

The full list of government names will be published in February, Nominet said.

Under Direct.uk, registrants of .co.uk names will get five years to decide whether they want to register the matching .uk name.

Nominet drops libel lawsuit against domain blogger

Kevin Murphy, November 28, 2013, Domain Policy

UK registry Nominet has withdrawn its lawsuit against a domainer who had allegedly published “defamatory” remarks about CEO Lesley Cowley on his blog.

The defamation complaint was filed against Graeme Wingate over his blog Avoid.co.uk in January.

Nominet said yesterday that it “continues to refute entirely the untrue allegations made” on the site, which focuses on Cowley’s “dishonest” behavior surrounding Direct.uk and the ongoing controversy related to the 2008 board-level scandal and subsequent employment tribunal of former policy chief Emily Taylor.

Cowley said in a statement:

With a major programme of work underway to transform the .uk namespace, this action is now an unwelcome distraction. I refute the allegations entirely, but recognise that a far better use of the team’s time and energy is to focus on steering Nominet safely through a period of unprecedented change.

Nominet will pay Wingate’s costs.

It’s difficult to see this as anything other than a win for Wingate, who has continued to blog throughout the legal proceedings.

Wingate stood unsuccessfully for a seat on Nominet’s board of directors this year, alongside fellow Nominet critic Lucien Taylor, husband to Emily.

Nominet approves direct second-level .uk domains

Kevin Murphy, November 20, 2013, Domain Registries

Get ready for a backlash — Nominet has committed to start offering second-level domain names under .uk for the first time.

Starting next year, you’ll be able to register example.uk, rather than only third-level names such as example.co.uk and example.org.uk.

The announcement today comes after at least two consultation periods over the last year or so, which provoked a strong negative reaction from many in the .uk domain investor community.

Concerns were raised that allowing .uk would allow names to fall into the hands of the wrong people, and that the cost to UK business would be prohibitively high.

“We all want shorter, snappier names,” CEO Lesley Cowley said. “But we appreciate that not everyone shares that view so as a board we had to very carefully consider what’s in the best interest of the public.”

Nominet has introduced a few new ideas that seem to be designed to address these criticisms.

First, every owner of a .co.uk domain name will be given a free five-year reservation on the matching .uk SLD. If you own example.co.uk, you’ll have five years to decide whether to pay for the .uk version.

Cowley told DI that Nominet’s market research suggested that UK businesses repaint their trucks and get new stationery every five years anyway, so the pressure to rebrand around a new domain would be alleviated.

“There was some concern that businesses would feel forced to register a .uk,” she said. “We would not want that to be the case. We want people to consider in their own time whether they want to move.”

In cases where matching .co.uk and .org.uk (or .me.uk etc) domains are owned by different people, the .co.uk gets the free reservation and the .org.uk is locked out for five years.

Where there’s a .org.uk with no matching .co.uk, the .org.uk registrant gets the free reservation, Cowley said.

Domains registered prior to October 28 2013 — when the Nominet board voted on the proposal — will qualify for the free reservation, as will domains registered after that date when there are no colliding third-level domains.

The price for a .uk SLD is to be set at £3.50 for a one-year reg and £2.50 for one year of a multi-year registration. That’s the same as .uk wholesale prices today.

Why do it at all?

While Cowley admitted that .uk registration growth has been slowing recently, something being experienced by many ccTLDs and gTLDs, she said the main reason for the SLD change was demand.

Nominet has done some market research showing only 2% of UK businesses do not want the SLD option in .uk, compared to 72% that do, according to the company.

“People have been saying for some years that it would be good to drop the ‘co’ in .uk,” said Cowley. “It’s clunky. The French and Germans manage to have direct in .fr and .de, so why can’t we do that as well?”

Nominet under fire for lack of transparency

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2013, Domain Policy

Nominet has raised the ire of critics of its Direct.uk proposal for refusing to engage with them, including forcibly ejecting one of their number from a .uk policy meeting.

Opponents of Direct.uk, which would open .uk’s second-level for the first time, have cataloged a number of instances of Nominet apparently failing to act in a transparent manner over the last few weeks.

Most notably, domainer Stephen Wilde of Really Useful Domains, author of a paper critical of Direct.uk, was “escorted” by hotel security staff from a recent policy discussion co-hosted by Nominet.

Domain lawyer Paul Keating was also refused entry and left without an escort.

The event was jointly hosted with the British Computer Society and the Digital Policy Alliance and was restricted to BCS members.

Wilde said that he had joined BCS specifically in order to attend the meeting and had then spent four hours on a train to get there. He said that there were plenty of empty seats in the venue.

Nominet spokesperson Elaine Quinn told DI that Nominet’s goal is to get as diverse a range of views as possible.

Wilde had already attended multiple previous meetings on the same topic and had been quite vocal at those, it seems. Nominet was worried that he might prevent other voices from being heard at the BCS event.

Quinn posted a statement to Nominet’s members-only forums, which was provided to DI, which read in part:

Two individuals who had been informed that they would not be able to attend in advance nonetheless turned up. Both initial requests to join were polite and were met in turn with a polite response. When the decision to deny entry was repeated, one person continued to remonstrate with our staff. He was then asked to leave the private area (not the hotel) by the hotel security. Upon refusal, the hotel security guard escorted the individual out of the area.

Colleagues at the event felt that the behaviour exhibited was unacceptable and that steps to protect our staff and to allow the event to proceed as planned were, unfortunately, necessary.

The BCS meeting was the latest in a series of controversies that have been raised by Direct.uk’s opponents and cataloged on the pseduonymous blog NominetWatch.com, which claims Nominet is trying to “silence dissenting voices”.

Another of its posts relates to the UK Network Operators Forum, an event on Friday in London.

A Nominet executive had been scheduled to speak at the event and others were due to attend, but all withdrew after the company discovered that Emily Taylor, its former head of policy and now one of its fiercest critics, was also speaking.

Taylor’s presentation (pdf) criticized Nominet’s lack of transparency, comparing it to ICANN’s relatively open culture.

Quinn confirmed that Nominet’s would-be attendees withdrew from the event, but said that this was because they were technical staff not qualified to speak to Taylor’s governance-focused criticisms.

NominetWatch also recently blogged about the fact that Nominet recently closed the comments on a blog post about Direct.uk, suggesting it was intended to stifle debate.

Quinn confirmed that comments were closed, but said it was a temporary measure while Nominet, which had staff on vacation, sifted through some of the many defamatory comments that had been submitted.

Comments have since been reopened and a backlog, many of which are critical of Nominet, have been published.

Nominet brings back second-level .uk proposal

Nominet has resurrected Direct.uk, its plan to allow people to register domain names directly under .uk.

But the proposal, which was killed off in February, has been significantly revised in response to complaints from domain investors and others.

The idea is one of a collection being announced by Nominet this afternoon.

It’s also proposing to shake up how it accredits .uk registrars and, borrowing a page from the current ICANN playbook, how .uk registrant Whois information is verified.

Second-level domains make a comeback

If the Direct.uk proposal is approved and you own a .co.uk, .me.uk or .org.uk domain name, you’ll get rights to the matching .uk name, according to Nominet COO Eleanor Bradley.

“The registrant of oldest current domain name at the third level will have first right of refusal to register that name at the second level,” she said.

When a .uk is contested by, for example, the owners of matching .co.uk and .org.uk domains, the older registration would win the name.

The clock on registration period is reset to the date of the current registration if the domain has ever dropped before, but not if it’s been transferred between registrants, she said.

This change may settle some of the concerns emerging from the domain investor community, which was outraged by Nominet’s original plan to give trademark holders first rights to .uk names.

Giving the .uk and .co.uk to different people would stand to confuse internet users, they said, not to mention devaluing their portfolios.

It wasn’t just domainers that stood to lose out under the old plan, however.

British domainer Edwin Hayward compiled a some examples of big brands that have invested in generic .co.uk domains but do not own matching trademarks, meaning they would not necessary get the second-level.

Barclays owns bank.co.uk and Kellogg owns breakfast.co.uk, for examples. Under the new Nominet proposal, it looks like these companies would get first dibs on the matching .uk addresses.

“We feel we’re responding to the feedback we heard, but it’s also our strong view that registrations at the second level are really important for what we do to maintain the relevance of .uk going forward,” Bradley said.

Plans to ramp up Whois verification

The revamped plan will also see Nominet drop its demands for mandatory extra security features under second-level .uk names.

Some critics had said that this would ghettoize .co.uk by suggesting it’s not secure.

Instead, the company is proposing blanket Whois verification for the whole of .uk — second and third-level — and a suite of optional security services to be provided in-house and via partners.

The Whois checks will take the form of email verification, in much the same way as ICANN has proposed for gTLDs in its new Registrar Accreditation agreement.

Nominet also plans to check physical mailing addresses against public databases to make sure they’re genuine. This apparently already happens to an extent.

Three tiers of registrar

The company today also unveiled plans for three types of registrar: Self-Managed, Channel Partner and Accredited Channel Partner.

Self-Managed would be domainers and big corporate users that manage their own portfolios. Channel Partners would be the vanilla registrars we know today, and Accredited would have been certified as having a certain level of security and Whois quality, among other things.

Existing registrars could do nothing and become Channel Partners, or migrate to one of the other two tiers, Bradley said.

Those in the Self-Managed and Accredited tiers would get free inter-registrant transfers, she said. Accredited registrars would also be trusted to handle their own Whois verification.

The proposals are still currently proposals, but it sounds like Nominet is determined to get it right this time.

The Direct.uk consultation is not expected to be over until November, so we’re not likely to see any movement until next year.

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