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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.

Nominet to revise second-level .uk proposal after domainer outrage

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2013, Domain Registries

Nominet has temporarily killed off its plan to allow people to register second-level .uk domain names, after vocal opposition from domain investors.

The non-profit registry said yesterday it is “not proceeding with our original proposal on ‘direct.uk’”, but may revise the concept to give more rights to existing .uk domain name owners.

Nominet had been running a community consultation since October on the idea. It said yesterday:

It was clear from the feedback that there was not a consensus of support for the direct.uk proposals as presented, with some concerns cutting across different stakeholder groups. Although shorter domains (e.g. nominet.uk rather than nominet.org.uk) were considered desirable, many respondents felt that the release mechanism did not give enough weighting to existing registrants, and could lead to confusion if they could not obtain the corresponding domain.

UK domainers had been the most prominent opponents of the plan, complaining loudly that trademark owners were to be given the right to take .uk names where they do not already own the corresponding .co.uk or .org.uk names.

This would not only harm domainers, but also big companies that own generic .co.uk domains without matching trademarks, they said, and would lead to consumer confusion.

Nominet now plans to see if it can revise the proposal to come up with a “phased release mechanism based largely on the prior registrations of domains in existing third levels within .uk”.

Nominet chair rebuts “skewed and inaccurate” whistleblower claims

Kevin Murphy, October 11, 2012, Domain Registries

Nominet chair Baroness Rennie Fritchie has apologized for “embarrassment” caused by leaked emails that suggested Nominet and UK officials tried to avoid freedom of information laws.

But she has rebutted allegations that Nominet executives conspired to orchestrate a government takeover of the .uk namespace during a fractious board dispute back in 2008.

In a statement to Nominet members today, Fritchie said she has conducted a “fact-finding review” of the allegations and had “concluded that Nominet did not manufacture Government concern.”

As we reported a month ago, former policy director Emily Taylor made a number of claims about Nominet’s actions in 2008, when executives perceived a threat to control of the board by certain vocal domainers.

In order to ensure a friendlier board, Nominet approached the UK government for help, according to Taylor.

This led to an independent review, a restructuring of Nominet’s board, and powers for the government to take over the running of .uk being included in the Digital Economy Act of 2010.

Nominet has maintained, and Fritchie now says she has confirmed, that the concerns originated with the government, BT and the Confederation of British Industry, and not the other way around.

Fritchie wrote:

we have been extremely disappointed to see that correspondence from a troubled time in Nominet’s history has led to a skewed and inaccurate interpretation of events.

Having personally considered all available evidence, I have concluded that Nominet did not manufacture Government concern. There were longstanding issues, and the failure to win support for the proposed improvements in our governance at the AGM in 2008 was the catalyst that put Nominet’s problems firmly in the spotlight.

I have also been reassured that the concerns raised by CBI and BT representatives immediately following the 2008 AGM were not concocted by Nominet.

It also emerged last month that UK government officials and Nominet executives had been communicating via private email accounts, apparently in order to avoid Freedom of Information Act requirements.

One Nominet email from 2008 provided to DI signed off with “It feels wonderful to work free from fear of FOI !!”

It is for this email that Fritchie appears to be apologizing. She wrote:

We would however like to apologise for the embarrassment caused to members by an inappropriate suggestion, made in an email from a Nominet employee, that information could or should be deleted by officials to avoid an anticipated Freedom of Information request. This was a misguided attempt to ensure that open and honest conversations about how to secure the membership model of Nominet could take place, without being inappropriately influenced by those with vested interests. I would like to assure members that this was the result of troubled times, and is not at all representative of the way that Nominet operates.

The message was posted to Nominet’s members-only forum this afternoon.

The story may not be over yet, however.

Last month, Andrew Smith, Member of Parliament for Nominet’s home town of Oxford, told DI that he had referred Taylor’s freedom of information claims to Head of the Home Civil Service and the Chair of the Department of Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.

“These are very serious matters and it is important they are properly investigated,” he said.

Goodbye to .co? Nominet ponders releasing second-level .uk domains

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2012, Domain Registries

Nominet wants to let UK companies register domain names directly under .uk for the first time.

The company today launched a major consultation, seeking industry and internet users’ input on a plan to open up the second level to verified British businesses.

Today’s it’s only possible to register .uk domains at the third level — .co.uk and .org.uk are the most popular suffixes. But if Nominet gets positive feedback, you’d be able to register example.uk instead.

Second-level domains would come with a few catches, however. Nominet says it wants to create a higher-security zone.

They’d be more expensive: £20 per year instead of £2.50.

Registrants would have to be based in the UK, with verifiable contact information, and domains would only start resolving post-verification.

DNSSEC might also be mandatory.

It’s expected that registrants would be prohibited from selling third-level domains in their zones. There could be large numbers of reserved names, such as the names of towns.

There might even be restrictions on which registrars can sell the names.

There are obviously no plans to get rid of .co.uk and the other public suffixes, but over time I can see a movement in that direction.

The exact rules will depend to an extent on the results of the consultation, which can be downloaded here. The deadline for responses is January 7.

Nominet caught using Google Translate on Welsh gTLD site

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2012, Domain Registries

Welsh internet users have accused Nominet of using Google to translate its .wales and .cymru gTLD sites into Welsh.

According to a Welsh-speaking reader, the majority of the Welsh version Domain For Wales makes “no linguistic sense”.

The site “looks like it has been initially translated using Google Translate, and amended by someone who isn’t that proficient in the language”, the reader said.

While I do not read Welsh, the Nominet site does bear some of the giveaway hallmarks of Google Translate.

If you regularly use Google to translate domain name industry web sites, you’ll know that the software has problems with TLDs, misinterpreting the dot as a period and therefore breaking up sentences.

That seems to be what happened here:

Nid yw eto’n bosibl i gofrestru. Cymru neu. Enw parth cymru gan fod y ceisiadau yn cael eu hystyried gan ICANN.

On the English site, the text is:

It is not yet possible to register a .cymru or .wales domain name as the applications are under consideration by ICANN.

Running a few other English pages through Google Translate also produces the same text as Nominet is using on the Welsh version of the same pages.

Welsh language tech blogger Carl Morris first spotted the errors.

Nominet has applied to ICANN for .wales and .cymru with the blessing of the Welsh and UK governments.

Its selection was initially criticized by some in Wales because Nominet is based in England and has no Welsh presence.

The company has committed to open an office in Wales, hiring Welsh-speaking staff, however.

“Whistleblower” accuses Nominet of trying to dodge freedom of information law

Kevin Murphy, September 11, 2012, Domain Policy

Nominet, the .uk registry, tried to evade the Freedom Of Information Act by using private email addresses to communicate with the British government, according to emails leaked by a disgruntled former executive.

Copies of the emails provided to DI by former policy director Emily Taylor appear to show that Nominet and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform worked secretly in 2008 to invite government regulatory oversight of the .uk namespace.

Back then, Nominet’s elected board of directors was seen as being in danger of being taken over by domainers who were hostile to Nominet’s management and the rest of its board.

The company was ultimately restructured following an independent review, and Parliament passed legislation that enables the government to take over .uk if it appears to be in danger of capture.

The party line to date has been that the review was commissioned in October 2008, only after BERR wrote to Nominet to express concerns about its governance problems.

That position is looking increasingly open to question, however.

As I reported for The Register last month, an employment tribunal seemed to agree with Taylor that Nominet had approached BERR to discuss this so-called “Plan G” first.

The latest leaked emails, assuming they’re genuine, also make the Nominet position appear less believable.

This is the text of an email apparently sent from the personal email account of BERR civil servant Geoff Smith to the personal email account of Nominet senior policy adviser Martin Boyle:

Martin

Thanks. It was helpful to talk earlier. I have had a look at your mark up and the additional point by Emily. All good stuff but – as I said – I think the heart of our letter has to be a set of reasonable and intelligent questions that a senior civil servant, not familiar with the inner workings of the company, might ask. As I said earlier, if it needs translation from the Mandarin, then it has failed. Equally, if it reads like a Nominet management position paper on BERR letterhead then it has also failed. I will look seriously at your amendments and try and produce a version for David’s signature over the next two days.

It feels wonderful to work free from fear of FOI !!

Geoff

The email is dated October 8, 2008, a week before the BERR letter (pdf) that kicked off the independent governance review.

The “fear of FOI” is of course a reference to the Freedom Of Information Act, which enables British citizens to request government documentation including emails.

By using personal email accounts, Nominet and BERR would have been able to keep their negotiations out of reach of the FOIA.

The emails, again assuming they’re genuine, also show that Mark Carvell, senior advisor at BERR and longstanding UK representative on ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, was using his personal email account to communicate with Nominet executives during the same period.

In one email, Boyle encourages Carvell and Smith to delete emails in anticipation of a FOI request.

Sent: Fri, 31 October, 2008 18:55:18
Subject: FW: [nom-steer] Save Nom-steer!

Geoff, Mark

This e-mail (below) – posted on nom-steer – makes me think that a FoI is just around the corner!

Most obvious would be the e-mail from me asking when we might expect the letter, but Pauline used this as the mail to reply to with the signed letter from David.

You might wish to trawl over your mails – in and out – to do a bit of pruning and suggest to Pauline that a couple might need to be deleted, too.

I’ve spoken to Tom and he is aware, too.

Martin Boyle

Attached is a forwarded email from domainer Andrew Bennett, then a member of Nominet’s Policy Advisory Board, which appears to show Bennett researching relationships between the company and BERR.

There’s no evidence that Smith or Carvell did delete any emails.

BERR has changed names a couple of times under successive governments, and is now the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Carvell is now at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Taylor has provided her documents to Nominet’s local MP, Andrew Smith, who has referred the matter to the Head of the Home Civil Service and the chair of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.

Trying to avoid FOI is frowned upon.

Last year, the Information Commissioner’s Office said that “information held in private email accounts can be subject to Freedom of Information law if it relates to official business”.

In addition to the FOIA claims, Taylor alleges that there is “an inappropriately close relationship between government officials in DCMS, BIS, and possibly Ofcom, and Nominet.”

Nominet told DI today that it is looking into the matter but declined to comment further.

Last month, when Taylor’s employment tribunal documents became public, the company issued a statement in which it denied instigating the government’s request for an independent review, saying:

This is not the case. Two major organisations (an ISP and a major British trade body) had already been in contact with BERR prior to any discussions between Nominet and the Government. Again, Nominet took actions focussed on supporting the ongoing trust in .uk and that we believed supported the goals of our membership as a whole. As you would expect of an organisation responsible for a piece of critical UK Internet infrastructure, we maintain a constant dialogue with the Government – but all conversations on this matter post-date the initial raising of concerns by stakeholders.

Taylor claims, however, that the ISP and the trade body (BT and the Confederation of British Industry) approached BERR at the behest of herself and other Nominet executives.

As previously reported, Taylor resigned from her position at Nominet in 2009, not long after returning to work following a period of stress-related sick leave.

An employment tribunal found last year that she had been constructively dismissed — that is, essentially forced out — by Nominet after she filed a grievance against her colleagues and they grew to distrust her. She’s currently an independent consultant.

Nominet involved in seven gTLD applications

Nominet, the .uk registry, is providing registry services for seven new generic top-level domain applications, according to CEO Lesley Cowley.

Cowley told Nominet’s Annual General Meeting today that five of the applications are for dot-brands, a Nominet spokesperson said.

The identities of the clients are currently protected by non-disclosure agreements.

The other two bids are for .wales and .cymru, which Nominet is applying for with the approval of the Welsh government.

The other big European ccTLD operator to already announce its applications, Austria’s Nic.at, said recently that it has submitted 11 applications, six of which were geographic.

One-year .co.uk domains will be more expensive

Kevin Murphy, January 23, 2012, Domain Registries

Single-year .co.uk domain name registrations will cost more per year than multi-year registrations, under plans outlined by .uk registry Nominet today.

The registry announced back in November that it intended to loosen up its registration policies to bring them into line with other top-level domains.

From May 1, a one-year .uk domain will have a registry fee of £3.50 ($5.44). The price of a multi-year registration will stay the same as current two-year pricing, at £2.50 (£3.88) per year.

Previously, registrants acquired .uk domains in two-year blocks.

Under the new policy regime, registrations can be for as little as a year or for as many as 10 years. Renewals can be for multiple years, albeit capped at 10 overall.

There was a worry that the changes could lead to more people buying throwaway, abusive or speculative .uk domains. A higher fee could go a little way to offset that.

Nominet approves .judiciary.uk

Kevin Murphy, November 23, 2011, Domain Registries

Nominet has approved a request to clutter up the second level under .uk with another government-oriented domain, .judiciary.uk, bringing the total number of SLDs to 15.

As you may know, the UK equivalent of .com is .co.uk, but there are other suffixes such as .org.uk, .me.uk, .plc.uk, .ltd.uk and .net.uk, each with varying restrictions.

There are also several SLDs reserved for public sector use: .gov.uk, .police.uk, .nhs.uk (National Health Service), .sch.uk (schools), .ac.uk (universities) .mod.uk (Ministry of Defence) and .parliament.uk.

The new .judiciary.uk will of course be closed, restricted to the institutions of the UK judiciary. Nominet is proposing to migrate affected registrants from their existing .gov.uk domains.

“Creating judiciary.uk will ensure that the domain name reflects the judiciary’s independence from government, as enshrined in the Constitutional Reform Act, 2005,” Nominet said.

The request was made by the Judicial Office and the Cabinet Office and “due to the unique nature of the request” did not follow the usual Nominet policy for SLD creation.

Another 2,000 .uk fraud domains taken down

Kevin Murphy, November 18, 2011, Domain Policy

Nominet has suspended over 2,000 .uk domain names allegedly being used to sell counterfeit goods on the instruction of the Metropolitan Police.

The Met said in a statement today that the crackdown was designed to protect online shoppers in the run-up to Christmas. It did something similar last year and the year before.

The sites were allegedly selling bootleg products purportedly from brands such as Ugg, Nike and Tiffany.

Nominet said that it worked with is registrars to coordinate the suspensions, and that the registrants were all informed before their domains were taken down.

All the registrants were in breach of terms and conditions, it said.

A Nominet working group is currently in the final stages of creating a policy that will streamline the process of law enforcement domain suspensions, as I reported for The Register today.