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Up to 70 jobs on the line at Nominet as .uk regs dwindle

Kevin Murphy, March 13, 2024, Domain Registries

Nominet plans to lay off as many as 70 employees to cut costs, and is preparing for a .uk price increase, after years of dwindling domain registrations and the loss of a major government contract.

CEO Paul Fletcher told members yesterday that it won’t be providing the UK government with its Protective DNS recursive DNS service, PDNS, after its contract ends later this year. He implied that the government has selected a cheaper competitor to replace it, without giving details.

The deal was with the UK National Cyber Security Centre, and saw Nominet resolve half a trillion DNS queries a year for central government and other public services.

Nominet had been banking on this “cyber” business to bolster revenue in the face of “static or reduced demand for domains”, but the contract loss means some serious belt-tightening is in order, Fletcher indicated.

In its last financial year, Nominet said its cyber business had revenue of £12.6 million but had a loss of £2.4 million

“The changes that we are proposing to give us a sustainable cost base mean that up to 70 of our current roles could be made redundant,” he told members in an email. “While this would be partially offset by some redeployment opportunities, our overall headcount will reduce.”

He added that members should expect the price of .uk domains to increase in future, without giving a timetable.

“Our pricing will remain at current level of £3.90 until at least the end of the year, extending the freeze in place since 2021,” he wrote, but added that lower volume means “prices cannot be held at the level set in January 2020 indefinitely.”

Nominet had 10,688,932 .uk domains under management at the end of January, down from 11,045,559 a year earlier (a loss of almost a thousand domains a day) and its 2019 peak of 13,348,378.

Fletcher also delivered the news that one of its longest-serving staffers, registry managing director Eleanor Bradley, will leave the company later this year.

Finally, he said the company has successfully challenged a default court judgment (pdf) ordering it to repay a member’s subscription fees, a ruling that had been put forward as proof that Nominet has been breaking the law by charging membership fees for the last quarter-century.

Fletcher said the judgment came because Nominet had no idea it had been sued, adding: “On 31 January, we successfully applied to have the default judgment set aside in the County Court, having made every effort to avoid unnecessary, costly and time-consuming court proceedings. This ruling, which the claimant is appealing, allows us to defend the original claim.”

The lawsuit came as part of a campaign operated at that seeks to prove Nominet’s membership and voting structure is illegal.

Police .uk domain takedowns dive in 2023

Kevin Murphy, February 29, 2024, Domain Registries

The number of .uk domain names taken down as a result of requests from law enforcement shrank substantially last year, according to the latest stats from Nominet.

The registry said today that it suspended 1,193 domains in the 12 months to October 31, down from 2,106 in the previous period. It’s a record low since Nominet started tracking the data, for the second year in a row.

As usual, alleged intellectual property violations were the biggest cause of action. The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit had 717 names taken down, with the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau suspending 321 and the Financial Conduct Authority 116.

While police takedowns were low, domains suspended by Nominet’s proactive Domain Watch anti-phishing technology were up about 20%, from 5,005 to 5,911. Nominet said this is because the tech, which flags possible phishing domains for human review at point of registration, is getting better.

The number of domains suspended because they appeared on threat feeds doubled, from 1,108 in the 2022 period to 2,230 last year, the company said.

Cybersquatting cases in .uk have also been declining, Nominet reported earlier this month.

While correlation does not equal causation, it might be worth noting that .uk registrations overall have been on the decline for some time. There were 10.68 million .uk domains at the end of January, down from 11.04 million a year earlier.

UK gov takes its lead from ICANN on DNS abuse

Kevin Murphy, February 23, 2024, Domain Registries

The UK government has set out how it intends to regulate UK-related top-level domain registries, and it’s taken its lead mostly from existing ICANN policies.

The Department for Science, Innovation and Technology said last year that it was to activate the parts of the Digital Economy Act of 2010 that allow it to seize control of TLDs such as .uk, .london, .scot, .wales and .cymru, should those registries fail to tackle abuse in future.

It ran a public consultation that attracted a few dozen responses, but has seemingly decided to stick to its original definitions of abuse and cybersquatting, which were cooked up with .uk registry Nominet and others and closely align to industry norms.

DSIT plans to define abuse in the same five categories as ICANN does — phishing, pharming, botnets, malware and vector spam (spam that is used to serve up the first four types of attack) — in its response to the consultation, published yesterday (pdf).

But it’s stronger on child sexual abuse material than ICANN. While registries and registrars have developed a “Framework to Address Abuse” that says they “should” take down domains publishing CSAM, ICANN itself has no contractual prohibitions on such content.

DSIT said it will require UK-related registries to have “adequate policies and procedures” to combat CSAM in their zones. The definition of CSAM follows existing UK law in being broader than elsewhere in the world, including artworks such as cartoons and manga where no real children are harmed.

DSIT said it will define cybersquatting as “the pre-emptive, bad faith registration of trade marks as domain names by third parties who do not possess rights in such names”. The definition omits the “and is being used in bad faith” terminology used in ICANN’s UDRP. DSIT’s definition includes typosquatting.

In response to the new document, Nominet tweeted:

DSIT said it will draft its regulations “over the coming months”.

UK cybersquatting complaints hit record low

Kevin Murphy, February 7, 2024, Domain Registries

There were fewer cybersquatting complaints filed against .uk domain holders in 2023 than in any other year since Nominet started reporting its annual stats, according to the latest annual Nominet DRS report.

There were just 511 complaints filed last year, down from 568 in 2022, according to the latest report. That’s the lowest number for at least the last 14 years Nominet has been reporting its annual DRS stats. The highest number was 728, in 2015.

Just 48% of cases resulted in a domain being transferred to the complainant (compare to the 82% WIPO reported for its UDRP cases in 2023), up from 43% in 2022, Nominet said.

The number of disputed domains was 680, down from 745 in 2022, but the number of domains in .uk complained about rocketed from 26 to 122, the second-highest level since Nominet opened the second level for direct registrations a decade ago.

The number of disputed domains was down from 686 in 2022 to 538 in 2023.

The decline in cybersquatting complaints come as .uk as a whole continues to shrink. The second and third levels combined lost a net 366,778 domains in 2023, ending December at 10,732,479 domains, according to Nominet stats.

Nominet to overhaul .uk registry, turn off some services

Kevin Murphy, January 31, 2024, Domain Registries

Nominet has opened a public consultation on its plans to modernize the .uk domain registry, which will involve increased standardization around international norms and turning off some older services.

It’s an extensive consultation — 37 proposals and 92 questions spread over more than 50 pages — aimed mainly at the registrars that will have to update their systems to integrate with the new registry. But registrants will also be affected.

The plans would see changes to Nominet’s underlying registry platform that would alter how renewals, proxy registrations, grace periods and transfers between registrants and registrars are handled, and the retirement of the current Whois system, among many other items.

Nominet reckons its proposals will help it save money on ongoing maintenance and software licensing as well as eventually simplifying things for its member registrars.

The company currently runs two registry platforms in parallel: the old UK registry and the newer EPP registry, which is based on the latest technical standards and compliant with ICANN requirements.

It runs its gTLDs, such as .wales and .cymru, as well as its dozens of back-end clients, on the newer system. The plan is to shift .uk over to the newer RSP platform too.

The proposal also calls for Nominet to align with ICANN’s plans to stop requiring registrars to operate Whois services a year from now, replacing them with the newer RDAP standard, which provides the same functionality.

Other older, less-used services, such as the Domain Availability Checker, would either be retired or replaced with EPP-based equivalents.

There’s a lot to absorb in the consultation documents, but at first glance it strikes me that large international registrars that already integrate with dozens of registries probably don’t have much to worry about; smaller, .uk-focused registrars with fewer resources may show some resistance due to the amount of development work likely to be required.

But Nominet says that it is taking this into account with its timetable, saying: “If the changes go ahead, we will give considerable advance notice to Registrars to allow time for development activities”.

The consultation is open for the next three months, punctuated by five explanatory webinars.

Nominet to take over

Kevin Murphy, November 29, 2023, Domain Registries

Nominet says it has won a competitive tender process with the UK government and will take over the registry for early next year.

The registry was previously being managed by Jisc, which runs Nominet was already running its DNS.

The deal refers to the domains in, not to, which is a government services portal site.

The space is a bit of a strange one as far as government domains go — rather than a sole source, it has over 180 accredited registrars government agencies can choose from.

Nominet says it plans to take a more visible role in managing and modernizing the namespace.

Nominet wins Microsoft’s dot-brand business from Verisign

Kevin Murphy, October 30, 2023, Domain Registries

Nominet has taken over back-end registry services for Microsoft’s small portfolio of dot-brand gTLDs.

The company said it’s now running .azure, .bing, .hotmail, .microsoft, .windows and .xbox TLDs, bringing the total number of gTLDs on its registry platform to 74.

Microsoft had been with Verisign to date, but Verisign told us in July that it’s getting out of the dot-brand back-end business.

Almost 100 gTLDs have left Verisign this year, the vast majority landing at Identity Digital.

Nominet also took on .sky from Verisign earlier this year.

Nominet takes over failed .desi

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2023, Domain Registries

Nominet has been picked as the Emergency Back-End Registry Operator for failed gTLD .desi, the company confirmed today.

The gig means the .uk registry will be responsible for keeping .desi ticking over — handling DNS, EPP, Whois etc — while ICANN looks for a successor registry.

.desi was operated by mom-n-pop outfit Desi Networks of Maryland on a Team Internet back-end until it threw in the towel this July, having failed to sell more than a handful of domains.

The term “desi” refers to the cultures of the Indian subcontinent and its diaspora, giving an addressable market well over a billion people. But there were only 1,743 registered domains at the last count but the only active sites that show up in Google are porn.

It’s the second gTLD to go into special measures after .wed, which Nominet is also handling. ICANN has three accredited EBERO providers, the others being CNNIC of China and CIRA in Canada.

While .wed has only one active registrar and barely 30 registered domains, .desi has almost 300 registrars, about 70 of which have domains.

Wright elected to Nominet board

Kevin Murphy, October 18, 2023, Domain Registries

Nominet members have selected Steve Wright to a non-executive directorship on the company’s board.

The .uk registry said today that his three-year term started at the company’s AGM yesterday.

Wright came very close to winning in the first round of voting, securing 723,027 votes. That was just shy of the threshold of 743,038 required to win. He picked up 79,264 in the second round to end up with a total of 802,291.

David Thornton was knocked out in the first round and Thomas Rickert was defeated in the second. Turnout was 13% of members.

Nominet members each have as many votes as they have .uk domains under management, capped to avoid capture by the largest registrars.

The election was somewhat controversial. Five candidates were initially nominated, but incumbent Phil Buckingham pulled out for mysterious reasons and regular Nominet antagonist Jim Davies was disqualified for missing a deadline on the screening process, which he denied doing.

Wright and Rickert debated during the London Domain Summit in August, and the consensus in the bar afterward was that you couldn’t really slide a cigarette paper between their platforms, which revolved around similar themes of transparency and communication.

Wright is a consultant and former owner of a hosting company.

This article was updated October 19 to correct Wright’s current job description.

Team Internet hires Nominet alum as domains CEO

Kevin Murphy, October 11, 2023, Domain Registries

Team Internet, formerly CentralNic, has named Simon McCalla as CEO of its domains-related business.

McCalla is formerly CTO of .uk registry Nominet, though he’s been taking a break from the domains industry for the last few years.

Team Internet said he is now CEO of its “Online” division, which I can only assume is the business it previously called “Online Presence”.

That’s the division encompassing the company’s registrars, registries and back-end business, as opposed to the traffic arbitrage business where it makes most of its money nowadays.