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September 16, 2013

Response to Nominet's second .uk consultation

Nominet are running a second consultation on their idea to introduce second level .uk domain registration.


Context

Nominet are running a consultation on their idea to introduce second level .uk domain registration. Below are our comments in response. The deadline is Monday 23rd September.

This is the second consultation Nominet have run on the same issue. The first was at the end of last year. We responded then and were critical of the proposals, recommending that they be dropped. We argued that the plans would lead to:

1. the creation of a 'walled garden' that would undermine confidence in the rest of the UK domain space including .co.uk
2. the imposition of additional cost burdens on website operators, which are likely to be particularly significant for SMEs
3. the positioning of Nominet in an inappropriate role, by setting them up as arbiters of trust online and giving them additional and somewhat unchecked powers. This would effectively create for Nominet a monopoly over 'trust' and security in the UK domain space.

Noninet's new proposals, described in more detail on their website, include:

  • The ability to register .uk sites. The proposals would mean, for example, that if you run reallyamazingwebsite.co.uk that you could also register reallyamazingwebsite.uk
  • An effort to verify registrants' details for second level registration through checks against a third party database, and a requirement to supply a UK address for service.
  • Reserving names for a period so that those who first registered a domain name string have priority over the .uk registration. So, for example, if I registered reallyamazingwebsite.co.uk in 2003, and nobody registered reallyamazingwebsite.ltd.uk or reallyamazingwebsite.me.uk and so on before me, then I would have the first opportunity to register reallyamazingwebsite.uk
  • Charging a wholesale price of £4.50 a year for multiple year registrations or £5.50 for single year registrations.

We wrote a blog about this second consultation earlier in the summer. 

Below are the comments we submitted to Nominet in response to this second consultation.

 

Nominet's second level domain registration - second consultation:
Open Rights Group response

September 2013

Contact: Peter Bradwell, peter@openrightsgroup.org


Summary

The consultation does not make a case for the .uk proposals, which still appear to present an unjustified cost burden on website owners for no clear benefits other than commercial growth for Nominet and registrars. Nominet provide almost no evidence in support of the plans.

We conclude that for website owners and users there is no benefit to second level .uk registration. Website owners will face what is essentially a new and unwarranted tax. The proposals will undoubtedly boost Nominet's income, but this is a separate issue to the benefits or otherwise to website owners and users of second level registration.

In the absence of any justification for the proposals, they ultimately appear to be a means to the end of Nominet's commercial growth. To the extent that Nominet argue that their commercial growth via the introduction of second level registration is a good thing, they supply no evidence, estimates or otherwise, in support of this.

We therefore once again strongly urge Nominet to drop these proposals.

1. Is this proposal for the introduction of registration at the second level a good idea?

The first question should be whether second level registration is useful. Does it provide clarity or other additional benefits for website owners or users (whose interests Nominet should be serving)? We believe that it does not.

Nominet argue that the proposals will meet market demand. It is conceivable, although unlikely, that there may be some demand from website owners or users for .uk registration. But Nominet do not put forward any evidence to supports this. We would anticipate that a large proportion of registrations will be defensive.

The proposals amount to a new tax on website owners

The proposals will lead to additional cost burdens on businesses and other website operators, many of whom will be faced with little choice but to register to ensure they have a consistent presence online. These costs are unnecessary and unjustified.

Confusion

There is scope for confusion for Internet users from second level registration. As the consultation notes that some institutions or services have recognisable domains giving a clear indication of their role or purpose. Sites with the same name but with second level domains – for example, university.uk – could leave internet users confused about the status of the site. Nominet provide no solution to this problem.

Security and trust

We are pleased that Nominet dropped the .uk specific security proposals following the first consultation and committed to looking to improve security across the namespace. However, Nominet have included a proposals for additional verification of registrants' details. We doubt that the new proposals will have any effect on consumer confidence or security. It appears for example that it will be fairly easy for somebody to simply register using a 'real' name and address that is not theirs. Further, Nominet provide no evidence of the likely effects on consumer confidence or instances of wrongdoing.

2. Nominet's commercial growth

From what we can tell, the main benefit of these plans would be increased revenue for Nominet and registrars. Indeed, Nominet state that the fourth objective of the plans is to “progress Nominet's commercial development.” Nominet's commercial growth is a separate consideration to the benefits of introducing second level registration. The latter should not be treated as a means to an end. Yet Nominet have done exactly this by conflating the two issues.

Nominet assume that their commercial growth is a good thing

Nominet argue that the commercial development of Nominet is a good thing because it will enable them to do more to make the .uk domain space more trusted and secure.

In this consultation the relationship between Nominet's continued commercial growth and improved stewardship of the namespace, under the banner of 'public purpose' work, is taken for granted.

Nominet may have different ways of securing growth and finances, and their growth may be beneficial to Internet users. But that has to be considered entirely separately from a specific proposal; profits for Nominet cannot be a way to justify a particular policy, which must be evaluated on its own merits. This indeed is what being a public interest company means, in that activities are conducted for the public, not for Nominet's interest. We would be extremely disappointed if Nominet repeat this error by conflating these ideas in any future consultation documents.

The proposals are vague and unjustified

If Nominet require additional resources to maintain or improve their core work, this should be set out clearly and separately. As well as conflating this question with the merits of secodn level registration, this consultation is extremely light on evidence. It sets out a number of unsupported and vague assertions about the aims and benefits of the scheme.

No evidence is produced in support of the alleged benefits and no estimates are made of the costs. There is no information about projected increases in revenues, breakdowns of costs and detailed explanations about how Nominet will go about improving security and trust or furthering their public purpose. There are no figures, estimates or otherwise, of the extra income this will generate for Nominet or the registrars. There is no estimation of the overall costs to businesses or other website users. There are no proposals for exactly what Nominet will do with the extra money to further their public purpose work.

Nominet's monopoly over .uk namespace

Nominet are in a position to introduce this scheme because of its effective monopoly over the namespace, and we believe that the governance of the UK namespace is something that needs regulatory attention and oversight.

We also wish to highlight how these proposals ignore and bypass the existing process for new second level domains. Have UK SLD been involved in the discussions about these proposals? What would happen if a .uk domain sold via Nominet was later requested via UK SLD?

One option is to separate the process for second level .uk registration from Nominet. If this .uk proposal must go ahead, we suggest that it should be run by a different body and that Nominet should not benefit commercially from it. This will at least promote competition.

Concluding remarks

As we said in the introduction, we see no benefits from second level registration for those people whose interests Nominet should be serving: website owners and users. We can see benefits, of course, for Nominet and registrars but this alone cannot be a justification for the .uk proposals. What is more, this separate argument that Nominet's commercial growth serves a public purpose is also unproven. We therefore urge Nominet to drop these plans.