Changes, large and small, to how we manage .UK can have a significant impact on the domain name industry or the registrants of domains.
Multiple parties have an interest in, and are affected by, the decisions we make. That’s why we gather the views of as diverse a group of people are possible to inform our thinking. A case in point is our current consultation on expired domains.
Nominet has run the registry of the .UK Domain for over twenty years, but things can’t stand still. By making changes when necessary, we ensure that .UK remains competitive and both trusted and popular with businesses and consumers when choosing where to make their home online.
Running consultations on .UK policy matters is a key part of how we evolve the namespace in response to changing concerns and circumstances.
Our current consultation aims to put in place a more transparent process for informing registrars and the wider public when an expired domain will be made available for re-registration. In this case, we have two options on how to deal with popular domains, and two options for how to release expired domains generally.
While the mechanisms are yet to be determined following feedback, we envisage that the vast majority of domains that expire will become available at known times (rather than the current random drops), at the usual wholesale fee of £3.90 per year.
We are also considering different methods for releasing the less than 1% of domains – about 12,0000 a year – which are highly sought after. To put that in perspective, these are the domains that will be re-registered within one second of becoming available. The question is, how do we do that fairly?
Two options are proposed as alternatives to the existing system. The options boil down to two main approaches: a type of auction model or a ‘pay to play model’ where those interested in the domains contested pay to have access. It’s worth saying that the assumption in some quarters that an auction approach is our preferred option – a fait accompli – are wide of the mark.
The initial consultation responses – admittedly early days – show that opinion is split on which of the proposed options stakeholders prefer – of course, some are in favour of change and some are not.
We have heard from those who feel strongly that it is not Nominet’s business to run auctions and pay-to-play is preferred or the status quo should remain. We’ve also heard from registrars in the secondary market in favour of a form of auction on the basis that this will let them decide the value they are willing to pay for a domain name rather than the price being set by another dropcatcher. We have also heard ideas for alternative approaches. All the feedback received will feed into our decision on the ultimate approach.
In some quarters the commentary suggests the driver for change is financial, or to make life more difficult for some business models. It is not.
For our part, we are trying to deliver greater transparency of how it all works, and to ensure the options proposed allow us to safely manage technical load and ensure the resilience of .UK. And to do this without undue interference with the registration systems for the vast majority of domains which are unlikely to be hotly contested.
We also have the objective of making sure any change to the status quo has the effect of discouraging collusion (using multiple Nominet memberships to unfairly increase access to registry systems). We are mindful that the current system may inadvertently incentivise gaming the system so that access to sought after domains is enhanced. Proving collusion is incredibly difficult, so while we suspect it takes place, technical proof is difficult to achieve. We’ve heard from aggrieved registrars who feel frustrated that their competitors appear to be suspiciously adept at securing desirable domains. Our consultation ideas set out to tackle this another way – by making this sort of activity redundant.
As we state in the consultation, we are aware that implementing either option for sought after domains means that market demand will set either the price paid (at auction) or the amount Registrars want to pay to participate in the market for dropping domains, ‘pay to play’.
As commercial gain was not our objective, we have suggested that any additional funds raised by changing the policy would be directed towards public benefit activity or used to provide specific services to registrars. Indeed, how to best spend additional funds that result from any policy change is part of the consultation.
Our consultation sets out the pros and cons of the various approaches as we see them, including some we have discounted. But as you would expect, no decisions have been made and the point of the consultation is to gather views. There is no predetermined outcome – so we really want feedback on the options set out. Which option is preferred, what are the pitfalls? Or is there a better way of doing things we should consider? While we run the .UK namespace in the interests of all our stakeholders we want to know the potential ramifications of any change.
Consultations provide an opportunity to unearth innovative, interesting solutions that we may not have considered. We genuinely believe that having a diversity of perspectives, interests and experience feeding in their opinion leads to the creation of better policies. This is not something we can do in isolation.
For our current consultation we are hosting roundtable discussions for all interested parties in August to explore some of the issues raised.
In the end, I know our ultimate decisions are unlikely to satisfy everyone. But I am confident that by inviting as many inputs to our thinking as possible to inform how we evolve the .UK Domain will ensure it continues to best serve those who rely on it.