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I reported at the end of last year on Nominet's controversial proposals for .uk domains, which were viewed with scepticism by many businesses. 

Nominet recently came back after a consultation process with modified proposals, but the big question still remains: are they actually necessary? 

The problem is that this move potentialy devalues .co.uk domains, and will therefore force businesses to cough up for the .uk equivalent.  

And who benefits? Nominet, to the tune of £25m+...

The new proposals

Key controversies from the original proposals included the difficulty of existing .co.uk owners in acquiring the .uk versions of their domains, and the fact that part of the justification for the new extensions was security. 

The obvious response is: why not extend security to all UK domains? This is itself is no justification for .uk. Indeed, Nominet's answers to these questions were unconvincing, with the explanation that adding security measures to .co.uk would cost businesses more money.

The revised proposal includes: 

  • Enhanced checks on registration data, and a UK ‘address for service’ requirement, to enhance consumer trust.
  • A right of first refusal for existing .uk registrants.
  • A competitive price point of around £5.50.
  • A commitment to offer services to improve security across the whole .uk namespace.

One good thing is the right of first refusal to existing registrants of domain names, though this is common sense and fairness. Frankly, it was bizarre that this wasn't thought of in the first proposal. 

Issues not addressed by Nominet

There are a few here, one big one being the need for .uk in the first place.

Introducing the new extension virtually forces brands to buy the new domains, as they wouldn't want to risk confusion for searchers, as well as the potential for existing domain extensions to be devalued. 

So, this essentially doubles the renewal fees for the 3m+ businesses with .co.uk domains, not to mention the costs of changing stationery, marketing materials, customer 'education' and so on. All for no obvious benefit for business.

Also, despite much-trumpeted new security features, the confusion between .uk and .co.uk could well mean a greater likelihood of phishing attacks working. 

In a post from Edwin Hayward, he outlines other problems with .uk. These are just a sample:

  • The current system is effective and well understood.
  • There are no technical reasons to change the current structure.
  • Using .UK and .CO.UK alongside each other for businesses creates confusion.
  • Technical setup costs for running two domains and redirecting emails and traffic.
  • Loss of confidence in .co.uk as .uk takes off.

The benefits for Nominet

The benefits of the new domain extension are unclear at best for businesses, but the extra renewal fees will certainly benefit Nominet. 

Depending on the uptake, and based on a £5 per year renewal fee, Nominet stands to make more than £25m, and perhaps £40m+ from .uk. 

I said in my last post that this amounts to a tax on the UK's online businesses, and the new proposals haven't changed my mind on this. While some issues have been addressed, the fundamental question of why this is necessary remains. 

Here's Nominet's explanation: 

We believe that a new secure product will create a new, trusted online home for British businesses. We hope it will help the internet economy by combating cybercrime and creating a namespace which consumers trust.

Since our inception in 1996, we have been asked numerous times about whether registrations at the second level would be possible. Our market research shows businesses demand for effective and convenient tools that would ensure the integrity of their online presence and deliver higher customer confidence.   

So we have security issues which could be addressed without the new domains, and their own market research which can't always be trusted, especially when the organisation carrying out the research has a vested interest. (Lets face it, if you want a certain answer, you can ask the question in a certain way). 

Edwin Hayward: 

The winners from this are Nominet, registrars, and trademark holders, while the losers are existing .co.uk registrants, UK businesses, the credibility of .co.uk namespace, and trust in .co.uk. 

In fact, a similar proposal was put forward in 2005 (quietly to the Policy Advisory Board, not to the public) and was voted down 11-0. This PAB board was abolished in 2010, and now Nominet 'oversight' is from Nominet Members, who are mainly registrars.  

If there are genuine reasons for the new .uk domains, Nominet should state them clearly and, if there is a demand from businesses, let's see the stats. 

The consultation continues...

This is not finally decided yet. The consultation process will continue until 23 September 2013. 

You can add your views on this using this online form (spot the link to the form if you can). It's hardly an example of web form best practice, but it's important to make your views known if you have concerns. 

Graham Charlton

Published 12 July, 2013 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

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Maggie Tolliday

Nominet are a not-for-profit company, why do they need to do this?

over 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

A number of Nominet members are in the domain business themselves, so a cynic may wonder about the motives behind this move.

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/08/17/nominet_takeover_gov/

over 3 years ago

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Dan Winchester, Founder at FreeDating.co.uk

Nominet is a non-profit owned by its members. The members are nearly all registrars - every UK registrar must be a member. "£25m+" is a drop in the ocean compared with what the registrars stand to make if they can sell another .uk for every .co.uk they have already sold...

over 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

You're spot on Graham - this is a terrible proposal all round (excluding those who will make easy money from it...).

I (and many others) responded to their first round of consulting - did they ever publish the actual raw facts from that?

Methinks there was not much listening done.

over 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Graham - did you find any numbers/statistics on the first consultation round?

On their site I could ony find non-numeric stuff.

Like this weasly wording:
"In general, there is not a clear consensus of unreserved support amongst stakeholders for the direct.uk proposals as they currently stand. "

But they ignored that anyway!

"Many stakeholders liked some but not all aspects of the
proposal (eg security features), "

This perhaps hides the fact that it was only the security features that the majory liked!

"... whilst a small proportion of stakeholders declared that they were fundamentally opposed to the concept of the direct.uk proposition which enabled registrations at the second level whether it included additional security features or not."

If I recall the questionnaire: it seemed intended to so combine the security angle, that it was hard for anybody to say '100% No', as it felt like that would be saying no to better security....

over 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Read part X of the summary of the first consultation - they admit that the most central question, was ambiguous !

"...This question was potentially confusing to respondents"

"Given these potentially confusing factors, closer examination of the overall positive, negative, andother comments to each individual feature and questions are appropriate."

But overall, it is the lack of numbers in that summary that is shocking.

Graham - why don't you ask them if they will release the raw statistics from the first round! You may get a better answer, than we would.

over 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Deri I'll ask the question.

over 3 years ago

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Mark Ayres

The right of refusal to existing registrants includes owners of .org.uk, .me.uk, .ltd.uk and possibly one or two other suffixes. If more than one is registered then the one with the earliest reg date gets it. This means that commercial rights are being re-sold, in an enhanced way, and that existing owners of commercial rights will not necessarily get the new rights. I believe the estimate is approx. 900K domains affected.

I can't imagine that many people who regged the .org.uk or .me.uk versions ever imagined they would end up with the primary commercial rights to that address - absurd, along with other apsects of this troublesome and misguided proposal.

over 3 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Mark Good point, I hadn't realised that was the system.

over 3 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Hi Graham

Wonder if you have had a reply from Nominet.

I asked my MP to write to them, but he got only a boiler-plate letter back from Nominet...

over 3 years ago

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