We walked into the conference unaware that Nominet was under scrutiny by the government induced by board member in fighting, accusations of mismanagement and conflicts of interest. More controversially BERR (government Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform) has serious concerns that Nominet are not looking after the interests of the wider group of stakeholders in the domain industry specifically businesses and the general public in addition to it's existing responsibility to the registrar members.
David Hendon, director of business relations at BERR said 'Nominet and the domain industry need to take more heed of the government agenda on phishing, spam and "bad content". He read out a statement at the conference which to paraphrase sent the message, 'Nominet and it's membership need to get their house in order and self regulate to the government's satisfaction or it would strongly intervene'.
I asked David 'You've effectively made a threat telling us to get our house in order, we need to fill a gap, what are your expectations?'. His reply was essentially, 'I don't know but I'll know if it's right when I see it!' Not to misrepresent Mr Hendon, it was a considered and measured response 'I don't believe the government should tell you what to do as we are not experts in these matters, you all are, you should agree a course of action amongst yourselves with Nominet as the spokesperson and propose a solution around governance and regulation back to us' he also cautioned us that we only had a year to resolve this matter and the response needed to be suitable as deemed by his dept or else ....?
There was a range of responses to the BERR statement from the members ranging from the purist 'leave us alone, the internet should never be regulated in at all', to 'how dare they, it's the government behaving like big brother' and from some of the larger registrars 'let's work it out with Nominet and propose a solution'.
Our view at Gandi is that putting aside our own commercial self interests, registrars have a moral responsibility to business and the general public to keep as much 'Internet real estate' as possible free for genuine use and we take a strong stand against, squatting, spamming, over dominance of advertising and abuse of secondary markets through extortion and touting. As many of you know we also believe your domain name, like your home, is your property (given you're not a squatter) and you should not be restricted in managing it in any way. We certainly won't suddenly stick an advertising hoarding on your home just because you're not living in it at the moment! We believe the industry is grown up enough to regulate itself given we take the time to debate strongly, talk to each other and Nominet and propose an effective solution to the UK government.
If the UK take a lead worldwide in self regulation of the domain name industry will other countries follow? The problems experienced by consumers and businesses with .uk are reflected ten-fold for .com and other free market TLD's.
What do you think?
There were many other topics debated at the conference, the role of secondary markets, trust online, child protection, phishing, parked sites etc but more in future blogs ...