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A non-executive director of Nominet's Council of Management and member of its Public Advisory Board, Alex Bligh, has launched a scathing attack on a recommendation by one of the organisation's subcommittees to shut down the second level domain .net.uk.

Stressing that he was writing in a personal capacity, Bligh has produced a 15-page document countering what he sees as the flawed logic and blinkered vision behind the subcommittee conclusion that .net.uk has outlived its usefulness and ought to be phased out.

The document, available on Mr Bligh's website www.alex.org.uk, is believed to be behind a decision by the PAB last week to ask the subcommittee to look again at how the domain could be kept alive but put under a different charter.

While all parties agree that the .net.uk domain is in need of review, the recommendation that it be wiped out altogether by subcommittee chairman Clive Feather has upset many. Mr Feather's report argued that opening the domain up (i.e. relaxing or removing the current pre-registration rules for the .net.uk domain) would create a logistical headache for little real benefit. It would become a (lesser) equivalent to the existing co.uk domain and hence continue to be of little worth. He therefore recommended it be shut to new applicants and slowly phased out as existing domains came up for renewal.

His critics however - Mr Bligh notable among them - say the report has failed to adequately consider the opinions of people outside the committee and in particular the cost in both time and money that a removal of the domain would have.

Mr Bligh argues that "the proposed cure is worse than the disease" and goes to some length to dispute the subcommittee's justification in shutting the domain down under existing Nominet rules. Semantics aside, the basic issue resides over whether the .net.uk domain is worth keeping.

Mr Feather argues that it is a throwback to a previous Internet age and can have little relevance for the future. He also points out that removing domains is not without precedent: the gradual removal of sites ending in just .uk for example and the depreciation of the govt.uk and orgn.uk SLDs for the more concise gov.uk and org.uk.

Mr Bligh on the other hand argues that .net.uk can be made to be useful. By opening the domain up but adding a charter saying that it should be used by people associated with Internet networks, new life could be breathed into it. He accepts that such a move would inevitably cause some protective registration and domain disputes but feels it is worth it.

Fortunately, Mr Bligh does give one example where .net.uk could find eager new recruits - the expansion of community wireless LAN - an area which looks set to become part of everyday life. His solution for avoiding the enormous cock-ups that the new global domains have presided over is to differentiate on price. Once opened, .net.uk prices would be expensive and then gradually reduced in price so that big organisations have a headstart on buying new domains. The same system worked for the .me.uk introduction, he argues.

The argument is not just between the two Nominet members however. The review of net.uk has sparked a significant amount of feedback from the Internet community. Mr Bligh claims that out of the responses he has seen, none are in favour of Mr Feather's plan, 60 per cent want it opened entirely and 40 per cent wants the existing rules changed to be more relevant.

Responses to our original story on Friday have come up with a different spread. Frustratingly, each option seems to have garnered almost exactly the same level of support.

The MD of one networking company questioned: "Have they gone completely mad! We are an ISP using a .net.uk address and as the other 539 ISPs probably do, we use it specifically for network infrastructure including support addresses, company websites. Most importantly we use it for our nameservers that support the thousands of domains we host for our customers. Dropping our domain will costs many thousands."

On the other side, one reader said he would be happy to see the end of .net.uk. "I can't see the point of it. It's been shockingly badly run since day one. I say put it out of its misery."

Yet another seems to think that net.uk could be a success if it was opened up properly. "The fools at Nominet's Policy Advisory Board have, in my humble opinion, caused a rather excellent domain extension to be made 'unusable'. You can't use .net.uk domains for 'regular website hosting'. You are only meant to use them for admin contacts in domain registration and IP allocation contact addresses. They could have a valuable source of income here."

With such lively debate, the next meeting of the subcommittee set up to decide net.uk's fate is certain to be an interesting affair. It will need to reach a decision before the PAB's next meeting on 4 December. Even then, we are told, any decision to phase the domain out could be postponed by either the PAB or Council of Management asking for a wider consultation with the Internet community.

And so while the .net.uk domain looks set to survive Christmas, its fate is still hanging in the balance. ®

Related Links

Alex Bligh's report (pdf)
The original subcommittee report
Clive Feather's introductory report

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Is this the end for .net.uk?

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