Nominet takes six months to do nothing over net.uk

Communication breakdown

Second-level domain .net.uk has been reprieved indefinitely but at the cost of Nominet's reputation, papers released today reveal.

Despite six months of consultation and argument, the Policy Advisory Board of Nominet - the organisation that owns all .uk domains - has failed to reach a conclusion over changes to the domain and been forced to admit it doesn't believe further consultation will aid it either.

Instead, the previously flawed system will be retained and the issue swept aside to make way for other matters.

The breakdown of communication in what is supposed to be Nominet's recommending body comes as a great embarrassment to the PAB and may become the decisive issue in the board member elections that are taking place this month.

Director of Nominet and PAB member, Alex Bligh, accepted our criticism that for a policy making board to spend six months on consultation only to decide it wasn't able to make a decision was bordering on pathetic. "That's a valid line of criticism. The problem was not universally agreed to and it has suffered for that. There was not a sufficiently structured approach to the consultation."

Chairman of the PAB Peter Gradwell - who is up for re-election this month - didn't agree with us that the situation looks "appalling" but did accept that the process had failed. He argued instead that since people were fairly evenly split between changing the rules and keeping the situation as it is, the decision not to do anything was not a bad one. "If 90 per cent of people had said open it up, that would have been easy, but lots of people said open it up and lots of people said keep it the same," he told us.

As chairman, Mr Gradwell might be expected to carry the blame for the fiasco although a close observer of Nominet and ex-PAB member told us that during his year as chairman, Mr Gradwell had "vastly improved" the running of the Board. "The PAB needs to stand on its own feet and Peter has helped it do that, although there is still some way to go," he said.

Before a reorganisation of the PAB - instigated by Mr Gradwell - we are told, "everyone was scared of treading on each others' toes".

Clive Feather, who was head of the sub-committee tasked with deciding what to do with the .net.uk domain, declined to answer any of our questions over the saga. He told us he hadn't seen the PAB meeting minutes and didn't wish to discuss the matter.

Following a rejection of his first report, Mr Feather did not, "despite heavy prompting", produce a second report, causing the PAB - four months later - to conclude it had spent too much time on a minor subject. Mr Feather is standing for re-election to the Board.

History of dispute

The problem over what to do with the faltering .net.uk domain first arose in June 2002, when the PAB was asked to consider whether the restricted domain should be opened up in order to make it more viable. At the time, just 546 .net.uk domains existed.

Now, seven months later, there are just 582. This compares to 34,000 sch.uk domains, 265,000 .org.uk domains and 3.6 million .co.uk domains.

PAB member Clive Feather was asked to produce a report, which he handed over for consideration for the PAB meeting on 2 October 2002. At the meeting, the PAB rejected the main recommendation that the domain be scrapped altogether and asked for the sub-committee to take into account a large amount of feedback from Nominet members.

The sub-committee was asked to produce a report for the next meeting on 4 December. Despite the minutes from that meeting stating that: "Clive Feather updated the PAB with the current status of the net.uk subcommittee's work and agreed to publish a further summary in advance of the next meeting" - it would now appear that all that was given was a vocal report stating that the committee had still to reach agreement.

A report was then put on the agenda for the next meeting on 5 February 2003. Mr Feather did not attend this meeting nor did he produce the long-awaited report. This was recorded in the minutes as: "Peter Gradwell and Alex Bligh briefly explained the history relating to the .net.uk sub-committee. The sub-committee's original proposals had not been accepted by the PAB or CoM and they met again in September to discuss the matter again. There had been no further communication from the sub-committee since."

Asked whether it was usual for an agreed-to report to fail to turn up, we were reminded that all PAB members are unpaid and voluntary.

In the end, the PAB voted on a recommendation that there be no changes to the .net.uk at the present time because "the issues are not sufficiently tractable for consultation to be an effective use of time and resources".

And so, the runt of the UK domain litter will remain on life-support for the foreseeable future. At least until a better system for making difficult decisions is built at the PAB. ®

Related Stories
Nominet names electoral candidates (10 February 2003)
.Net.uk domain granted stay of execution (9 December 2002)
Nominet director calls for .net.uk clemency (15 October 2002)
Is this the end for .net.uk? (11 October 2002)

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