Nominet responds to internet strategic plan

This is how Britain sees the net's future

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Nominet has responded to the strategic plan [pdf] written by internet overseeing organisation ICANN to pitch what it sees as the future of the internet. In a four-page letter [pdf] written last week by Nominet chief executive Lesley Cowley to ICANN's chief exec Paul Twomey, ICANN was given broad support but a number of fundamental disagreements remain, particularly over funding.

As the company in charge of all .uk internet domains, Nominet has traditionally been an outspoken critic of the US organization. However the letter is "intended to be constructively supportive," stated Ms Cowley. Thanks to the UK's role in creating the internet, the significant size of the .uk registry and the expertise that rests in the country, Nominet's views remain respected and influential. And it would seem that ICANN has gone some way to removing the deep sense of distrust felt by countries around the world. The letter concludes: "Nominet endorses the coordination, collaboration and cooperation approach that is now being taken by ICANN."

But there is plenty of food for thought before this careful endorsement appears.

When we reviewed the Plan when first released in November, we felt it to be "charming, convincing and considered" but also "simplified, one-sided and vague". Nominet is less enamoured.

Target practice

Nominet wants ICANN to identify priorities and write down targets (or "progress milestones" in its diplomatic language). ICANN's wish and intent is not enough. Nominet is also suspicious that the stability and security of the internet is given relatively little attention when compared to the sexier - and more profitable - aspects of the net.

And in the first of several warning shots, Nominet asks that a clear distinction be made between global top-level domains (gTLDs like .com, .net, .biz) and country-code domains (ccTLDs like .uk, .de, .fr). ICANN talks a lot about fostering competition and choice in the market, but Nominet reminds the organisation that when it comes to ccTLDs it is "respective governments, registries and local internet communities" that get to decide, not ICANN.

The letter then states several wider concerns about ICANN's plan. The organisation predicts a big increase in spending but only has one stated approach to getting the money needed. It would be wiser to develop "multiple scenarios" Nominet advises. It suggests money might be saved by ICANN working closer with existing organisations outside the US.

It advises the same when it comes to ICANN's new communications strategy. And it implies the same thing with future recruitment - why waste time, money and effort in building your own team when others can already do it if you ask nicely.

Effectively, Nominet is advising ICANN to avoid entering an arms race. If it spends money building up its own presence in other countries, the organisations in those countries will respond by doing the same. Why waste money and effort going it alone when working together, but ceding some power, will be more efficient?

Nominet can't help but poke ICANN in the ribs for not stating a policy to update the rules over domain name ownership (UDRP). The reason is that UDRP is a can of worms with strong forces pulling in multiple directions. It is also increasingly in a mess thanks to its quasi-legal but poorly regulated approach. No one wants to touch it. Nominet helpfully points it that it has already revised its own domain rules. Twice.

Money, money, money

However, the most contentious issue is left until last - finance. ICANN wants to pull the world's countries into its own processes and at the same time start getting more money out of them for its running costs.

ICANN therefore created the ccNSO (Country Code Names Supporting Organisation) to act as the discussion body for countries around the world. It has five of these bodies, acting for different internet interests, from which ICANN claims to draw all its policy.

However, while ICANN pushes the ccNSO in order to enhance its legitimacy, all the big countries in the world have so far refused to join until they get what they feel is sufficient autonomy and influence. The stand-off has been going on for years and Nominet is keen to point out that only 17 per cent of countries are currently members of the ccNSO and that the majority of them are very small in terms of internet impact.

Nominet is not saying it won't join the ccNSO, but it also makes it clear that things will have to change. "We note that the Plan reports that ccTLD managers participate through the ccNSO...this statement should perhaps be more properly expressed as an aspiration."

Until there are "other mechanisms for dialogue with the 83 per cent of ccTLDs who are currently not members of the ccNSO", nothing is going to change, Nominet warns. And that means no extra money either. It points out though that Nominet will happily fund its fair share of the aspects of ICANN's structure that it uses.

It is not bad as it sounds. While Nominet makes it quite clear that the fourth largest registry in the world (behind .com, .de and .net) is not going to go along with the Plan, the letter is a clear indication that it is interested in coming to agreement. That, if nothing else, is a victory for ICANN's still relatively new management.

Stand up and be counted

Coincidentally, if you think Nominet is right or wrong or confused, now is your chance to actually make a difference. It's election time again and three posts on the Public Advisory Board are up for grabs.

The PAB is not just a talking shop, it has a very significant impact on how Nominet behaves and how it decides policy. You've got a week to put forward your nomination, and voting takes place between 8 March and 10 April, with results announced 20 April.

The process is extremely simple and it is Nominet members that get to decide who wins, so if you're unhappy about anything, it's time to put up or shut up. ®

Related links

Nominet's letter to ICANN [pdf]
ICANN's Strategic Plan [pdf]
Nominet PAB 2005 election.

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ICANN pitches the internet's future

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