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Nominet responds to rule-change concerns

No conspiracy, just good business, claim chief exec and chairman

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Nominet's chairman and chief executive have hit back at claims that changes to the company's Memorandum and Articles of Association will over-commercialise the not-for-profit company.

Chairman Bob Gilbert told us: "There is a lot of disinformation being peddled that is completely erroneous." Instead, both he and chief executive Lesley Cowley insist the changes are essential if Nominet is to compete in the fast-moving internet market.

Last week, Nominet - which runs the .uk internet registry - called for an extraordinary general meeting next month where it will ask members to vote for changes to the company's basic charter. It requires 90 per cent approval for the changes to go through.

But soon after, several members of Nominet's Policy Advisory Board started raising concerns over some of the changes. One, Hazel Pegg, has even set up a website to outline her concerns in which she urges Nominet members to vote 'no'.

Gilbert, who has spent most of the past nine months working on the changes and who has wide-ranging experience as a company law specialist, assured us that the changes were no more than "normal" and that he found it frustrating that people were misreading the changes.

The fear the changes are just the first part of a gradual move toward far greater commercialism, and possibly a float of Nominet, are unfounded he said. "I suppose it is because I have a track record of taking companies public - but then I have also done a lot of non-profit work and the two are entirely separate."

Instead, he claims, he has been "infected" with Nominet's approach and culture. It would be legally impossible for Nominet to be floated, and besides the company is determined to remain not-for-profit.

Cowley said the reason behind the changes is to update Nominet and free it from past constraints that were useful back in 1996 but now unnecessarily restrict the company.

One example is that under the existing rules, Nominet has to poll all its members by post if it is to change prices. Others are: that this company at the edge of internet technology is currently restricted in its use of electronic communication; it is not allowed to do any promotion or marketing for the .uk domain ("we'd love to do that", Cowley said); and under its current rules, the managing director also has to be the chairman.

With the existing articles, the board may change the voting rules any time it pleases. And it also faces an almost impossible task of expelling members - something that came to a head when Nominet was forced to sue one of its members for misleading consumers while all the while the company used its membership of Nominet as evidence of its trustworthiness.

"We've gone 10 years without an extraordinary general meeting, and I'd be more than happy to go another 10 years without one," said Cowley. "But what we want is to be much more responsive and quick to some of the changes that will happen in the industry whether we like it or not."

Gilbert reiterates the same line: "Nominet's original constitution has served it wonderfully well, but it's time to move on and what we want to do is give the management the ability to run the company the way they see fit."

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