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Nominet responds to rule-change concerns

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

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So far, critics of the changes would largely agree with Gilbert and Cowley. Members' main concerns instead surround the ability of the board to provide "discounts" to members; to charge different members different fees; and to provide "loyalty" payments to members of the board.

Changes to the board structure also mean that while much-needed skills in business and marketing will be pulled into the company, the influence of smaller Nominet members is likely to suffer.

PAB member Pegg views the discounts as dividends by the backdoor, and the remaining changes as a dangerous move in the direction of commercialism where companies with more money will get more of a say.

Several elected members of Nominet have said privately, however, that the days of Nominet being a members-only club in the old sense of the word are over. Nominet has a £15m turnover and runs the fourth biggest domain registry in the world.

It is looking to use its expertise to grab new business as the internet grows and evolves but, Cowley promises, this will not see Nominet stealing business away from its normal members. Instead it is aiming at the big guns of the internet industry - VeriSign, Afilias, NeuStar and so on.

The deal in Nominet's gun-sights at the moment is the contract for ENUM in the UK. Afilias recently won Ireland's. "The UK was one of the first places to have ENUM," says Cowley. "Now Ireland is ahead, and Germany is miles ahead." Under Nominet's existing rules, the company is simply prevented from bidding for anything about a United Kingdom domain registry.

The creation in 2001 (and their subsequent dissolution in 2004/5) of three Nominet companies (Nominet.eu Ltd, Nominet.org Ltd and Nominet.44 Ltd) were not a way of bidding for .eu, .org and ENUM contracts, Cowley insists, but just an attempt to prevent others from misusing the Nominet name.

Others remember the situation differently, although they still remain unhappy about Nominet having to find ways round the company's rules in order to bid for business that Nominet has significant experience in.

At heart, the argument is over culture. Nominet has been extremely successful in part because of the unwavering support provided by members. In the past, when a million different distractions led many internet companies to spread themselves too thinly, Nominet thrived because of its focussed attention on the domain name market.

But things have changed, Gilbert and Cowley say. The vast majority of Nominet members agree but remain suspicious of what the proposed changes will herald. Their job is to persuade all but 10 percent of the members that they know what they're doing.

"I will defend to the last breath of my body members' rights to vote," said Gilbert. "And if they vote against these changes, fine. But I want them to know exactly what they are voting for."

The EGM will take place at 10am on March 16, at the Kassam football stadium in Oxford.®

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