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Nominet puts its future on the line

UK registry owner holds second EGM

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UK registry owner Nominet is this morning holding its second extraordinary general meeting in a year in Oxford in an effort to expand its business and modernise its processes.

Following a disastrous attempt eight months ago to rewrite its corporate make-up, where the company faced a revolt by members of its own advisory board and had the rug pulled from under its feet by its largest stakeholders, Nominet has gone back to the drawing board and put forward only the two changes that have proven most popular with its members.

The first will allow the company to pitch for business outside its core role of running all .uk domains. In particular, Nominet wants to win the contract to run the UK's upcoming ENUM system, which should contact the telephone system directly with the internet.

And secondly, Nominet wants to be able to run ballots electronically - something it is restricted from doing at the moment and feels is a ridiculous constraint, especially when it exists on the cutting edge of internet technology.

Despite the general popularity of the changes, however, CEO Lesley Cowley told us that the EGM remained "a bit of a test". Nominet has changed its voting rules to ensure that its largest shareholders don't hold an effective veto, but even so it needs 75 per cent of votes passed to get the e-voting change, and an unwieldy 90 per cent to pitch for the ENUM contract.

The reason for the rush is that the ENUM contract will be decided before Christmas, and Cowley openly accepts that the vote is the "last chance" for Nominet to win it - and for a non-profit company to run what could become an important infrastructure and opportunity for Nominet members. "Not everybody realises the potential effect of ENUM," warns Cowley.

If that measure passes, Nominet also hopes to bid for the .eu contract when it is rebid, but Cowley dismisses any suggestion that it will end up competing with its own members. "We are a registry, we are good at running big databases, the idea that we would compete with members is a red herring."

However, she is also unhappy about the suggestion that Nominet formally states it will not compete with members: "VeriSign is a member, for example," Cowley says, referring to the company that runs the dotcom and dotnet registries. "It would be a bit strange to state we wouldn't compete with members on that basis."

As for the e-voting issue, Nominet hopes it will help solve one of the company's main problems: the extremely low level of interaction members have with it. Despite the importance of the changes, less than 15 per cent have voted so far. Ironically, the fact that Nominet is obliged under its current rules to send out a paper ballot for any changes and record only those papers physically sent back, is a major reason for a low member turnout among companies that exist entirely within the electronic world.

Cowley isn't sure members realise that until the changes go through it is not legally allowed to make the process easier. She, and Nominet, will be hoping the issue is rectified this morning. ®

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