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A time for change

Posted by Lesley Cowley,
We are now two weeks into our consultation on second level registrations, which proposes the biggest change to the .uk namespace since it began. Those following this closely will know that we made some significant changes to the original proposal put forward last year.  
 
We listened to the feedback that we received and we have adapted the proposals in response. As promised, we have now put our revised proposals up for public scrutiny once again. 
 
It's fair to say that our system of third level registrations is out of step with the rest of the industry. We are the largest country code registry to still operate this way. Yet the .uk namespace has been a success story, with our registry well over 10million and still growing.  So why are we considering making such a big change? Why not simply stay as we are? And how can we be certain that it will work?
 
This week, I am attending the ICANN meeting in Durban, where there is much excitement and anticipation about the imminent launch of new top level domains. To many, these represent the biggest ever liberalisation of the domain name market.  No-one knows for sure the impact gTLDs will have long term.  Some believe the impact will be minimal. We have taken a different view, which takes into account a long-term assessment of the future of .uk.  Our timeframe for this is not one or two years.  Underlying this proposal is a consideration of how we act now in order that .uk will remain relevant over a 10 or 15 year period. 
 
We cannot ignore increasingly challenging market conditions, reduced renewal rates and a significant slowdown in growth. However, the imminent launch of new gTLDs also represents a huge opportunity for the millions of businesses who are not currently online and want to secure their own domain name for the first time. They will soon be facing a vast array of domain name options and we believe that our revised proposals would appeal to these potential registrants. 
 
However, every registry is in a different position. For example, the German registry – running .de – does not believe that gTLDs will pose a threat to them. However, I would argue that they will face less competition than English language domains. And importantly, .de already offers registrations at the second level. 
 
We also believe that size matters. Retaining and growing the size of the registry is important, and not simply for commercial reasons.  Nominet operates in the public interest, and we believe in an internet that is trusted, secure and safe.  
 
We are putting a huge amount of effort and investment into protecting the infrastructure, improving our data-quality, combating cyber-crime, providing excellent systems and customer service, so that the millions of consumers and businesses who depend on us continue to benefit from a safe, secure and reliable online experience.
 
By attracting, and retaining, as many people as possible into a trusted .uk namespace, we can continue investing in the Internet and our service. Long term, we think that is healthy for Nominet and our partners, good for consumers and businesses that will have greater confidence to shop and trade online, and will ultimately be beneficial to the digital economy.  
 
A strong registry also has greater influence on the national and international stage. We remain committed advocates of a multi-stakeholder approach to informing our policy development rather than a more top-down method of running the Internet.
 
However, we are not starting with a blank sheet of paper. We are focussed on how to recognise the loyalty of existing registrants, many of whom feel entitled to the equivalent second-level domain.
 
We have built into our proposals a mechanism for them to do this and we hope that it is as fair as possible, but we do appreciate there are corner cases, such as treatment of short domains, that require closer scrutiny. 
 
We are also keen to hear views on further steps we could take to introduce this change in a way that is sensitive to registrants in terms of both cost and time, for example if they wish to hold both domains, or move from one to another over time.
 
As regards reserving names for some public bodies, we have been mindful of the government’s digital transformation project, and with public interest in mind, we proposed that those bodies that would otherwise be orphaned would have a safe haven should second level registrations go ahead. 
 
Since the consultation began, we have been also asked whether we can prove that second level registrations will help .uk combat the launch of gTLDs. I'm sorry to disappoint, but there is no ‘proof’ that this will work, any more than there is proof that it won’t – there are too many variables to have a credible, conclusive projection at this stage.  
 
Awareness amongst businesses and consumers about domain names in general, and the new gTLDs in particular, is not yet at the level to make projections meaningful. We expect this will change over time, particularly as the imminent launch and promotional campaigns get underway and begin to educate the market about available options.
 
However, our research tells us that second level domains are desirable, and our assessment of the domain name market’s liberalisation suggests that we ought to put changes in place now to secure the future of the .uk namespace.  We do not believe that all new gTLDs will be successful, but if a few become direct competitors that will have a significant impact on the .uk registry.
 
Our consultation is not a vehicle for us to put forward a business case. The consultation is an opportunity to gather views on what we have put forward; the Board will consider those views, any suggestions for doing things differently, along with research and data based on the most likely final proposal.
 
We continue to welcome your input to the consultation. You can give us your feedback on the propsals by visiting www.nominet.org.uk/SLDConsultation.
 
**Note added 10/09/2013
 
Thank you to those who have commented on this blog post. As you can see we have now published all the non-defamatory comments. We remain keen to receive feedback on the proposals as part of our consultation, which closes on 23 September.
 
Many of the comments raise questions or thoughts which are either beyond the scope of the current consultation or which have been covered by the Q&A or elsewhere in the consultation documents. We would recommend reading these if you have not already done so.
 
Regarding emailing registrants to make them aware of the consultation, we have decided not to send unsolicited emails that are not directly related to the contract of registration. 
 
It is important to note that the existing options for domain name registrations, e.g. .co.uk, .me.uk, .org.uk etc – would all still be available and we will continue to invest in them. 
 
However, at the same time, as stated in the post, we cannot ignore increasingly challenging market conditions, reduced renewal rates and a significant slowdown in growth and that is why we have put forward these proposals for consultation. 
 
Some comments make reference to other approaches taken elsewhere in the world; every registry is in a different position and we must make the right decision for the .uk namespace. 
 
This consultation is about listening to a wide range of stakeholder views and we continue to welcome your feedback.
 
 
 
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