Nominet is canvassing support for a crucial Net governance vote that it says will help prevent government regulation of Britain’s dot-uk registry.
The company has just published a series of resolutions to be put to a member vote at an Extraordinary General Meeting on 24 February in London. The resolutions will see several significant changes made to Nominet’s structure, including a larger Board, lower voting thresholds, explicitly recognising that Nominet has a “public purpose”, giving the Board the right to set pricing, and a promise to review the organisation’s current membership setup to pull in more of the Internet community into its decisions.
In a letter announcing the EGM, Nominet’s chairman Bob Gilbert pleaded with members to vote to keep the government out: “Without significant membership support, the Government has expressed its intention to intervene and regulate Nominet and the domain name industry. The result will be increased red tape and the erosion of members’ business interests.”
He continues: “If your view of Nominet is that ‘it just works’ and you are happy with the way we operate and the services we provide for you, then it is crucial you express that support with a positive vote on the changes we are proposing.” The reason for the hard-sell is Nominet’s traditionally extremely low voter turnout: most members pay the membership fee just to be able to buy their dot-uk domains wholesale and have little interest in its day-to-day operations.
The changes have already met with public support from a number of other key Internet organisations, including ICANN, the Internet Society (ISOC) and Afilias (registry operator of dot-info, among others). The “Father of the Internet” himself, Vint Cerf, has also chimed in, saying that the changes “will produce a more agile and public-oriented institution”.
If accepted, the changes would bring to a close a very difficult few years for Nominet. It was nearly four years ago that Nominet lost all of its resolutions at a similar EGM – the organisation’s first attempt to modernise its governance structure in the face of a rapidly changing registry market. The company licked its wounds and came back to narrowly win two changes at a second EGM in November 2006.
But while reconsidering how to update its structure, the company was then pulled into a difficult and unpleasant Board fight, then eventually ended with the resignation of two Board members. And the combination of the failed EGM and Board fight, led to the UK government getting involved: first warning in a letter [pdf] that it expected Nominet to make changes soon, and then a year later writing into the upcoming Digital Economy Bill the right to take over the company.
Nominet responded with an independent governance review, a canvass of its members and then a a double roll-out of suggested governance changes. First, the company produced a Statement of Commitments, listing what its aims were and asking people whether they agreed with the principles (95 percent of respondents said they did). With that backing, a series of proposed resolutions were published and members again asked for their opinion. Nominet hasn’t said what, if any, feedback it received from this second round of public consultation, but it has now put out the formal resolutions and announced 24 February as the day when they will be put to a vote (online voting closes on 22 February).
Nominet’s Board is hoping that the very real threat of government intervention, and their efforts to engage directly with members on the changes will get the votes in. It will only become clear at the end of this month whether they have been successful.