Josh Bourne ⬥ 3 December
Nominet Woes Reflect Common Internet Governance Troubles
Here’s a question for readers- is the current quasi-governmental “public interest” model of Internet governing bodies working for the domain space?
Let’s take Nominet as an example. Although Nominet—the nonprofit company in the United Kingdom that owns and operates the country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) dot-UK—is independent from the UK government, the government’s Department for Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) recently stepped in to question the direction in which the company was headed. BERR has met with and submitted a letter to Nominet regarding the company’s dedication to protecting the interests of Internet stakeholders beyond those that comprise its membership. In response, the company has announced that it will perform an independent review of its corporate governance structure.
The trouble with Nominet is that its members, most of whom have commercial interests in the extension and the money to pursue those interests, control much of the organization. They currently determine the price of domains, enjoy discounts on their own name registrations, and retain significant authority over the elections of the organization’s board members. Additionally, many who end up winning spots on the company’s board have conflicts of interest and could potentially make decisions that only benefit their own business plans. BERR argues that, whereas Nominet members enjoy many privileges with dot-UK, the ccTLD is a national asset and should be operated in a way that benefits the greater community. With its limited influence, BERR cannot do much more than urge Nominet to ensure that this goal is upheld.
I’d like to mention that I know a fairly senior Nominet employee well—I’d like to think we’re friends—and I have a feeling that many at Nominet, who have admirable qualities, feel their organization is in danger of being hijacked from within. At the moment, these good guys are still doing what they can to keep Nominet on track—steps are being taken to restructure the organization and keep questionable executives from power—but it’s an ongoing battle to protect against capture by special interests.
I think Nominet’s woes closely mirror those of ICANN. While both aim to provide for the diverse interests of their stakeholders, the way that these organizations were set up tends to allow for certain constituencies to take hold of the steering wheel while other stakeholders—such as the Internet users themselves—end up being taken along for the ride. Rather than maintaining order with public interest in mind, special interests take over the organization and the constituencies that have the most to gain consolidate power and advance their own agendas.
So what is to be done? Ensuring oversight from national governments is perhaps the best way to provide a check against special interests and preserve the legitimacy of Internet policy organizations; such third-party support will ensure that the interests of all stakeholders are protected
Tags: BERR, Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, ccTLD, domain space, dot-UK, enforcement, ICANN, Internet stakeholders, Nominet, nonprofit, oversight, public interest, special interests, United Kingdom