Joint Committee on The Draft Communications Bill Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 23

Memorandum submitted by Andrew Dudley

  Please find attached a page briefing note which proposes that OFCOM should attain reserve powers over the delegation of the country code top level domain (ccTLD) dot UK.

  Whether current arrangements prevail, or the UKDA becomes a reality, it is my belief that the OFCOM bill provides a timely opportunity for the UK Government to make way for formal powers to be introduced that will allow it to ensure that this national resource is run in the interests of all concerned.

  When considering the future implications of convergence and the effect it will have upon the way in which the traditional mediums of print, radio, and even television will be delivered, not to mention the way in which we will communicate, it is easy to see just how dependent many of the mediums that OFCOM seeks to regulate will be upon the efficient running of the ccTLD dot UK and the domain name system that resides below.

  The implications of this upon the regulatory structure, which is now being shaped should NOT be underestimated.

  As such, while industry self-regulation is the way forward, there must in my opinion, be an ultimate authority with the powers to step in and redelegate control should it be deemed necessary.

Annex

THE UKDA—A FOUNDATION FOR THE FUTURE

INTRODUCTION

  In just under two decades the UK domain name system (DNS) has established itself as a national resource of the utmost importance to the British economy. PDN, a non-profit company, is spearheading a campaign to create a new self-regulatory body to lay the foundation for the imminent growth of the UK's domain name system. This new body would be more efficient, pro-consumer and pro-choice than current arrangements.

THE PRESENT POSITION

  The .uk domain is one of about 200 country code top level domains (ccTLDs). The ccTLD .UK was issued to the United Kingdom on the 24 April 1985. Since then six commercially available second level domains (SLDs) have been created. They are co.uk; org.uk; plc.uk; ltd.uk; net.uk; and sch.uk. Through an historical accident in 1996, the management of the UK's domain name system was assumed by a private monopoly called Nominet. Its members predominately consist of Internet service providers and other interested parties. Other than Nominet, there are presently no other commercial SLD operators in the UK.

  Not only does Nominet maintain the database of all available SLDs in the UK but it also sets the policy on whether to establish any new SLDs. In short, it is in charge of both the commercial running of the dot UK infrastructure and the regulation of policy—Nominet sets the rules and acts as judge.

  In 1999 an application procedure was developed to provide third party organisations with the opportunity to apply for the creation and management of a new SLD. In order to encourage the participation of the private individual and to improve the diversity of the dot UK namespace, PDN sought to establish a new SLD called me.uk.

  In a procedure that saw Nominet acting as co-bidder, regulator and bid adjudicator, Nominet despite being faced with a superior application awarded the contract to itself.

  As the potentially largest SLD [.me.uk] to have been created within the UK, Nominet has assumed total dominance over the dot UK namespace and has successfully established itself as the UK's sole "national operator".

  This application procedure is under investigation by the Office of Fair Trading.

THE SOLUTION

  It is believed that there should be a clear separation between the formation and regulation of policy and the running of a commercial operation.

  Following examples set by the Australian Government, the UK should look towards the establishment of a body capable of laying the foundation for the successful and imminent growth of the .uk namespace.

  Australia has established a new regime in which a self-funded and self-regulated body has assumed regulatory control over the ccTLD .au and everything below. This body is called the Australian Domain Administration (auDA). In order to introduce full and open competition into what was considered to be a closed market, this new body has put all existing SLDs out to public tender. Beyond the increased security a decentralised network brings, it is believed that this regulatory model provides the greatest value for every dollar spent on domain name registration services.

  This paper proposes a similar transparent self-regulatory regime in the UK—a ukDA. Under the approval of the UK Government, the ukDA would assume responsibility for the ccTLD .UK and be nationally responsible for the formation and regulation of all policies concerning the UK's domain name system and its day to day operation.

  The ukDA would not be responsible for the running of an SLD, since this would compromise its ability to remain impartial. Furthermore, to ensure that the ukDA remained truly representative of and responsive to the UK Internet community, membership would be granted to every single domain name registrant whom would be actively encouraged to participate in the regulatory regime.

  In short, the ukDA would:

    —  Ensure a clear separation between policy and commercial operations

    —  Introduce competition into an environment, which is presently controlled by one "network operator"

    —  Be subject to legislative and Judicial Review

    —  Derive income on a per domain name registered basis

    —  Periodically review the self regulatory system

    —  Improve industry confidence through the establishment of a national dispute resolution policy, consumer protection program and the introduction of a service level agreement.

OUR RECOMMENDATION

  At present there is no formal agreement between the UK Government and Nominet governing the management of the UK's domain name system. In view of its national importance, the UK Government should attain reserve powers that would allow it to assume and re-delegate control of the ccTLD, in the event that self regulation proved ineffective. For example, the ukDA would be subject to powers held by the Secretary of State or OFTEL or later OFCOM if it failed to:

    —  Promote an adequate level of competition

    —  Provide an acceptable balance between innovation and efficiency

    —  Operate in the Interests of all concerned.

  It is believed that the forthcoming OFCOM bill provides a timely opportunity for the Government to make way for formal powers to be introduced that will allow it to ensure that this national resource is run in the interests of the United Kingdom.

THE FUTURE

  The ukDA could also take the lead in forming a European wide body which, in cooperation with other continental bodies [eg Australasia] could merge to form a global authority, which unlike current arrangements would have no ties to any specific nation.

  At present ICANN, a US-based organisation, is responsible for the making of decisions that affect the global running of the Internet. ICANN is being consistently criticised by Civil Liberty Groups over its inability to act democratically. A body similar to the United Nations would be better placed to represent the interests of each nation on an equal and totally accountable basis.


 
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