Nominet to bid for expanded role

UK registry owner Nominet will bid for a role linking the UK's phone network to the Internet, thanks to a crucial vote this morning.

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UK registry owner Nominet will bid for a role linking the UK's phone network to the Internet, thanks to a narrow victory in a crucial vote.

Nominet changed its direction - and potentially that of the UK's Net infrastructure - at an extraordinary general meeting in Oxford this morning. The company asked its members to approve an expansion from its role running the database for all .uk domains, and scraped approval - by just 0.97 percent.

The not-for-profit company had asked for greater business freedom so it can, among other things, bid for the national ENUM contract that will be put out to tender by the end of the year. ENUM is a system for connecting the old phone network to the internet's domain name system, with the potential of making the internet accessible in more ways than ever before.

Under its strict company rules, Nominet needed a punishing 90 percent approval from members for the measure to go through. The result in the end hinged on just one or two of Nominet's 3,000 members voting in favour to give it the 90.97 percent pass mark, and left behind a notably relieved Board and staff.

"I am excited, relieved and very pleased," Nominet CEO Lesley Cowley told us after the meeting."Now we can take Nominet forward in the direction members have asked us to take it forward." Nonetheless, she stressed that there was not going to be radical change overnight. "We will go for ENUM but we are sticking with our core skillset," she said.

Chairman Bob Gilbert said that a large amount of frustration "is now to some extent removed, and we can now move on." And Board member Alex Bligh told us: "I'm very glad we've finally got these resolutions through. I hope it will now open up new opportunities and help Nominet go forward in future."

Now the measure has passed, Nominet is free to bid for ENUM, as well as for the .eu domain contract when it is up for renewal. The decision also leaves the path clear for more ambitious efforts in the future, including the expansion of the IP address system, Autonomous System numbers, port allocations and digital object identifiers.

At the same time, approval was also given with a resounding 96.66 percent yes vote to Nominet being allowed to carry out electronic votes of members. Previously, Nominet was legally obliged to send out paper ballots and only count those that returned by paper - a ridiculously situation for an organisation at the heart of Internet technology, and one that has consistently caused extremely low voter turnouts.

It's a very different situation to the previous EGM that Nominet held in March when the Board attempted to push through a long list of changes and was roundly defeated by a large number of concerned members. That failure sparked eight months of meetings and in the end Nominet decided to push forward with just these two crucial measures to rebuild trust with its membership and enable it to move on. It will deal with the other issues of voting levels, corporate structure and director renumeration at a later date.

There are still tricky times ahead, however. A review of Nominet's dispute resolution process for deciding rights over domain names is proving contentious, and some members remain concerned about Nominet straying into areas of business that may see them compete with the organisation.

There is also a rich seam of interest in the money that Nominet makes - as a not-for-profit company protected from the madness of the past decade by its restrictive rules, Nominet has a huge fund of surplus money on its hands that it trying to figure out what to do with. Unsurprisingly, there are a few people with ideas...

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