Registry RFI seeks proof of ability

The request for information (RFI) for InternetNZ's planned new shared domain name registry system (SRS) is really a request for bidders to offer evidence of their expertise, says implementation manager Doug Mercer.

The request for information (RFI) for InternetNZ’s planned new shared domain name registry system (SRS) is really a request for bidders to offer evidence of their expertise, says implementation manager Doug Mercer.

“It’s not a request for someone to propose a registry system design at this stage.”

Some InternetNZ members have complained that the request for information is being issued prematurely, before detailed requirements and a technical architecture have been specified.

But this will be the job of the company that is appointed after the RFI and a subsequent request-for-proposal (RFP) stage, says Mercer. The RFI was issued at this time to allow for a technical architect to be contracted by early in the new year. When the architecture is in place “we intend to validate it with an extensive prototyping exercise”, then proceed to detailed design and implementation.

The SRS proposal arose from a study of the current registration process and what should replace it, conducted by a committee headed by John Hine of Victoria University.

Its final document, “the Hine report”, put forward a number of general principles: that there should be a competitive market among registries; that barriers to entry should be as low as possible; that the system should encourage a lowering of the costs of registration; and that it should protect the interests of the domain-name owner (the registrant).

A core element of this last aspect is that the registrant should be free to change registrars easily and without penalty. There have been cases under the old system of a registrar claiming control of the name — in at least one case, according to Mercer, terminating the owner’s rights as a result of delayed payment and reassigning the name to another organisation.

“Other shared registries overseas don’t have that degree of freedom for the registrant,” Mercer says. New Zealand is establishing a substantially new direction.

Careful balances have to be struck, he says, between having the barriers too high and four or five big registrars dominating the market, and on the other hand letting everyone in and producing some non-viable registrars, “who will go bust within two months”.

Lessons were learned from the electricity market’s problems, Mercer says. “We don’t want to produce something like that, with people not getting bills, and as a result being ‘cut off’, and customers not knowing who their supplier is.”

The normal billing cycle will be monthly, with registrars charged by the central registry according to the number of domain names held. But registrants will be allowed to pay for several months or several years at once.

As part of the business rules, registrars will be obliged to pass the full amount of such long-term payments to the registry in one hit, to avoid registrants being cut off by a registrar “investing” the money to fund its own operation, and then failing.

The system to be developed will simply handle the maintenance of the register itself. InternetNZ expects the IT for billing, accounting and customer service to fall well within the range of an off-the-shelf package.

InternetNZ members have also complained of no longer being consulted on the evolution of the system. The membership has had its say, says Mercer, and the InternetNZ team is still consulting with direct stakeholders, such as potential registrars. “The people complaining are not stakeholders and that’s why they’re left out,” he says.

“There comes a time when you have to finish the consultation and roll your sleeves up and start work.”

Meanwhile, a report on the existing system, known as DRS, and what went wrong with it, is currently in the hands of the InternetNZ council, which is considering “certain legal matters relating to its publication”, says Domainz chief Derek Locke. These include the possibility of allegations of defamation being made about some of its contents, he confirms, though there are other elements of the report which, if publicised “could compromise our current work”.

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