A new UK nonprofit company organised to manage Internet domain names was being attacked even as it held its first general meeting last week. Called Nominet UK, the organisation next months starts to act as a sort of Internet postmaster in the UK, managing the servers that host all domain names that end in .UK. For this it will charge everyone who wishes to establish a new domain name -- for example, "newcompany.co.uk" -- a fee of around £100, plus about £50 per year maintenance.
A domain name is the Internet equivalent of a telephone number, note telecommunications industry officials. Individual addresses can be attached to the domain name -- for example, "firstname.lastname@example.org" -- much as a company's main phone number can have multiple extensions. Nominet's fees will be applied to domain names, not the individual addresses attached to them.
Nominet has about 100 members, which include the largest Internet service providers in the UK such as UUNet Pipex PLC, British Telecom PLC, and Demon Internet, as well as a host of smaller communications consultants.
However, not everybody agrees that control of domain names should be assumed by Nominet. A British lawyer, Nicholas Lockett, is lodging a complaint against Nominet with the European Commission's competition commissioner, Karel Van Miert, and is threatening to bring the matter before the British courts, according to Nominet officials. The EC has the power to disallow certain ventures it considers to be anticompetitive.
Lockett is accusing Nominet of exploiting its monopoly over domain name registration and maintenance to establish its payment scheme, according to Nominet officials.
Until now, domain names in the UK have been managed by the different Internet service providers and registration of a domain name was not billed to customers. However, creating domain names and maintaining data traffic to and from them does cost money, according to ISP members of Nominet. "Because we did not have an item on our bills called 'domain name' did not mean that we did not charge for them," says Richard Nuttall, director of electronic commerce at UUNet Pipex PLC, the UK's largest Internet service provider.
"We are a commercial organisation and of course we would have to charge for all services that we provide," he says. "It is absolutely necessary that somebody maintain the domain name addresses and the staff that manage that must be paid," he added.
The domain names that will be managed by Nominet will include all those ending in .co.uk, .org.uk, .ltd.uk, and .plc.uk.
NZ Net community faces same change