Our recent consultation on how we release expired domains has now closed. The consultation invited feedback on a range of options that we felt would result in a more transparent process for informing registrars and the wider public when an expired domain will be made available for re-registration and crucially how highly contested domains would be released. These are the less than 1% of domains – about 12,0000 a year – which are highly sought after.
We are very grateful to everyone who took the time to respond to our proposals – 107 contributions were received in total. Inputs were predominantly received from representatives of businesses in the domain name industry, including drop–catchers and retail registrars, but we also heard from the IP community, those representing consumer interests and wider civil society organisations. During the consultation we also received a petition by some members many of whom also provided their feedback directly into the consultation process.
It’s important to acknowledge that this has been a contentious topic, with real concern expressed about the policy substance of the consultation itself, and also how we might operationally implement any outcome following the consultation.
While I said this in my last blog on this topic, it is worth restating that we did not have a predetermined outcome in mind when the consultation was launched but what was clear to us was that the current system needed to be improved.
We will publish the formal report of the consultation in due course but in the meantime, I wanted to make our direction of travel known as soon as possible.
Firstly, we will not pursue an auction model. While a proportion of responses from a wide range of sectors including the drop–catching market supported this approach, the prevailing view was this is not the role of the Registry.
Secondly, we remain of the view that some change is not only beneficial, but necessary. While many contributors and commentators felt the status quo should be retained, this would mean the current incentives to circumvent our acceptable use policies (AUPs) would remain. There is no direct, practical way to address collusion or circumvent system rules, so some change is required. Addressing this issue, raised by concerned members, was a key driver for our proposals.
Introducing a new approach for those that wish to drop–catch names where participants can purchase connections is the option we will pursue further. This makes behind the scenes collusion unnecessary, thereby maintaining the integrity of our membership model. The decision to purchase this initial access to dropping domains – covering the first few minutes of availability – will be based on the business case for each registrar. As a result, expired domains will continue to be available to anyone participating on a first come, first served basis, at the standard wholesale price. And if a domain is not registered during this initial period it will then be available for registration by all registrars on the current terms (so those registrars who are not interested in competing in the highly competitive drop–catching market are not financially impacted by the proposed change).
The operational details though are critical – if the cost to participate is too high this will unduly reduce competition in the market. If drop–catching is restricted to members and the limit on connections available are too low this will incentivise the creation of ghost tags, essentially just reshaping the current issue. We now need to work through this detail to ensure there are no unintended consequences but the thinking behind our ultimate proposals will remain driven by creating an orderly, clear and fair approach and not by any financial agenda.
The practical detail of introducing drop lists – whether domains are released at a single point in time or at a specified time over a longer period – will also form part of this next phase. The approach we adopt will influence the requirements for connections and related AUPs and those dependencies mean we need to look closely at the operational details.
Getting this right is important to us, and equally important to our members. We are dedicating time at our forthcoming AGM to discuss our approach and we will also hold a webinar later next month to gather further views on how we move forward.
Finally, I’d like to say that when this process does conclude, we’ll make sure any changes to the current system won’t happen overnight – we’ll give plenty of notice for registrars to adapt.