back to article The Great British domain name rip-off: Overcharged .uk customers help pay for cheaper .vodka

UK domain name holders are being overcharged while the company behind it wins contracts by undercutting the market in what may be illegal market abuse. In recent months, Nominet has signed a number of contracts with commercial operators of dozens of internet extensions ranging from .boston to .vodka. More deals are in the …

  1. JonW
    Thumb Up

    Yes, but....

    ...will anything happen? A look into how this organisation operates is well overdue. They've been slowly pushing the boundaries for years and need a good, hard, slap, IMO.

    1. Andrew Moore

      Re: Yes, but....

      We need to do the same here in Ireland with the IEDR

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Yes, but....

      Quite. I have a domain name from the time before Nominet existed and was a reseller for a while when Nominet came into being. There was a time when they were a beacon of virtue shining out over the grubby land-grabbers. Unfortunately, if their virtue becomes easier, I fear the "solution" will simply be to sell it off with some "light touch" regulation that will change very little.

  2. Stretch

    Cross-subsidisation

    "where a company charges higher prices to one group of consumers to subsidise lower prices for another group."

    Sorry i thought this was called "living in the UK"

  3. Sebastian A

    It should just headquarter itself in the USA.

    Sure, it might pay a few actual dollars in tax, but at least these behaviours are praised as virtues there, being a shining example of capitalism and how "the market" sorts out everything if it's just left to regulate itself.

  4. The Mole

    Profit from day one

    Expecting a profit from day one seems a very strange expectation, the majority of the costs involved in running a system will be sunk up front costs - buying hardware, time and effort to make processes, install and setup configuration, automated systems so the clients can create new subdomains themselves etc (ignoring all the costs for performing the bids, getting contracts written, reviewed and signed). The ongoing running costs once this is done are likely to be pretty trivial in comparison (power and on-going maintenance). Unless you charge all of this work up front to the customer (unlikely given that they are outsourcing probably to avoid upfront capex costs) you have to go on a model where early investment is repaid by later revenue.

    The rest of the article makes good points though, what is the expected return on investment and how optimistic are the models?

  5. Vince

    Well colour me surprised.

    Nominet members (who are being increasingly squeezed into insignificance with the slow erosion of any way for voices to be heard) have been objecting to all of this for some time. It is quite clear that Nominet intends to be a normal commercial outfit, and we can look forward to pricing becoming ridiculous just as soon as they can get themselves out of the current non-profit regime.

    It's also pretty obvious as the reserves held by Nominet are excessive for operations purely as the .uk operator and were for a long time - and it is was obvious to anyone who has been around for more than 5 minutes what is going on.

    The reputation of Nominet is poor, so it will come as no surprise that the ethics and behaviour are similarly poor.

  6. Netscrape

    When they added the .uk domain to the .co.uk domain, they were effectively holding domain owners to ransom.

    It's amusing that it is illegal for me to register variants of domains and then go to the owner of the original domain and ask for cash. This is what Nominet did with the .uk addition.

    This extra cash would have given them quite a war chest to grow the business.

    1. Wayland Bronze badge

      Yes they made it easy to find oneself owning a .uk domain name for free. It made sense to stop cybersitting but should one actually make use of this handy free service? I have one customer who preferred the .uk name but generally .co.uk is an established tradition. Now do I let them lapse and hand them to the cybersitters or do I keep them?

  7. Mage Silver badge
    Pirate

    .uk expensive rip off?

    You should see the price the Irish "non-profit" organisation charges for a .ie domain, I don't know of any more expensive ordinary country domains for a local business.

    feayiyo.co.uk Available €7.95

    feayiyo.uk Available €7.95

    feayiyo.ie Available €19.95

    There are "cheaper", even "free" but usually introductory or part of a hosting package

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: .uk expensive rip off?

      Not sure if the Philippines counts as an "ordinary" country... it's certainly not sort out like .tv, .io etc.

      feayiyo.ph would set you back €34 so count yourself lucky mate!

    2. caffeine addict Silver badge

      Re: .uk expensive rip off?

      The fact that someone else is getting shafted harder is rarely of any comfort when you get told to bend over...

  8. AndrueC Silver badge
    Unhappy

    I've often wondered why .me.uk isn't cheaper. Looking around now it seems to be the same price as .co.uk and .org.uk. I suppose it's an improvement on when I first registered my domain. Back then (shortly after introduction) it was cheaper to register a .com :-/

    Is it an attempt to avoid companies registering it? Surely the answer there is just to police it better.

    1. Wayland Bronze badge

      "Surely the answer there is just to police it better." yeah they will do that if there is money in it. There is money in letting people cybersit and money in people buying the name to prevent cybersitting. If it was policed then that's a lots sale.

  9. Tony S

    Biased

    Have to confess that I'm biased against Nominet.

    I had them screw me around for about 6 months over a domain name that was not being used, but owned by a company in receivership (cost us nearly £1,000 in the process). Then on the day that the name became available again, one of their members registered it before we were able to; and then he demanded we pay £5,000 to buy it from him.

    The worst part; they did sell it to someone else (apparently for £2,000), who are still not using it.

    My view is that they are on a par with the sleaziest of second hand car dealers. Long overdue for cleaning house and make the system work as it should for the people registering domains, not just for Nominet's pals to make money.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Do not mis-type '.co.uk'

    I saw this mentioned before (here I think) - there's people who have bought the typosquats for .co.uk, e.g. .xo.uk (not AFAICT related to XO) and .vo.uk which have a wildcard DNS entry so you go to what are never guaranteed to be 'clean' pages and the biggest question is why Nominet let that happen because the registrant is in Carson effing City in the US and really can't claim to be a genuine UK business even if their contact address is an ad agency in Godalming.

    I thought there were supposed to be rules to stop people speculatively buying domains and here are obvious examples of exactly that.

    1. Wayland Bronze badge

      Re: Do not mis-type '.co.uk'

      The rules would reduce sales. Not by much since as soon as you own xo.uk you can set up the hostnames for free. No where near as lucrative as .UK.

  11. Mr Anonymous

    You missed to Primary/Only reason for this behaviour.

    Senior staff performance related pay.

    Senior staff performance related pay.

    Senior staff performance related pay. Hope this is clear.

    The 3 top nobbs (or is it knobs, can't remember the spelling) received a nice bonus running the .UK monopoly.

    2013 PRP = £100K

    2014 PRP = £137K

    2015 PRP = £196K

    Mr Howarth received £210K in addition to his £75K cut of PRP. I supposed we should be happy as this is less than the £325K Cowley received in her last year.

    Anyone want to guess what they'll receive post the .UK launch this year?

    Very simply, the more profit Nominet makes, the more the Senior Staff, there's just 3 seats on the gravy train, personally benefit in their pockets.

    Members get no benefit, in fact last time there was a proposal to distribute the profits to the members the majority of members voted _against_ it. The very large members can only be overruled in this type of vote as it's a one member one vote system for this change to articles.

    Following, the big members and the board hatched a co-marketing subsidy as a way to make those with large marketing budgets a bit happier and to offer registrations at a lower rate so they don't have to deal with a lot of smaller member accounts.

    The wider public didn't gain anything from the .UK launch, in fact the feedback was that only a few wanted it, small business, real non-profits, charities & Joe public didn't want it. Small members didn't want it, but the jump in receipts will be very handy for the performance related pay calculations.

    I they could, most members would vote to take Nominet back in time, to what is was a few years ago, smaller, focused on UK domains and responsive to what people need. IE cheap names easily registered and easy to administer if your big brand reseller tries to take you for a ride.

    1. Wayland Bronze badge

      Re: You missed to Primary/Only reason for this behaviour.

      In principle it would be nice to shorten co.uk to .uk and that's how it was marketed. I thought that 123-reg would simply mirror anything I did on .co.uk into .uk without me having to do anything. I thought that practically they were the same domain.

      It turns out they are entirely separate and the .uk names were mass generated based on .co.uk domains. I've not seen them do this before except when you seek a name and it offers alternative top levels like .eu and .biz.

      It really is nothing more than a scam based on the threat of losing the name. Had they never created .uk in the first place no one would have missed it.

  12. Karl Austin

    Hardly surprising...

    ...this is what certain members, myself included have been complaining about for a long time. Nominet developing products and services using money received from members and then competing against those members and other commercial entities.

  13. andy 103 Silver badge

    Overhaul the entire domain purchase/renewal system

    The whole business of domain ownership and registration needs a massive overhaul.

    One thing that really needs addressing is domain squatting - i.e. registering domains you have no use for, in order to try and sell them to the highest bidder. In my view you shouldn't be allowed to register domains and then just sit on them. It should be a first come, first served basis. If you own a domain name, you should either be using it, or not have it - simple.

    So what if you want to register a domain for your new product/service that you just haven't quite got round to finishing yet? Well, tough. If you haven't got said product/service ready, why should you be allowed to hold a domain from someone who might?

    Same goes with renewals and domain hijacking. If it's up for renewal, there should be a system (with redundancy) which reminds owners well in advance. If they don't re-register them, go back to step 1...first come, first served.

    You also shouldn't be seeing massive profits from any regulator involved in this, since it is inherently an "at cost" type of venture, unless something dodgy is going on.

  14. Terry 6 Silver badge

    Purely naive but...

    Reading this article out of general interest, ( so disinterested, but not uninterested), it felt like I'd wandered into a sequel to Alice-in-Wonderland.

    I'd suspect that most people would vaguely assume that the whole domain name thing was run by a publicly responsible organisation, on behalf of users. That domain names were registered at operating cost for the benefit of users. That names would be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis, but with reservation for well known names or adjudication against abuse by resale squatters (touts) including requiring something close to a "face-value" price.

    But apparently that would be too easy. Instead, it appears that there is a whole industry making loads-of-money for just assigning a recognisable list of letters(i.e. names), with a required domain, to a string of numbers, then recording it. How did this come about? This is a service that ought to be like the Post Office (maybe as it used to be in the Good Old Days), not the Mafia

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Purely naive but...

      "This is a service that ought to be like the Post Office (maybe as it used to be in the Good Old Days), not the Mafia"

      To be honest it reads like a replay of what happened in New Zealand with their domain registry company back in 1998-2000. You have to wonder how many of the same people are involved in the background.

    2. Wayland Bronze badge

      Re: Purely naive but...

      I would say it's OK to operate this as a business but as the comment below puts it they are operating it like a mafia. As well as the service which we are happy to pay for they are generating situations where we are forced to buy something we don't want just so no one else can have it.

      It could be worse. They could put your domain name up for auction to the highest bidder. There you are running your shop but every few months you have to out bid your competitors for your domain name.

  15. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    Not expected?

    New top-level domains have sold in far fewer numbers than anyone in the industry expected and have already caused a number of companies to close down.

    I know this is normal marketing droid on acid fare (or just standard dumb VCs), but bidding millions for TLDs that have a very limited scope and most existing potential users within the scope already have a perfectly working existing domain name is rather dumb. Particularly as the existing domains are already out there printed on marketing materials, brochures, websites, business and all that.... and for some reason the normal person or company won't want to spend more for something pointless?

    1. Wayland Bronze badge

      Re: Not expected?

      The biggest selling point of the new TLDs is not to widen the choice but to increase the risk to existing businesses. The idea was isellfridges.co.uk would have to buy isellfridges.uk isellfridges.biz isellfridges.me and so on seemingly without limit. They shot themselves in the foot because in the old days you might have bought 3 others if you were paranoid but there are so many now that it's not a viable option. No one is going to buy isellfridges.tv and claim they are the real one when isellfridges.co.uk exists.

  16. Alan Brown Silver badge

    FOI law

    States that FOI applies to government entities, those contracted to government entities AND - at the determination of the secretary of state - private organisations which perform functions that would otherwise be done by the government (which is why ACPO - a private limited company - finally agreed to submit to FOI coverage. It was that or the ICO would have declared them covered. It also covers most professional disciplinary bodies, etc)

    The technicality of Nominet's control of .uk is that it gets to do it as long as the UK government is prepared to allow it to do so. That's enough to get a determination process started.

  17. bed

    and if Scotland becomes independent...

    Will there still be a 'uk'? Maybe all the domains would have be renamed using the acronym generated from 'former united kingdom'.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    minor factual correction...

    "gave any .co.uk owner the right to their .uk equivalent for two years"

    actually, it was FIVE years, though if they went back on that and adjusted / cancelled it now, I would not be too shocked or surprised. I'm just going to let my .uk domains expire and recommend clients never bother with them. Nominet made things so damned complicated with IPStags and their own expectations that users would have some login...

    I took up a free .uk with 123-reg and have just looked into renewing with another firm (since 123-Reg has increased its charges) and only then found an article in El Reg from 2014 about some damn exit fee (OK, IPStag change fee, imposed by 123-Reg... I have not actually checked if it is still in place, but I can do without the .uk anyway, for my own business, and was just looking into the costs so I know what it will cost clients).

  19. LordVarys

    Power is a curious thing.

    Nominet has been changing for many years so no one should be surprised by this article and their continued actions.

    As someone within the walls of Nominet the ethos that was established by Dr Willy Black is becoming almost non-existent, the great service people have known us for still exists to some extent, and the vast majority of staff work hard to try and keep it that way, but the pressure of constant restructures that have seen many long serving members of staff booted out the door has had its impact on staff morale, and many of us now understand that no matter what we do or how we do it Nominet the commercial entity does not have our best interest at heart.

    This is not just a disgruntled staff member having a moan, it is a honest reflection of how the company has moved very quickly away from its traditional values to a set of commercial goals where a select few (CEO and C-Team) financially benefit by aggressively attacking the market at the cost of its long-term loyal customer base. The leadership team has an agenda, and unless someone, or some official body who understands the domain demographic steps in to scrutinise them, Russel and Simon will steer the ship into waters it can’t return from, and while they move on in their egotistical careers we will all be left wishing we pushed harder for real intervention.

  20. gavme

    Is it time for someone to submit a request to https://petition.parliament.uk/ to get Nominet investigated properly?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My experience (holding a few hundred domains) they've effed up badly a few times. Incompetently managing a database of only 10 million records doesn't need the hundreds of well paid staff they allegedly employ. As for these additional TLDs - they're going to screw up on that job too.

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