Nominet Proposing to Reform The .UK Drop

Nominet has opened a consultation looking at how to implement a more transparent process for informing registrars and the wider public when expired .uk domain names will be made available for re-registration. They are also considering different methods for releasing highly desired expired domains which are contested (i.e. there are multiple parties seeking to register the domain name).

This consultation comprises two areas for input:

  • Whether .uk domains should be made available for re-registration throughout the day at a specific point in time, based on the time stamp for the original registration, or be released at a specified single point in time, say 14:00 every day; and
  • Since a very small minority of .uk domains are intensely contested with multiple parties interested in re-registration, whether to alter the way in which Nominet release these domains. The options proposed are (1) auction model – two variations, and (2) economically controlled access to expiring domains.

Nominet, in their consultation paper, gives a few reasons against retaining the existing approach including the load placed on systems, difficulty in understanding process for those outside the industry and the current system unintentionally incentivises collusion between members to gain access to the DAC and avoid look up limits.

On the options for going forward, Nominet suggests two options: a registry auction or an economically controlled access to expiring domains. The only real negatives listed are it could be perceived to be a “profit raising” measure. Wait lists, landing pages, an expression of interest ballot and a Domain Availability Checker (DAC) fees are all considered but not viewed as being the way forward.

“Our 2019 consultation showed considerable support for a more transparent process,” said Eleanor Bradley, MD Registry & Public Benefit at Nominet. “It also raised wider questions on the release of expired domains for which there is intense competition and interest in registering. We felt strongly that changes should only be implemented after full consideration of the whole system. Having assessed a variety of options we are now inviting stakeholder feedback on our proposals.”

The current method of dealing with domain names expiring in the United Kingdom’s country code top-level domain (ccTLD) are made available on a first come, first registered basis for those eligible to participate, ie registrars.

If a .uk domain name is not renewed by its registrant, then it will be made available from 90 days after its expiry. For the first 30 days the domain name will function as normal and then it will be put into suspended state (i.e. no email associated with the domain will function, and it will not be possible to navigate to any website on the internet via that domain name).

In 2018 the average number of expired domains released for re-registration on each day was 4,849. The maximum number of domains released on any day was 9,534, the minimum was 1,255, the median was 4,701.

From 90 days from the expiry date domains that have not been renewed are released for re-registration randomly throughout a 24-hour period.

This creates demand for look ups using Nominet’s Domain Availability Checker (DAC) as registrars query whether domains have been released. This is particularly important when many registrars are attempting to register the same domain name, because the registrar which is first to register will be successful.

A DAC account is available only to registrars who are Nominet members, and costs £25 a year. There are system limits which provide for a maximum of 432,000 DAC queries over a 24-hour period, and 1,000 over 60 seconds.

Once a registrar knows that a domain can be registered, they can submit a registration request, generally this is done using Nominet’s EPP protocol. Frequently, registrars whose businesses focus on the re-registration of expired domains will additionally own or licence proprietary software in order to maximise the efficiency of their DAC query use and automate an EPP registration request.

When a domain name is registered it is placed on a registrar’s TAG. TAGs are currently available to members and non-members for free and there is no limitation on the number of TAGs. Each TAG is limited to six simultaneous connections to the EPP service. There is a limit on the number of failed EPP create requests that can be sent over a given time period (1,000 in any 24-hour period). An EPP create request will fail if the domain name is already registered.

In 2018, 1,769,802 .UK domain names were cancelled, of these:

  • ~13% (229,352) were re-registered within a year
  • ~5% (87,410) were re-registered within a day
  • ~0.7% (12,109) were re-registered in the same timestamp they were cancelled (i.e. within a second)

All stakeholders can submit consultation responses by 14 August 2020 and are also invited to attend a virtual roundtable to discuss these issues on Tuesday 11 August. Register at nominet.uk/roundtable

Interested parties can find out more about the consultation and submit responses here: nominet.uk/policy

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