Digital Economy Bill: Nominet provisions. Should the government be able to step in and take over the Internet domain registry? If so, under what conditions?


The final stages of  the House of Lords examination of  the Digital Economy Bill  saw their lordships arguing over  a clause which will give the government the power to take over the Internet domain registry in cases where there has been a "serious failure" .


The government wants the provision (in Clause 18)  because the Internet is now so important for the UK economy.  One would asssume that the concern relates to the management of the domain servers by the registry, and ensuring that they do not become sloppy resulting in network failures for consumers downstream. However, the government has not specified that

purpose and the concern is that it could abuse the power to take over the running of the Internet.


Lord Lucas and the Earl of Errol were  concerned that commercial interests could put  pressure on the government to take over  a registry to support their business needs.


Lord de Mauley (Conservative) asked what is "serious"? The definition in the Bill only says that it must harm the reputation of the network operator, or harm the interests of consumers. He  called for the Bill to include an obligation for the government to consult on this matter, such that it cannot be used as an arbitrary measure.


Lord Howard of Rising (Conservative) asked whether this was nationalisation of the domain registry, because the provision specifies the right for  the government to appoint a manager to take over the registry. Domain registries are  private companies under UK law, and one concern is that once the government has its own ‘manager' to take over from the company directors, he could potentially interfere with other parts of the company operations. .


The government said that it would be a reserve power only, and only used in extreme situations. It  accepted amendments to ensure that the clause only affects domains which are clearly linked to the UK economy, and not to non-UK  web domains.  The main registry affected will be Nominet, which runs the domain.


The question is whether the government should have the right to take over what is effectively a part of  the essential infrastructure for an industry. I wonder if there are any precedents to this. Can the government step in and take over a key institution in the banking industry, or the energy sector?

The debate on Clause 18 Internet domain registry provisions is available online. 

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial-Share Alike 2.5 UK:England and Wales License. It may be used for non-commercial purposes only, and the author's name should be attributed. The correct attribution for this article is: Monica Horten (2010) What is a serious failure of an Internet registry? 4 February 2010