Sebastien Lahtinen is probably most well known for being behind the independent broadband advice website thinkbroadband.com which helps broadband users to get the most out of their broadband connection. He has also been involved in the policy development and governance processes of Nominet, and is a candidate in the current elections for a seat on the Nominet board.
What are the key challenges for Nominet in the next four years?
The next few years will be a critical time for Nominet as it looks to respond to the need for change. Nominet will face challenges both internally within its own organisation as well as externally.
No matter what happens in the current election for non-executive directors, the board that will take over responsibility for setting the strategy for the company will be quite young. Four of the non-executive directors will have joined the board in the last few weeks, including the new chair, and two of the current directors were elected only a year ago. This will have some positive effects as it will bring in new talent with new ideas, but it will also pose a significant challenge for the new board which needs to find its feet quickly. The board needs to ensure that the UK government remains satisfied that the company is well run and does not seek to serve the interests of just one stakeholder group.
Perhaps the strongest challenge for Nominet will be from generic top-level domains (gTLDs) such as “.music” or perhaps even “.london” which are expected to start becoming available in the not too distant future. These will encourage businesses and consumers to choose from a wider selection of TLDs, and thus may erode some of the demand for “.co.uk” domains. Increased choice is generally good for competition and in many ways this could be an opportunity for Nominet as well. It also needs to ensure that “.uk” is seen as a trusted space to host your website, a concept that is becoming increasingly important these days as consumers become more aware of all the scams that proliferate on the Internet.
I also expect the news few years to be a crucial point for ENUM – either it will take off as VoIP becomes more prevalent, or we may find that other protocols and technologies come in that replace the need for dialling telephone numbers in the traditional way. Awareness of ENUM is still very limited to a core of ‘techies’ rather than the general public. Getting registrars and telecommunications providers on board will be critical and an organised global approach may well help with this.
Nominet also needs to decide what it believes its role should be in Internet governance. The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) is approaching the end of its current mandate which will need to be reviewed. Nominet has been instrumental in the establishing of a UK IGF, to widen the scope of input into the international discussion, and is often looked at as an example of best practice.
What do you think of the governance changes?
The recent changes approved at the EGM earlier this year were crucial to ensuring that Nominet can continue to operate in a self-regulated environment. I have been a strong supporter of change to bring Nominet’s constitution up-to-date, including restructuring of the board to allow for a wider range of input, both executive and non-executive. This will help to build a stronger Nominet which can better respond to the demands of its members. There are some who still have doubts about the expansion of the board, but having already served alongside one of the directors we appointed to fill a vacancy previously, I am convinced that it is not necessary to have an ‘industry background’ to understand Nominet and its membership model; what one needs is good analytical and communications skills, and the ability to evaluate different stakeholders’ perspectives before reaching a decision. It is a role for someone who considers themselves a lifelong learner, not for those who want to mould Nominet into their own preconceived model of a company.
What can you do for Nominet?
I have a background in the Internet Service industry so I have a good understanding of how the Internet works and how technology is developing. I think this is an essential part of the board’s role as it needs to respond to new ideas and technologies. I also have a track record of looking after the interests of multiple stakeholders both in domain policy but also in areas such as broadband. I often find myself having to answer questions whilst wearing ‘different hats’, which can also be very useful in terms of finding solutions which cater for the needs in a multi-stakeholder environment.
As a director of LONAP, a member-owned Internet Exchange Point, I have had to ensure all members are treated fairly, whilst being able to respond appropriately to the individual demands of each member. Nominet is a very similar organisation in that it trades with its members, and it needs to do this efficiently and fairly. Having served a term on the Nominet board previously during what could only be described as the most difficult times in its history, I hope to bring some of those experiences to the board to help it continue its engagement with members, which was critical in securing the change in the governance.
The election of non-executive directors closes at noon on 6 July 2010. If you are a Nominet member, please vote.