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Who should have rights to direct .au names?

Kevin Murphy, October 10, 2017, Domain Registries

Australian ccTLD registry auDA wants to know what you think about its plans to open up .au to direct second-level domain registrations.

It’s no longer a question of if the change should happen, but how it should be implemented.

A public consultation launched yesterday poses a series of questions about issues such as grandfathering, trademark rights and banning certain strings from registration.

It’s already been decided that existing third-level .au registrants should get first dibs on the matching second-level, but auDA has yet to decide what the eligibility cut-off date should be and for how long the names should be reserved before being released for registration by others.

The cut-off date is important because auDA has already seen some data suggesting possible domain investor gaming.

There were 193,645 strings that were registered as third-level domains in two zones at April 18, 2016, when the direct registration policy was announced, but that had risen to 255,909 as of September 1 this year.

That could be indicative of speculators obtaining low-value domains in .net.au or .org.au in the hope of beating the matching .com.au registrant to the possibly more valuable direct second-level .au domain.

If the April 2016 date is used, up to 14% of .au registrations will be subject to competing claims. The data shows that 90% of the conflicts are between .net.au and .com.au domains.

auDA has declined to draw any conclusions about gaming, however, saying that many of the conflicts could be defensive registrations made by the same registrant.

Where there are conflicts, a number of solutions have been posed. Among them: the longest continuous registration, priority for .com.au registrants, auction or lottery.

The consultation paper spends little time discussing the rights of trademark owners, something submissions from the IP lobby will no doubt seek to rectify.

Many of the questions auDA is posing are similar to those posed by the likes of .uk’s Nominet in previous ccTLD consultations.

There’s an additional wrinkle in the .au system as many state government and educational entities are required to register fourth-level names. So auDA wants to know what kind of rights these guys should have too.

The consultation is open until November 10 and all the relevant information can be found here.

Nine registries fighting for .au contract

Kevin Murphy, October 4, 2017, Domain Registries

Nine domain name companies are battling it out for the right to run Australia’s .au ccTLD.

That’s according to auDA, the .au registry, providing an update on the latest stage of its “registry transformation” project today.

A decision on which company to select could be made as soon as a month from now, though the process does seem to be running a week behind schedule due to contenders asking for more time to write their tenders.

One company that will certainly have applied for the job is incumbent Neustar, which has been running .au for the last 15 years (through its relatively AusRegistry acquisition).

Having earlier indicated that it was looking for somebody to build an in-house registry, auDA later clarified (or U-turned) that it wanted to stick with an outsourced back-end provider.

The apparent decision to bring the service in-house came in for some criticism from some auDA members, which waned when it emerged outsourcing was the only solution on the table.

There are about 3.1 million .au domains today, and the back-end gets roughly $5 a year (USD) per name.

Grumpy campaign claims victory after auDA U-turns

Kevin Murphy, August 7, 2017, Domain Registries

Australian ccTLD administrator auDA has scrapped two unpopular policies following the ouster of its chairman last week, allowing campaigning domainers to claim victory.

auDA said it has done away with its member code of conduct and has reinstated its policy of publishing its board meetings’ minutes.

These were two of the key demands of Grumpy.com.au, a member-driven campaign orchestrated by domainer-blogger Ned O’Meara.

Grumpy had called for the unilaterally imposed code of conduct to be replaced by one created in consultation with members, and that’s what auDA is now promising.

auDA said:

A membership consultation process on a new Code of Conduct will be held, and a revised Code will be submitted to the 2017 AGM. A Code of Conduct for Board members will be developed as part of the next phase of governance work and members will have the opportunity to provide input prior to any final decisions.

The code banned members, under pain of losing their memberships, from harassing or abusing staff. But it also banned them from bad-mouthing the registry in public or via the media — effectively gagging criticism.

auDA also said it will reinstate the practice of publishing minutes. It had recently agreed to restore previously published minutes, but it appears than meetings in future will also be publicly minuted.

Reversing these two policies were two of four demands the Grumpy campaign had made.

Another, calling for the head of chairman Stuart Benjamin, was rendered moot when Benjamin, apparently fearing that he could not win a simply majority of votes, quit just a few days before a member vote was due to take place.

The fourth, which called for auDA to scrap its plan to build and operate an in-house registry infrastructure, also appears to be moot. The company now seems to be talking about outsourcing to a third-party back-end provider.

auDA had refused, citing legal reasons, to include anything but the vote of confidence in the chair on its agenda for last week’s special members meeting.

O’Meara, in a blog post Friday, welcomed the U-turns. He wrote:

Before a group of members ever took this massive step of calling a special meeting, we pleaded with auDA to sort these issues out. We were ignored; then rebuffed.

And here we are today – with every single resolution now resolved (hopefully) in the members favour.

That’s what you call a strategy that backfired spectacularly on auDA.

auDA also said that it has commenced the process of seeking out a new independent director/chair.

auDA chair quits days before vote to fire him

The chair of .au registry auDA has quit the job just three days before members were due to vote on a motion to fire him.

Stuart Benjamin, who took on the role in late 2015, faced a special member meeting on Monday that had just one resolution on its agenda:

That Stuart Benjamin be removed as a director of the Company with immediate effect.

Benjamin said today: “I have reached the view that there is no possible positive outcome for the organisation from the vote planned for Monday.”

That could mean he anticipated losing the vote, but it could also mean that he viewed a narrow victory as just as bad an outcome, optically, for auDA.

The confidence vote had been on the agenda due to a campaign at Grumpy.com.au organized by domainer/blogger Ned O’Meara.

Grumpy’s supporters reckon auDA has gone to the dogs over the last couple of years, with staff quitting or being fired en masse and an unwelcome culture of secrecy being imposed.

But Benjamin wrote:

As Chair I have overseen an increase in policy generation, in effective oversight, and in good governance.

We have also commissioned some of the largest member consultation projects in auDA’s history.

However, the auDA Board and members need to forge a different way of working together and I think there is a better chance for that to happen if I step away.

One bone of contention had been a new “code of conduct” that allowed auDA to revoke membership from any member who harassed or bullied staff.

Grumpy had opposed this measure because the code also included a gag order barring members from criticizing auDA in the media.

Benjamin took the opportunity to address this in his resignation announcement today, saying:

Everyone at auDA is open to robust criticism on strategy, policy and decision-making – that interaction makes us stronger. When that healthy engagement devolves into personal attacks on board members, the capacity of the organisation to attract and retain good people is affected.

I will continue to take a stand against cyber bullying and will not be deterred in standing up to anyone who thinks it is acceptable to personally attack staff and directors. I do not want my experiences to discourage others from running for election, or accepting an appointment, to this important organisation.

Another fractious issue, auDA’s decision to build a new in-house registry infrastructure, appears to have softened this week also.

The special general meeting is to proceed as planned on Monday. The only other items on the agenda are a CEO’s report and “any other business”.

Benjamin’s resignation letter to the .au community can be read here.

auDA now looking to outsource .au registry

Australian ccTLD overseer auDA appears to have softened its approach to overhauling the management of .au.

The organization said today that it’s now planning to look for an “outsourced registry operation” that will come online in July 2018.

In recent months, the company had been looking for suppliers to help it build a dedicated, in-house, .au infrastructure, in addition to keeping its outsourcing options open.

Today, auDA said that its recent request for expressions of interest had concluded. It said:

The [Registry Transformation Project] team have been very pleased with the strength of responses received and recommended to the auDA Board that auDA should proceed to the next stage of the project. The auDA Board subsequently resolved to undertake a formal Request for Tender (RFT) process. The RFT will be restricted to the respondents of the REOI with a scope to deliver an outsourced registry operation, based on auDA’s updated specifications, by July 2018.

It looks like any registry providers that did not get their foot in the door with the REOI are now permanently shut out of the process.

Additionally, it appears as though auDA has settled on an outsourced, rather than in-house, solution. Given the fact that the majority of the industry is based on service-based registry solutions, that had always seemed like a strong possibility.

auDA now plans to post a draft technical spec for comment August 14 and a formal request for tenders August 28, with a view to picking a winner in October/November for a July 2018 launch.

The company currently uses Neustar as its back-end due to Neustar’s 2015 acquisition of 15-year incumbent AusRegistry.

The names of the companies responding to the REOI, and their number, have not been disclosed.

auDA is currently facing a member revolt, partly but by no means exclusively over its decision to build an in-house registry. The company’s chair finds out whether members want him fired or not on Monday.