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Aussie ccTLD surges under coronavirus lockdown

Australia’s .au ccTLD may have been in decline recently, but it saw a surge in new domain registrations during its coronavirus lockdown, according to registry stats.

auDA said that 48,754 new .au domains were registered in April, a more than 23% increase on its April 2019 number.

The registry called this leap “the biggest month for new domain name creations we’ve seen in a while”. It averages about 40,000 per month, with seasonality.

The overall number of extant registrations was down a bit to 3,168,883, but auDA chalks this up to the expiration of domains registered during registrar promotions a year ago.

Australia was under its lockdown, which was less severe than in other countries, for the whole month of April. The measures were put in place March 21 and relaxed last week.

Numbers for March show a year-over-year decline of 1.4% in new adds.

While auDA does not attribute its April growth to lockdown, I think the numbers show that the movement restrictions imposed certainly didn’t hurt .au’s business.

New CEO to step into the lion’s den at auDA

Kevin Murphy, January 14, 2020, Domain Registries

Australian ccTLD manager auDA has named its next CEO: Rosemary Sinclair, current CEO of Energy Consumers Australia.

She’ll join the organization in March, about nine months after the last guy, Cameron Boardman, quit after enduring three years of controversy.

Sinclair appears to come from the consumer side of the house. As well as being a “demand-class” member of auDA, she’s also the founding CEO of ECA, which was set up to represent the rights of Australian energy customers.

She’s been involved in auDA before, sitting as a non-executive director from 2009 to 2011, and was also involved heavily in the ICANN community around the same time.

She joins the organization at a time of change, with controversial initiatives such as the release of second-level .au domains on the horizon. She’s unlikely to get an easy ride; auDA members can be a vocal, activist bunch at times.

Sinclair is a Member of the Order of Australia, an honorific handed out by the Queen, meaning she gets to put AM after her name.

She’s NOT the octogenarian former Miss Australia that pops up first when you Google her name, as much as this headline-writer wants her to be.

Claims auDA boss quit after he was busted for “falsified” law degree

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2019, Domain Registries

Former auDA CEO Cameron Boardman abruptly left the .au registry overseer after his chair claimed he had falsely claimed to have a law degree from a prestigious university, it has been reported.

Citing a letter from then-chair Chris Leptos to Boardman from earlier this year, The Australian reported last week that Leptos “alleged the then-CEO falsified his academic record by including a master of laws degree (LLM) from La Trobe University”.

The CEO had denied the claims, the paper indicated.

Boardman and Leptos both quit shortly after the allegations arose.

Boardman resigned in July after a tumultuous three years in the job which saw him navigate governance and policy controversies and narrowly survive a member vote of confidence.

Leptos had quit just a couple of weeks earlier, reportedly after a disagreement with Boardman about unspecified governance issues.

No specific reasons were given by auDA for either resignation.

Questions about Boardman’s qualifications had been raised as early as April 2018 in a freedom of information request that was ultimately unsuccessful because the government was not in possession of the documents requested.

auDA is currently being chaired on an interim basis by director Suzanne Ewart, while other members of the executive team are looking after the CEO’s functions.

Second-level .au names delayed

Kevin Murphy, August 21, 2019, Domain Registries

If you’re champing at the bit to grab yourself some second-level .au domain names, you’re going to have to wait a little longer.

Australian ccTLD manager auDA said today that it is delaying the controversial release by three months, to give it more time to carry out public outreach.

In a statement, interim chair Suzanne Ewart said that “it is critically important that the changes are widely understood, backed by an education program and supported by robust business processes throughout industry.”

The original plan had been to been to make 2LDs available in a staggered manner starting at some point in the fourth quarter. The delay will push the release into 2020.

The proposed launch has been controversial among the domain investment part of the auDA membership, which largely believes that it could lead to confusion with the existing three-level structure of the .au space.

Now auDA loses its CEO too

The CEO of Australian ccTLD registry auDA has quit, just weeks after the organization’s chair resigned.

Cameron Boardman submitted his resignation yesterday, according to a statement.

Former chair Chris Leptos also quit last month, reportedly after a disagreement with Boardman.

Boardman said he wants “to seek new challenges”.

His functions will be carried out by other members of the executive team while a replacement is sought by the board.

Boardman joined as CEO in March 2016, after 16-year veteran Chris Disspain was fired.

For much his tenure, auDA has been beset by controversy, with fights between the board and members leading to government review, several board resignations, police investigation, and a seemingly endless series of tit-for-tat allegations.

Boardman was among four auDA directors who survived a no-confidence vote brought by domain investors last year.

auDA reveals cut-off date for 2LD priority

Australian ccTLD manager auDA has revealed how old your .com.au domain has to be to qualify for priority registration of the matching second-level .au domain.

If you registered your current domain before February 4, 2018, you will get “category 1” priority. Names registered after that are considered “category 2”.

The categories will come into play when auDA makes direct 2LDs registrations available at some point in the fourth quarter this year.

Category 1 domain owners will have until April 20 next year to catch their match, then category 2 owners get until August 1.

It’s a much speedier process than the five-year grandfathering period Nominet offered in .uk domains.

After the priority periods are over, all unclaimed .au domains will be released to the available pool.

Brand owners, domain investors, and actually basically anyone who owns a .com.au or .org.au domain has a little over 13 months to make their mind up whether they want to run the risk of confusion with a third-party owner of a very similar domain.

Pricing is the same as third-level domains, so opting in to the 2LD basically doubles the price of participating in .au ownership.

auDA’s draft rules for the process can be read here (pdf).

auDA chair racks off after just 18 months

Australian ccTLD manager auDA has lost its chair, again.

Chris Leptos quit abruptly, for undisclosed reasons, earlier this week.

He’d been in the job since November 2017, when he replaced Stuart Benjamin, who had resigned shortly before facing a no-confidence vote from members.

Leptos himself survived a similar attempted ousting last July, despite losing the “popular vote” of members.

auDA’s brief statement does not say why he’s resigned, but notably absent from the release is the usual set of boilerplate quotes talking up the successes of the departed’s tenure, which are pretty standard when a resignation is amicable.

Aussie domain blogger David Goldstein is reporting that Leptos had a disagreement about “governance issues” with CEO Cameron Boardman at a board meeting this week, which led to Leptos filing his resignation letter.

auDA has come under almost-daily criticism for the duration of Leptos’ spell in the chair. Many members are not happy with initiatives such as the registry back-end handover, the imminent release of second-level domains, and myriad general governance and transparency issues.

Leptos has been nothing if not confrontational in return.

During his tenure, a story alleging lavish spending by former directors (including one of auDA’s chief critics) was placed in the national media, and Leptos’ board referred an unspecified number to the Victoria Police.

Leptos has been replaced on an interim basis by Suzanne Ewart, an independent director, while his permanent replacement is sought.

Second-level .au domains ARE coming soon

Australian ccTLD manager auDA has given itself approval to start selling .au domains at the second level for the first time.

auDA said today that it plans to lift its third-level-only rule in the fourth quarter this year.

The date of October 1 has been penciled in, but auDA said it will release more details as the time approaches.

There will be a grandfathering policy in place for existing registrants of 3LDs under the likes of .com.au and .org.au, but its deadlines are much tighter than the policies in, for example, .uk.

Under the published rules (pdf), registrants who owned 3LDs in .au before a cut-off date will get first dibs on the matching 2LD.

That priority period will end April 1, 2020.

After that, registrants who bought their .au names between the cut-off date and now will get also get priority, until August 1, 2020.

The cut-off date has yet to be determined by the auDA board of directors.

After the priority period is over, all unclaimed domains will be available to register by anyone.

You’re basically looking at six to 10 months of grandfathering rights, compared to the five years Nominet offered in when it made direct 2LD registration possible in .uk.

The 2LD policy has been four years in the making, and has courted controversy along the way.

Domain investors in particular have complained, worried that 2LDs will cause confusion and dilute the value of their 3LD investments.

auDA rejects domaining ban but approves second-level domains

Kevin Murphy, April 16, 2019, Domain Policy

Australian ccTLD registry auDA has rejected a proposal that would have essentially banned domainers from the .au space.

In response to recommendations of its Policy Review Panel, auDA management said that the PRP “has not provided any evidentiary material” that so-called “warehousing” is harmful.

It further concluded that the policies proposed for monitoring and rooting out suspected domainers would disproportionately increase compliance costs for both registrants and auDA itself.

In management’s response (pdf) to the PRP, auDA wrote that the ban would make investors second-class citizens when compared to powerful trademark owners:

The warehousing prohibition appears to disproportionately target domain investors as the licence portfolios or holdings of trademark and brand owners will be excluded under the PRP proposal. This proposal elevates the rights of trademark and other intellectual property owners over other licence holders in the .au domain, which may give rise to issues of market power and anti-competitive practices. Management believes that further information is required to assess whether the net benefit to the community of prohibiting warehousing in respect of a class of registrants outweighs the competition issues. For these reasons Management believes that there should be no change to the existing policy position.

It added:

Management does not support the PRP recommendation for a resale and warehousing prohibition for the reasons set out earlier. The proposed test for determining whether a registrant has contravened the resale and warehousing prohibition will increase compliance costs for registrants and administration, monitoring and enforcement costs for auDA. These costs may be disproportionate to the risk or severity of the harm to the community from warehousing and the cost of a licence in the .au domain.

Not only did it decide not to crack down on domainers, but auDA also plans to make their lives a little easier by updating current eligibility policy to explicitly state that parking, or “monetization”, is permitted.

To ensure there is no ambiguity or reliance on interpreting ‘content’, auDA management has recommended an additional allocation criteria can be applied to com.au and net.au which would include that a domain name could be used for the purpose of pay-per-click or affiliate web advertising/ lead generation, or electronic information services including email, file transfer protocol, cloud storage or managing Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

It’s a comprehensive win for domainers, such as those represented by the Internet Commerce Association, which had been outraged by the PRP’s findings.

It’s less good news when it comes to the perhaps more controversial plans to allow direct, second-level registrations under .au.

auDA has decided to go ahead with these longstanding plans, which domainers worry will promote confusion and dilute the value of their third-level .com.au portfolios.

The new draft plans (pdf) for the launch of 2LDs would see existing 3LD registrants given “priority status” to register the exact-match 2LD.

There would be a six-month application window for registrants to lodge their claims, beginning October 1 this year.

If the .com.au version and .org.au version, for example, were owned by different parties, the registrant with the earliest registration date would have priority.

After the application window closed, any unclaimed domains would be made available on a first-come, first-served basis.

These rules, and all the results of auDA’s response to the PRP, are open for public comment until May 10.

ICA opposes Aussie domaining ban

Kevin Murphy, April 10, 2019, Domain Policy

The Internet Commerce Association has weighed in to the debate about whether domain investing should be effectively banned in Australia’s .au ccTLD.

Naturally enough, the domainer trade group opposes the ban, saying that investment is a natural part of any market, and very probably supplying the registry with millions of dollars of revenue.

The comments came in a letter to auDA (pdf) from ICA general counsel Zak Muscovitch in response to auDA’s latest policy review proposals, which I reported on two weeks ago, that propose to further crack down on “warehousing”.

auDA wants to ban the practice of registering domains “primarily” for resale or warehousing, clarifying the current rule that prohibits registering “solely” for resale (which is easily evaded by, for example, parking).

A set of indicators would be used to zero in on offenders, such as observing the registrant’s history of selling or offering to sell domains, the existence of an auction listing for the domain, or the fact that the registrant owns more than 100 .au names.

But ICA reckons the effort is misguided and could even be damaging to auDA’s finances, pointing out that it and its registrars likely receive millions of dollars from the registration and renewal of speculative domain names.

Muscovitch’s letter goes on to question whether the policy review panel that came up with the proposals did any research into the potential economic impact of banning domain investment, pointing out that in some cases to seize domainers’ portfolios could wipe out a family’s life savings.

ICA also questions whether the panel has sufficiently thought through how enforceable its proposed rules would be, given the additional complexity introduced into the system.

The policy review paper is still open for comments, but if you want to chip in you’d better be quick. The comment period ends at 1700 AEST Friday, which is 0700 UTC.