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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.

Another auDA director quit in secret

Kevin Murphy, September 5, 2017, Domain Registries

Australian ccTLD registry auDA, in the midst of a transparency controversy, reportedly lost another of its directors last month.

According to a report in Australia’s Financial Review newspaper, Leonie Walsh stepped down August 14.

The paper cited Australian Securities and Investments Commission documents as its source.

Embattled auDA did not disclose her departure at the time, despite the fact that it did disclose that fellow director Michaella Richards had also quit the same week.

Richards had been accused by some auDA members, noting her previous professional relationship with CEO Cameron Boardman, of lacking experience in the domain industry.

No reason for Walsh’s departure has been given.

The two directors left just a couple of weeks after chairman Stuart Benjamin, who was facing a member vote of no-confidence he did not think he could win, quit.

auDA has come under criticism from members, such as those organized at Grumpy.com.au, for several policy shifts that seemed to make the organization more secretive and less responsive to members’ interests.

The organization has since done U-turns on most of controversial policies.

Another auDA director quits after conflict claims

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2017, Domain Registries

Australian ccTLD manager auDA has lost its second director in two week with the resignation of Michaella Richards, announced today.

Richards’ position had been subject to criticism by disgruntled auDA members.

It had been speculated that her appointment to the board last December was less due to her experience in the domain industry, reportedly lacking, than due to her friendship with CEO Cameron Boardman.

The two had worked together in the Victorian state government, as DomainPulse uncovered.

Richards had been appointed a “demand class” director, meaning it was her role to represent domain buyers, rather than registrars, on the board. But critics doubted her credentials in this regard.

No reason was given for her resignation today. auDA simply said:

The auDA Board is seeking nominations, including from its demand class membership, for the Demand Class Director casual vacancy resulting from the resignation of Dr Michaella Richards.

Richards follows chairman Stuart Benjamin, who resigned at the end of July just a few days members were due to vote on an motion to oust him.

auDA has in recent weeks reversed its positions on a number of controversial policies after member outcries.

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.