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auDA chair defends $9 million windfall as no-confidence vote looms

Kevin Murphy, July 18, 2018, Domain Policy

The chair of .au registry auDA has appealed to its membership for calm ahead of a vote of no confidence in himself, the CEO, and two of his fellow directors.

Chris Leptos yesterday defended the AUD 12 million ($9 million) windfall the organization has received as a result of its transition from long-term registry back-end Neustar to rival Afilias.

By opening the back-end contract to competition, and going with a bid far cheaper than the incumbent’s historical pricing, auDA saved itself a tonne of cash.

Some members reckon the money, which has been placed in a “marketing and innovation fund”, should have instead be returned to registrants via far lower prices for .au domains.

Leptos said the money was better used to promote .au rather than disappearing to the coffers of the back-end provider, writing;

What is most surprising to me is that a small number of members are criticising the new $12 million Marketing and Innovation Fund that will be used to grow the .au namespace. The fact is that auDA now has more funds, and those funds are being ploughed back into lower wholesale prices, and programs that will benefit participants in the .au namespace, rather than benefiting the private owners of the former registry operator. On any reasoned analysis, this is a good thing.

He assured disgruntled members that their concerns about this and other matters are being listened to, but noted the diversity of views among the membership.

Some members say auDA is not listening to their concerns. I can assure you that auDA is listening to its members and stakeholders at both management level and board level. The reality, however, is that auDA needs to balance the requirements of many members and stakeholders who disagree among themselves.

Leptos and two other directors are facing a vote to fire them from the board on July 27. CEO Cameron Boardman faces a no-confidence vote the same day,

The meeting was scheduled following a petition of members orchestrated at Grumpier.com.au, which managed to get signatures from over 5% of auDA’s then 320-odd members.

The Grumpies are currently trying to crowd-fund AUD 4,650 to pay for legal and other fees associated with this meeting. At time of writing, they’re about half-way there.

They’re also unhappy with auDA’s transparency, and with moves such as the currently delayed plan to sell direct second-level .au domains.

Leptos yesterday urged members to vote against the four resolutions, saying that the organization should not be “distracted” from implementing reforms recently mandated by the Australian government following a review.

auDA recently received 955 new membership applications — a four-fold increase in its member base — largely as a result of hundreds of sign-ups from staff at Afilias and the largest .au registrars. These people will not be approved in time to vote at the July 27 meeting.

Fight breaks out as Afilias eats Neustar’s Aussie baby

The transition of .au to Afilias’ registry platform over the weekend seems to have gone quite smoothly, but that hasn’t stopped Neustar and a former key executive from lashing back at what it says are the gaining company’s “misinformed” statements.

The war of words, which has got quite nasty, came as Afilias transferred all 3.1 million .au domains to its control, after 16 years with the former incumbent.

Neustar, which hadn’t said much about losing one of its most-lucrative TLD contracts, on Friday published a lengthy blog post in which it said it wanted to “set the record straight” about Afilias’ statements leading up to the switch.

Afilias, in a series of blog posts and press releases since it won the .au contract, has been bigging up its technical capabilities.

While it’s not directly criticized Neustar and predecessor AusRegistry (which Neustar acquired for $87 million), the implication of many of these statements is that Neustar was, by comparison, a bit shit.

In Neustar’s latest post, Aussie VP George Pongas takes issue with several of these claims.

Any implications that the company did not offer 24/7 registrar support were incorrect, he wrote. Likewise, the idea that it did not have a DNS node in Western Australia was not true, he wrote.

He also took issue with claims that Afilias would offer improved security and a broader feature set for registrars, writing:

We’ve raised a number of concerns directly with auDA about what we considered to be inaccurate remarks comparing Neustar’s systems with the new Registry and implying that the new Registry will include “all previous functionality plus enhanced security and authentication measures”, as stated in recent auDA Member communications. We questioned auDA about this and were informed that the statement is comparing the various testing phases of Afilias’ Registry – so the latest version has “all previous functionality” of the earlier versions. It doesn’t mean the Registry will have “all previous functionality” of Neustar’s platform – which we believe the statement implies. It is a fact that a number of the proprietary features and services that Neustar currently provides to Registrars will no longer be available under the new Registry system, and thus Registrars will likely notice a difference.

“We stand by our statements,” an Afilias spokesperson told DI today.

While Neustar’s corporate stance was fairly reserved, former AusRegistry boss Adrian Kinderis, never a shrinking violet, has been reacting in an almost presidential fashion, using Twitter to describe auDA CEO Cameron Boardman as “incompetent”, criticizing a reporter, and using the hashtag #crookedcameron.

Kinderis, who headed up AusRegistry for the whole of its 16-year run with .au, left Neustar in April, three years after the acquisition. He’s now running something called MadBarry Enterprises and is still associated with the new gTLD .film.

He reckons Neustar lost the .au contract purely for financial reasons.

While Neustar is believed to have lowered its registry fee expectations when pitching to continue as the back end, auDA will save itself about AUD 9 million a year ($7 million) under Afilias, compared to the old regime.

auDA is not expected to hand this saving on to registrars and registrants, though I hear registrars have been offered marketing rebates recently.

auDA has previously told us that Afilias scored highest on the technical evaluation of the nine bidders, and that it was not the bidder with the lowest fee.

Kinderis is also of the opinion that Afilias is among those helping auDA stack its membership with compliant stooges.

Last month, auDA announced a dramatic four-fold increase in its membership — getting 955 new membership applications in just a month.

auDA thanked Afilias for this growth in membership, alongside three of the largest .au registrars: Ventra IP, Arq Group (formerly Melbourne IT), and CrazyDomains owner Dreamscape Networks.

An Afilias spokesperson said that the company had offered its staff the option to become auDA members and about half — I estimate at roughly 150 people based on Afilias’ previously published headcounts — had taken it up on the offer.

It sounds rather like Afilias footed the AUD 22 per-person “Demand-class” membership application fees.

The rapid increase in membership at auDA has raised eyebrows in the .au community, with some accusing the registry of “branch stacking”.

That’s an Australian term used to describe the practice of signing up large numbers of members of a local branch of a political party in order to swing important votes.

The 955-plus new members will not be approved in time to influence the outcome of the vote to oust the auDA chair and others later this month.

But they will have voting rights by the time auDA’s annual general meeting comes around later this year. The AGM is when auDA will attempt to reform itself in light of a harsh government review of its practices.

As for the migration to Afilias itself, it seems to have gone relatively smoothly. I’m not aware of any reports of any serious technical issues, despite the fact that it was the largest TLD migration ever.

Some members have pointed out that most of .au’s ops are now off-shore, and old auDA Whois service is now hosted on a .ltd domain (hey, somebody’s got to use it) which is itself protected by Whois privacy.

I also noticed that the auDA web site, which used to have a hook into the registry that published an updated domain count every day, is no longer working.

Biggest TLD handover in history happens this weekend

Australia’s ccTLD registry will be down for 36 hours this weekend as it executes the biggest back-end transition in the history of the DNS.

Starting 0800 AEST on Saturday (2200 UTC on Friday), Afilias will take over the running of .au from Neustar-owned AusRegistry, after about 16 years in the saddle.

DNS will not be affected — meaning all .au domains should continue to resolve — but there won’t be any new creates, renews, transfers or changes during the downtime.

There are over 3.1 million domains in .au, more than the 2.7 million names in the .org registry when Afilias took over that contract from Verisign in 2003.

Afilias was picked from a pool of nine candidate back-end operators last December.

auDA, the registry, will save itself AUD 9 million ($7 million) per year at least, due to the lower per-domain fee Afilias is charging.

But hardly any of that saving is going to be passed on to registrars and ultimately registrants.

Bruce Tonkin, who chaired the selection committee for auDA, told us a few months back that much of the cash will be invested in marketing.

Domainers could lose their names as .au loophole closes

Kevin Murphy, June 14, 2018, Domain Policy

Domain investors dabbling in the .au space could face losing their names under new policies set to be proposed.

The .au Policy Review Panel, which helps set policy for Australian ccTLD registry auDA, said this week it is thinking about closing a loophole related to domain monetization that has allowed “speculation and warehousing” in violation of longstanding rules.

Monetized domains are “largely detrimental” to .au and rules permitting the practice should be scrapped, the panel is expected to formally conclude.

Anyone currently monetizing domains could be given as little as a day to comply with the new rules or face losing their names.

The expected recommendations were outlined in a memo (pdf) penned by panel chair John Swinson, an intellectual property lawyer, who wrote:

the Panel received a lot of feedback and information from the public that Domain Monetisation is largely detrimental to the name space. Feedback, including from sophisticated businesses, domain brokers and portfolio owners, was one could register almost any domain name under the Domain Monetisation rule, and that the current rules were unclear, and that domain names were being registered under the cover of Monetisation primarily for the purposes of resale or warehousing (which is contrary to the current policy).

Current auDA policy on domaining, dating from 2012, is pretty clear when it comes to domainers: “A registrant may not register a domain name for the sole purpose of resale or transfer to another entity.”

However, there’s a loophole when it comes to domains that are monetized with ad links. If a domain is monetized, reselling no longer becomes its “sole purpose”.

Another auDA policy also from 2012 specifically permits monetization as a valid reason for owning a .com.au or .net.au name.

It says that monetized domains must carry ad content relevant to the topic of the domain, and that there should be no brand infringement in the domain itself.

Swinson’s panel agreed in a May 1 meeting (pdf) that this rule should be scrapped.

It’s not entirely clear what would come to replace it, as the panel doesn’t seem likely to actually ban monetization as such. Swinson wrote:

Because the current rules are outdated, inconsistent and unclear, it is difficult to enforce the current rules that prevent the registration of domain names for domain speculation and warehousing.

The Panel’ s current view is that Domain Monetisation will not be banned, but of itself will not be a basis to meet the allocation criteria.

The “allocation criteria” refers to the eligibility requirements for .au domains, which currently require a “close and substantial” link between the registrant and the name.

The panel’s memo states that there would be a “grandfathering” period during which domainers whose sites do not comply with the new policy would have time to update them:

The Panel’s current view is to recommend that any new eligibility and allocation rules should apply on the next renewal of a domain name license. This will give domain name licensees who meet the current rules, but who will not meet any new rules, time to deal with the non-compliance.

The problem here of course is that the “next renewal” could be anywhere from a day to two years away, depending on the domain. That’s probably an area the panel needs to look at.

The monetization issue is one of several addressed in the panel’s interim report (pdf), which also looks at the possibility of direct, second-level domain registration.

Any new policy on either issue is still many months away.

auDA wins brief reprieve from boardroom battle

Kevin Murphy, April 30, 2018, Domain Registries

Australian ccTLD registry auDA has managed get a small delay, smaller than it wanted, to the deadline for a special member meeting at which the fate of its chair, CEO and two directors will be decided.

After more than 5% of its membership signed a petition calling for the vote, it had until June 7 to open the polls.

But then it was stung by the findings of a governmental review of its structure, which concluded it was “no longer fit for purpose” and ordering a board shake-up of its own.

Deciding that it had to prioritize the government review, auDA last week sued the main organizer of the petition and former board member Josh Rowe, asking a court to allow it to delay the meeting from June 7 until mid-September, to coincide with its annual general meeting.

But the court told the organization it instead has until July 27 to hold the meeting.

auDA said it was “pleased” with the ruling, but Rowe wrote that auDA had “in effect lost” the case.

Rowe called the brief litigation a “disgraceful waste of tens of thousands of dollars of .au domain name registrant’s money”.