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Australia considers dumping the .com.

Kevin Murphy, April 20, 2015, Domain Policy

Australian domain overseer auDA is thinking about allowing people to register .au domains directly at the second level for the first time.

The organization has opened up a consultation that would allow registrations such as example.au, rather than just the current system of example.com.au, example.org.au and so on.

The move follows the successful recent releases of 2LDs in the UK (.uk) and New Zealand (.nz) ccTLDs and can be seen as a bid to remain competitive in the face of the new gTLD program’s huge expansion of TLD choice.

A consultation paper (pdf) published today reads:

It is suggested that unprecedented competition from new gTLDs requires .au to be more responsive to global market forces. For .au to remain a strong and highly-regarded TLD we need not only to rely on its distinctive Australian identity and good reputation, but continue to innovate in order to counter the likely impact of hundreds of new gTLDs flooding the market. Whilst .au is currently very popular with Australian users, there is potential for new gTLDs to erode the brand equity in .au.

Currently, .au has over a dozen different second-level options, but about 85% of registrations are in .com.au. The TLD has just shy of three million names today.

Complicating matters slightly, the different 2LDs have different registration policies, so auDA would need to figure out a way to harmonize them for direct registrations.

auDA speculates that direct registrations may increase the adoption of .au domain names by individuals not currently able to obtain .com.au names but unaware of the individual-focused .id.au (it exists, apparently), thereby growing the .au name space.

It also worries that many second-level direct registrations may turn out to be defensives, registered by the registrants of the matching .com.au names.

The consultation is open for comments until June 1.

Two ICANN directors update their conflicts profile after .africa complaint

Kevin Murphy, December 19, 2012, Domain Registries

ICANN directors Mike Silber and Chris Disspain have updated their official statements of interest — used to identify potential conflicts on the board — after a complaint from a .africa applicant.

The new SOI statement more clearly specifies the relationship between South African ccTLD policymaker ZADNA — for which Silber acts as treasurer — and Uniforum, which has applied for the .africa gTLD.

(December 28 Update: Silber, in the comments below, states that the update to his SOI was in no way a response to the DCA complaint.)

It also gives a bit more information about Disspain’s employer, .au policymaker AuDA, and ARI Registry Services, which is providing the back-end registry services for dozens of new gTLD applicants.

Here’s Silber’s new SOI summary, with the relevant new text highlighted:

Member of the Management Committee and Treasurer of the Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) South Africa. He is also, a Director and Treasurer of the .za Domain Name Authority, the ccTLD administrator for .za. The .za Domain Name Authority has concluded an arms-length operating agreement with Uniforum t/a the .za Central Registry for Uniforum to operate the .za registry. Under the agreement, Uniforum will collect and pay transaction fees to .za Domain Name Authority. Uniforum is acting as the registry service provider for various new gTLD applicants.

Here’s Disspain’s, again with my emphasis:

Director and CEO of .au Domain Administration Limited, the .au ccTLD manager; .au has sponsorship agreement with ICANN under which .au pays ICANN a yearly amount based on the amount of names under management. Former Officer of ICANN, Paul Levins, is a Director of .au Domain Administration Limited. .au Domain Administration Limited licenses AusRegistry Pty Ltd to run the registry for the second level names in .au. Under the Registry License agreement, AusRegistry pays fees to auDA; companies affiliated with AusRegistry are affiliated with new gTLD applications.

AusRegistry is technically ARI’s parent, but they share many of the same senior executives.

The updated statement comes shortly after a complaint filed with ICANN’s Ombudsman by .africa applicant DotConnectAfrica about Silber and Disspain’s alleged conflicts of interest over the gTLD.

While the indirect connection between Silber and DCA’s rival .africa applicant Uniforum is clear, it was not obvious to Ombudsman Chris LaHatte what Disspain’s conflict was supposed to be.

LaHatte found no actions that constituted conflicts of interest from either director, but he appeared to nudge the board to providing fuller disclosure, which is what seems to have happened here.

Ombudsman asks DCA to simmer down after .africa conflict of interest complaint

Kevin Murphy, December 10, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Ombudsman dismissed a complaint from DotConnectAfrica about alleged conflicts of interest on ICANN’s board of directors, but scolded DCA for its “intemperate” blog posts.

DCA complained in October that two members of the board — Mike Silber and Chris Disspain — have conflicts of interest in relation to the contested .africa gTLD.

DCA has applied for .africa without notable government support, whereas South African registry Uniforum has applied with formal backing from most African governments.

According to DCA’s complaint, as described by Ombudsman Chris LaHatte in a new blog post, Disspain and Silber somehow have conflicts of interest related to this contention set.

Silber is treasurer of ZADNA, the South African domain name authority, which oversees .za policy and ergo Uniforum’s ccTLD business, which is arguably a close connection to the .africa applicant.

Disspain is CEO of auDA, which oversees policy for Australia’s .au ccTLD and therefore has a relationship with AusRegistry, a major back-end provider for new gTLD applicants.

It’s not at all obvious what the alleged conflict of interest related to .africa is in Disspain’s case.

When LaHatte asked DCA executive director Sophia Bekele to explain the precise nature of the conflicts, he did not receive any information beyond identification of these two employment connections, both of which are already fully disclosed by ICANN.

Both men are members of the board’s New gTLD Program Committee, which wields the board’s power over the new gTLD program and is designed to comprise only non-conflicted directors.

LaHatte blogged that he was unable to find any discussion of .africa in any board or committee meeting minutes — because ICANN has not discussed any individual gTLD applications yet — and was therefore unable to find any unfair treatment of DCA.

Dealing with unfair treatment is of course the Ombudsman’s job. LaHatte concluded:

I consider that no disqualifying conflict of interest, or indeed any conflict of interest at all, is present in the actions of both Chris Disspain and Mike Silber. It is likely this complaint has led to increased awareness of the possibilities of conflict of interest, which the Board will carefully consider in terms of the existing policy about conflict, when the issue arises. I consider this should continue to be a matter for consideration in gTLD decision making by the Board.

But the Ombudsman also, it seems, had some concerns about the nature of DCA’s lobbying campaign over the last several months, which has been as vitriolic has it has been scattershot.

As previously noted, some of its allegations against its .africa rival have been baffling.

LaHatte clearly picked up on the tone of the debate also, blogging:

There has been considerable amount of discussion on blogs, Twitter and other sites and in comments on the ICANN website in relation to the new .africa gTLDs applications. Regrettably much of the discussion has been intemperate.

An aspect of this application has been the unfortunate tone of much of the debate on various websites blogs and other places. During the course of this investigation I discussed this with Sophia Bekele (at the Toronto meeting) and suggested that perhaps a less aggressive approach would be appropriate. She readily agreed to this.

The discussion and debate continues to be fairly vigorous, but I would suggest to the competing parties for .africa that they should pay attention to the ICANN rules about respectful communication.

As Uniforum has said little, and DCA a lot, I can also assume that the blog posts being referred to are DCA’s.

The company has for several months regularly posted often incomprehensible allegations on its blog, usually in multicolored text with liberal use of italics and bold.

Bekele was also last week rumbled using a fake identity on a mailing list to support DCA’s position.

CoCCA withdraws from APTLD over support for AusRegistry “monopoly”

Kevin Murphy, October 24, 2012, Domain Registries

Registry services provider CoCCA has pulled out of the Asia Pacific Top Level Domain Association after APTLD gave support to AusRegistry in its campaign to continue to run .au.

The company claims that APTLD — the Hong Kong-based association of ccTLD operators from the region — backed AusRegistry because AusRegistry is one of its largest donors.

The allegations center on a consultation run by AuDA, the policy overseer for Australia’s .au domain.

AuDA is currently deciding whether to renegotiate AusRegistry’s longstanding registry back-end contract — which is its preferred option — or open it up to public tender.

Draft recommendations published for comment last month suggest that the contract should remain with AusRegistry when it expires in 2014, albeit with renegotiated terms.

CoCCA is mad with APTLD for submitting a comment in support of these recommendations without first consulting its membership, suspecting AusRegistry’s sponsorship of APTLD might have something to do with it.

(October 24 Update: APTLD has submitted a revised comment here. The original submission can be found here.)

In an email to APTLD last week, CoCCA director Garth Miller said:

That AusRegistry, a large for-profit company that is an associate member of APTLD can simply make a phone call to a board member and get the board to make a public submission on behalf of all members that a scheduled public tender be cancelled and AusRegistry be awarded the contract – worth as much as several hundred million dollars, because they have made substantial contributions to the APLTD in the past and are likely to do so in the future if awarded the contract is, in my view, disturbing.

CoCCA, which already provides registry services for a few ccTLDs in the region and runs the .cx (Christmas Island) ccTLD, reckons the .au back-end contract should be opened to competitive bidding.

Judging by the other submissions to AuDA’s consultation, which are published here, it’s a minority view.

Every other comment — most of which were sent by .au registrars, even newcomers such as Go Daddy — supports the recommendation that AusRegistry should keep the deal.

And AusRegistry says that everything is above board. CEO Adrian Kinderis said in a statement sent to DI:

AusRegistry has been actively seeking acknowledgments and recommendations from valued partners and industry leaders over the past month. This included an approach to APTLD to seek a reference from them to acknowledge the positive industry engagement and continued support and participation of AusRegistry in the Asia Pacific domain name industry. APTLD responded positively to our request. AusRegistry has made no secret of such, and to suggest that clandestine calls have taken place is simply not true.

APTLD also denied that it has done anything wrong, though it does not appear to be denying that AusRegistry contributions may have played a part in its decision.

In a statement, APTLD told DI:

The allegation on APTLD must be a misunderstanding and is untrue. APTLD has no comments to make on the tendering process and whether a public tender should be conducted. APTLD does not have sufficient local knowledge to provide any constructive comments. All APTLD can provide is a reference for AusRegistry as an active and positive player in the domain name industry in the Asia Pacific region. Past contributions to APTLD is just one of the many factors when the Board considers whether to provide a reference to a particular member.

AusRegistry has been running the .au registry under contract with AuDA since 2001. It’s used its experience to launch ARI Registry Services, a pretty big player in the new gTLD back-end market.

Last time its .au deal was renegotiated, prices came down.

Politics at play in DNS CERT debate

Kevin Murphy, April 12, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN chief Rod Beckstrom may have shot himself in the foot when he claimed at the Nairobi meeting that the domain name system is “under attack” and “could stop at any given point in time”.

Beckstrom wants ICANN to create a new CERT, Computer Emergency Response Team, to coordinate DNS security, but he’s now seeing objections from country-code domain managers, apparently connected to his remarks last month.

Chris Disspain of auDA, Australia’s .au registry, has just filed comments on behalf of the ccNSO council, which he chairs, saying it’s not clear whether there’s any need for a DNS CERT, and that ICANN is moving too fast to create one.

It’s pretty clear from the ccNSO statement that Hot Rod’s fairly blunt remarks at the GAC meeting in Nairobi, which I transcribed in full here, have influenced the ccNSO’s thinking on the matter:

the comments of ICANN’s CEO and President, Rod Beckstrom, to governmental representatives in Nairobi, have the potential to undermine the productive relationships established under ICANN’s multi-stakeholder model, cause damage to the effective relationships that many ccTLD operators have developed with their national administrations and discounted the huge efforts of many in the ICANN and broader security community to ensure the ongoing security and stability of the Internet

Disspain had already strongly written to Beckstrom, during the ICANN meeting, calling his comments “inflammatory” and reiterating some of the points made in the latest ccNSO filing.

Beckstrom’s response to Disspain’s first letter is here. I would characterize it as a defense of his position.

It seems pretty crazy that something as important as the DNS has no official security coordination body but, as Disspain points out, there are already some organizations attempting to tackle the role.

DNS-OARC, for example, was set up to fulfill the functions of a DNS CERT. However, as founder Paul Vixie confessed, it has so far failed to do so. Vixie thinks energies would be better spent fixing DNS-OARC, rather than creating a new body.

ICANN’s comments period on its DNS CERT business case is open for another couple of days. It’s so far attracted only a handful of comments, mostly skeptical, mostly filed by ccTLD operators and mostly suggesting that other organizations could handle the task better.

If Beckstrom’s aim in Nairobi was to reignite the debate and Get Stuff Done by scaring stakeholders into action, he may find he’s been successful.

However, if his aim was to place ICANN at the center of the new security initiative, he may ultimately live to regret his remarks.

Either way, I expect DNS security will eventually improve as a result.