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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.

Shocker! After 15 years, Afilias kicks Neustar out of Australia

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2017, Domain Registries

Afilias has been awarded the contract to run .au, Australia’s ccTLD, kicking out incumbent Neustar after 15 years.

It’s currently a 3.1 million-domain contract, meaning it’s going to be the largest back-end transition in the history of the DNS.

It’s also very likely going to see the price of a .au domain come down.

Neustar, via its 2015 acquisition of AusRegistry, has been the back-end provider for .au since 2002. That deal is now set to end July 1, 2018.

auDA, the ccTLD manager, said today that Afilias was selected from a shortlist of three bidders, themselves whittled down from the initial pool of nine.

It’s not been disclosed by auDA who the other shortlisted bidders were, and Afilias execs said they do not know either. I suspect Neustar would have been one of them.

The contract was put up for bidding in May, after auDA and Neustar failed to come to terms on a renewal.

At 3.1 million domains under management, .au is currently bigger than .org was when Afilias took over the back-end from Verisign in 2003.

Back then, .org was at 2.7 million names. It’s now at over 10 million.

“It’s the biggest transition ever, but not by much,” Afilias chief marketing officer Roland LaPlante said.

CTO Ram Mohan said that it should actually be easily than the .org transition, which had the added wrinkle of switching registrars from Verisign’s legacy RPP protocol to the now-standard EPP.

auDA said that Afilias will start reaching out to the 40-odd current .au registrars about the transition “as early as this week”.

About half of registrars are already on Afilias’ back-end and about half are ICANN-accredited, LaPlante said.

“We don’t expect to have many changes for registrars, but we have plenty of time to prepare them for what is needed,” Mohan said. “It ought to be a fairly easy glide path.”

There will be a live test environment for registrars to integrate with prior to the formal handover, he said.

There are several local presence requirements to the contract, so Afilias will open up a 20-person office in Melbourne headed by current VP of corporate services John Kane, who will shortly move there.

The company will also have to open a data center there, as the contract requires all data to be stored in-country.

Mohan, LaPlante and Kane said they’re all jumping on planes to Melbourne tonight to begin transition talks with local interested parties.

Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed right now, but LaPlante said that .au registrars should see prices come down. This could lead to lower prices for registrants.

They currently pay AUD 17.50 ($13.44) per domain for a two-year registration, and I believe Neustar’s cut is currently around the $5 (USD) per year mark.

Afilias is not known for being a budget-end back-end provider, but it seems its slice of the pie will be smaller than Neustar’s.

LaPlante said that fees charged to registrars will be set by auDA, but that it now has flexibility to reduce prices that it did not have under the incumbent.

“Some savings should flow down to registrars as part of this,” he said.

The term of the contract is “four or five years” with options to renew for additional years, he said.

The loss of .au has no doubt come as a blow to Neustar, which paid $87 million for AusRegistry parent Bombrra just two years ago.

While Bombora also had dozens of new gTLD clients, many dot-brands, .au was undoubtedly its key customer.

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.

Three-million-domain .au deal up for grabs

auDA has formally launched the process that will could see it replace .au back-end provider Neustar with an in-house registry by the end of June 2018.

The Australian ccTLD operator has opened a “Request for Expressions of Interest” as the first stage of a procurement process for software and/or services to support its recently announced Registry Transformation Project.

It’s looking for companies that can provide all the major pieces of a domain name registry — EPP registry, Whois, DNS, etc — and my reading of the REOI reveals a preference towards a system owned and operated by auDA.

Respondents can respond with products, technology and / or services for all or part of the elements of the Registry Transformation Project, and are free to partner with other respondents to put together combined proposals.

auDA intends to establish a dedicated .au registry, and have all arrangements in place to support this, by 30 June 2018.

The organization even talks about eventually becoming one of ICANN’s approved Emergency Back-End Registry Operators.

.au has grown to over 3 million domains over the 15 years it was being managed by AusRegistry, which was acquired by US-based Neustar in 2015. This deal is due to expire next year.

So it’s a big contract, and one that is likely to attract a lot of interest from players big and small.

That said, registry solutions are typically offered very much on a service basis. The market for licensed registry software is not exactly bustling, and auDA also requires source code access as a condition of any deal.

auDA said the deadline for responses to the REOI is June 26. It will decide upon its next steps, which could be a formal request for proposals, in the last week of July.

Further details can be found here.

Neustar’s .au deal in peril as Aussies look in-house

Australian ccTLD registry auDA is looking at bringing its back-end infrastructure in house, to the possible detriment of Neustar.

In a surprise move, auDA said late last month that several months of talks with AusRegistry, aimed at possibly extending its current back-end contract beyond 2018, had failed.

AusRegistry has operated .au for auDA since 2002, during which time the ccTLD has grown to 3.1 million domains.

The company was acquired by Neustar in 2015 as part of its $87 million acquisition of Bombora Technologies, parent to AusRegistry and ARI.

auDA said it has now launched an invitation-only “restricted tender exercise” to find advisers to help it build its own registry back-end.

AusRegistry will be among those invited to participate, auDA confirmed.

This week, the registry also announced that it has hired Bruce Tonkin, formerly of Melbourne IT and the ICANN board of directors, to be its “Registry Transformation Project Lead”.

It will also form an “Industry-led Advisory Panel” to give .au registrars a say in how the new registry is designed and built.

Direct .au regs closer to reality

Kevin Murphy, August 20, 2015, Domain Registries

Australians could soon get the ability to register domain names directly under .au for the first time.

Following in the footsteps of the UK and New Zealand, a panel of .au policy body auDA has recommended that the second level should be opened up for registrations, pending further consultation.

In a consultation paper (pdf), the panel wrote:

direct registrations would create names which are shorter, more appealing and more memorable. They would make the domain name system simpler and easier to use. Moreover, the proposed change would open a wide range of new choices for registrants, and would provide a better option, especially for some groups; in particular, the Panel thinks that the biggest benefit will be for individuals, who would be able to obtain an Australian domain name in a simple and straightforward way.

Trademark owners need to pay attention, because the panel has recommended that the release does not include a sunrise period, due to .au’s “no hierarchy of rights” principle.

But the panel is recommending that existing .au registrants should get first dibs on matching second-level names.

Unlike the UK, where .co.uk registrants had preference over registrants in other SLDs, the auDA panel says .com.au owners would not be treated any differently to, for example, .org.au owners.

The panel has also raised the idea of implementing ICANN’s Uniform Rapid Suspension policy.

Registry providers might want to take note that the panel says that .au back-end AusRegistry, now part of Neustar, will not automatically get the contract to run the direct .au registry; an RFP may be in auDA’s future.

The recommendations are now open for comment until September 30.

Neustar becomes “world’s largest registry” with $87m ARI buy

Consolidation in the domain name industry continued last night with Neustar’s $87 million acquisition of Bombora Technologies, the holding group for ARI Registry Services and AusRegistry.

Bombora CEO Adrian Kinderis told DI that the deal makes Neustar the “biggest registry services back-end provider on the market”, as measured by the number of TLDs on its platform, which now weighs in at over 400.

Kinderis and Neustar registry VP Sean Kaine said that the acquisition — conceived as so many deals are, Kinderis joked, in a “drunken ICANN bar” — is not so much about consolidation and more about growth opportunities.

Neustar will be able to cross-sell its suite of identity, security and marketing services, which Bombora does not offer, into ARI’s 100+ TLD client base. It will also be able to pitch ARI’s consulting services to its own clients.

Neustar also gets a “beachhead” in the Asia-Pacific region. While Bombora may not be a hell of a lot closer to Asia than Neustar, it’s in a much more convenient time zone.

Neustar currently faces the losing about half of its annual revenue — some $475 million — due to the loss of its contract to administer telephone number portability in North America.

That contract has been won by Ericsson, but Neustar has sued the US Federal Communications Commission in an attempt to keep it.

The Bombora acquisition won’t exactly fill the gap. The company had $20.6 million in revenue in 2014 and is expected to contribute $8 million to Neustar’s top line in 2015.

The deal is for AUD 118 million, which works out to roughly USD 87 million. Kinderis and business partner Simon Delzoppo will be the primary beneficiaries — between them they held a majority shareholding in Bombora.

The deal includes all of the company’s subsidiaries: ARI, AusRegistry and new gTLD operators such as dotShabaka.

ARI clients will notice a change of branding — the ARI and Bombora brands are to go almost immediately — but no technical changes at first.

“We’re going to continue to operate two registry systems right now,” Kaine said.

One business where there will be even less visible change is AusRegistry, which operates .au.

The AusRegistry brand is staying and .au will continue to be run in Australia, per the terms of the company’s contract with ccTLD policy overseer auDA.

“The .au contract is very important to Bombora,” Kinderis said. “If we had thought there would be any negative impact to that contract we would not have embarked on a deal.”

Kinderis, whose new job title has yet to be agreed, said he expects to take a “prominent role” in Neustar’s registry business. He said he expects to stay with the company “for a long time yet”.

“I want to see Neustar snapping at the heels of Verisign and I’d love to be able to contribute to that,” he said. “We’ve been punching above our weight and now we’re one of the heavyweights.”

ARI parent goes all surfer dude with rebranding

Kevin Murphy, February 17, 2014, Domain Registries

AusRegistry Group, parent of new gTLD back-end ARI Registry Services, has rebranded itself Bombora Technologies.

The change, which comes with a new web site, is said to reflect AusRegistry’s corporate evolution and not necessarily a reflection of its growing internationalization.

The rebranding does not affect ARI (aka AusRegistry International) or .au ccTLD provider AusRegistry itself, which both keep their names and remain subsidiaries of Bombora.

A third, new company, ZOAK, will take on the software consulting work previously performed under the other brands.

The name Bombora is apparently Australian Aboriginal, describing waves crashing over a shallow reef, that has been adopted into surf culture.

With the rebranding comes a not inconsiderable amount of corporate marketing guff, such as the wealth of gigglesome head-scratchers over on the company’s Belief System page. One example:

Our success is a collection of inspired significance defined by our teams. Your success symbolises a state of mind that forever challenges the status quo and works at building a better alternative.

Reading that, you’d be forgiven for wondering whether plain-speaking CEO Adrian Kinderis had been kicked out. But no, he’s apparently still in charge of Bombora and its subsidiaries.