auDA membership grows as reform process takes shape

By LAURIE PATTON | 18 June 2018

.au Domain Administration Limited, commonly known as auDA, has announced a significant growth in membership, with a record 955 new members being admitted at a board meeting earlier today.

auDA is charged with overseeing domain names allocation in Australia. If you have a website you’ll have dealt with one of the numerous companies that sell domain names to the public. They all operate under the authority and supervision of auDA.

The organisation was recently the subject of a report from the Department of Communications and the Arts that called for major governance reform. As I’ve previously written, auDA has been mired in controversy in recent years. For some time it had been seen as a tightly held fiefdom under the control of a board of directors elected from within the industry, but subject to “capture” by vested interests.

Recommendation 11 of the government review, released in April 2018, requires auDA to “diversify its membership base in the short-term with a focus on extending membership to stakeholders that are underrepresented”.

According to auDA CEO, Cameron Boardman, membership has quadrupled in the last month.

“This is a very positive move for the .au domain space and will further strengthen the operations of auDA by broadening the membership base”, Boardman said.

In a statement to members auDA said it had accepted all of the review recommendations, and is working on modernising its operations “for the benefit of all stakeholders and ultimately the consumers who rely on Australia’s safe and stable top-level domain”.

Recently, a group of former directors and members demanded a Special General Meeting – scheduled for 27 July 2018 – and called for the removal of three independent auDA board members: chairman Chris Leptos and directors Sandra Hook and Suzanne Ewart.

The campaign is led by industry veteran Josh Rowe, who was on the auDA board for 14 years, along with member Jim Stewart and former staffer Paul Szyndler. Known as the Grumpies, it is not thought they have the numbers to succeed in ousting the three directors.

While the new auDA members will not be eligible to vote at the July meeting they will be entitled to vote at the auDA annual general meeting later in the year, arguably making any decisions made next month potentially redundant.

Given three months by the Government to develop new processes to redress the historical weaknesses identified in the DCA report, auDA has created a broad-based consultative group to guide the process.

The 16-member Consultation Model Working Group has met four times in recent weeks and according to Boardman is working on ways to better involve members and stakeholders in the management of Australia’s domain names space.

auDA exists under a delegation from the federal government. Similar organisations run the domain names system in many countries. Apart from monitoring the sale of domain names, auDA is responsible for ensuring the overall integrity of the process. So it plays an essential role in how the Internet functions in this country.

The physical operation of the registry is carried out by a third party – with Afilias, a global firm specialising in domain name management, about to take over on 1 July this year. Afilias is well advanced in its preparations for the changeover.

(Laurie Patton is a member of auDA and the former CEO/Executive Director of Internet Australia. He is currently advising Afilias Australia, the company that took over the management of the .au registry for auDA from 1 July 2018. However, the views expressed here are his own and have not been endorsed by Afilias.)