Showdown looming in domain names battle

By LAURIE PATTON | 26 June 2018

Next week the group attempting to oust board directors at Internet domain names authority auDA will have an opportunity to explain in detail the reasons for their concern and their solutions.

The setting will be a meeting convened by auDA’s new Consultation Model Working Group and the venue is Melbourne’s La Trobe University – with the ability to join in online, as you’d expect from such an organisation.

So far the Grumpies, as they are known, have waged their campaign via the Ether, creating a website in order to assemble the opposing troops and using social media to make a range of controversial claims that will no doubt resurface at the CMWG meeting.

Channelling Arnold Schwarzenegge’s famous “I’ll be back” declaration, one of the lead Grumpies, Josh Rowe, used Twitter to make it known he’s up for the challenge. “I’ll be there”, he wrote – while also somewhat predictably complaining that six days’ notice is insufficient.

auDa has been given three months by the government to come up with a revised operating model, so from its point of view time is of the essence.

“We have to move fast, that’s the simple fact”, according to CEO Cameron Boardman. “The CMWG has already held four meetings in addition to considerable online discussion via auDA’s Discourse platform. The (CMWG) forum is the next step in consulting with members and stakeholders and will inform further consultative activities. The CMWG is driving the agenda and auDA is right behind these initiatives”.

Responding to Rowe’s complaint about the timing of the meeting, Boardman added, “It’s hard to see how a specific members-only forum which has been operational for a number of weeks and available to all auDA members, combined with a DoCA (Communications department) report which has been in the public realm since April the 18th is six days’ notice”.

The invitation to join the meeting next week outlines two “potential membership model options” and notes that auDA “will be sending you further detail about these models in the days ahead so you can consider their merits and drawbacks before the forum”.

The current proposals are:

1. A Functional Constituency Model, through which professional bodies, corporates, or other specific legal persons – each representing many individuals – form auDA’s membership.

2. A Single Member Class Model, through which any individual, corporate, or institution could join with equal weighting.

In April this year DoCA concluded the current auDA management and governance framework is no longer fit-for-purpose. It contained a broad range of recommendations, stating this:

“In particular, the current membership model, and its relationship to corporate governance, is impeding auDA’s decision making and is contributing to ongoing organisational instability”.

Under auDA’s current constitution, which is also up for a broad review, a proposed change to the membership model requires 75 percent of voting members in each member class to endorse it. There are two membership classes:

1. Supply Class – for domain name industry participants (registry operators, registrars and resellers).

2. Demand Class – for domain name holders (registrants), internet users and the general public.

According to the invitation to join the CMWG meeting, “If the 75 percent mark of each member class cannot be reached, the Government has indicated it intends to issue an expression of interest to assess whether an alternate provider could be found to manage .au”.

If you’re an auDA member I recommend you attend the meeting. It’s an important part of an important process. If you’re not a member you can join for a mere $22, although there’s a qualifying period before new members can vote at auDA member meetings.

Sadly, if you do attend next week’s event you’ll have to bring your own popcorn.

[Postscript: Only one of the Grumpies attended the event. He failed to shed any light on exactly what they think is wrong with the way domain names are currently allocated. The Grumpies have still not answered the questions I raised with them in this article.]

(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.)