Ten things you need to know about changes to Australia’s Internet domain names system

By LAURIE PATTON | 23 September 2018

Australia is a country in transition. Although we don’t hear as much about the ‘innovation nation’ these days as we did a few years back, the reality is our future prosperity still lies in embracing a digitally enabled world. As the problems plaguing the National Broadband Network remain unresolved, another critical debate is now reaching a climax. At stake is the management of Internet domain names. These days, nearly every business has a website, so a meeting later this week is shaping up as a watershed moment.

Here are ten things you need to know about what’s happening to the management of our domain names.

1.  A not-for-profit company – .au Domain Administration Limited (auDA) – manages our Internet domain names system. auDA is endorsed by the Federal Government and ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). auDA operates on behalf of all Australian Internet users. Contrary to some suggestions, it is not an industry association run for the benefit of the domain names industry.

2.  auDA will hold a general meeting of members later this week (Thursday, 27 September 2018) in order to secure approval for a new constitution and other consequential changes to its governance arrangements. This follows a demand for reform after a review by the Department of Communications and the Arts found auDA’s governance processes no longer fit-for-purpose.

3.  auDA has been mired in controversy for many years, with the overall impression being it was subject to too much influence by vested interests. The DoCA report highlighted the risk of board “capture” and communications minister Senator Mitch Fifield has consequentially insisted on a majority of independent directors on future boards.

4.  As part of auDA’s consultation process in meeting the Government’s requirements, the following documents are now available for public comment at www.auda.org.au/publiccomment. To provide feedback, email reforms@auda.org.au until 10am this Wednesday.

.  Draft Strategic Plan – outlining auDA’s proposed five year strategic direction

.  Draft Enterprise Security Strategy – describes auDA’s strategy for strengthening the security and stability for .au

.  Draft Corporate Policy – describes a process for the development and review of auDA’s published policies

.  Update to mandatory terms and conditions applying to .au Domain Name Licences Policy

.  DNSSEC policy practice statement

.  Update to the Domain Renewal, Expiry and Deletion Policy

5.  auDA has engaged internationally respected firm Afilias to take over the day to day management of the Australian domain names service. Afilias recently received a Guinness World Records title for the successful and seamless transition of 3.1 million .au domain names from the previous operator. It was the single largest migration of an Internet top level domain registry in the world and took place from 1 July this year.

6.  auDA has committed to investing $12 million in marketing, innovation and security programs over four years – this includes initiatives designed to increase the awareness and use of .au. Afilias is introducing a range of technical improvements, including the establishment of dedicated servers in each of our capital cities. In addition, there has been a ten percent reduction in wholesale fees for .au names. This is as a consequence of the new contractual arrangements.

7.  A campaign waged by a group of dissidents, known as the ‘Grumpies’, has led to concerns the government could decide to withdraw its support for the current ‘multi-stakeholder’ model and place control of our domain names system in the hands of its bureaucrats. The successful adoption of the new constitution is one of a number of governance changes aimed at providing Senator Fifield with the confidence to allow auDA to continue in its current role.

8.  Despite their at-times highly sensationalised protests the Grumpies have not actually provided any substantive proposals for operational changes to how auDA manages the allocation of domain names. They have refused to answer a list of questions put to them three months ago.

9.  The not-for-profit Spamhaus Project– which tracks spam and related cyber threats such as phishing, malware and botnets – ranks the .au names space with an index score of 0.01, making it one of the safest of the 25 leading top level domains in the world.

10.  If the new constitution is adopted auDA will be well on the way to meeting the Government’s reform requirements.

Hopefully this will result in an end to the destabilising efforts of the Grumpies. Directors appointed at the next AGM – expected to be held later in the year – will no doubt be conscious of the need to continue the healing now underway. For the rest of us, it’s really a case of business-as-usual.

(Laurie Patton is a member of auDA and the former CEO / Executive Director of Internet Australia. He has been advising Afilias Australia, the company appointed to take 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 auDA or Afilias.)