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auDA Consults On Registry Role After Decision Made As Accountability and Transparency Questions Linger

The .au policy and regulatory body announced Friday it would be undertaking a consultation process headed by Dr Bruce Tonkin who has joined auDA as the Registry Transformation Project Lead. However the consultation process goes against previous recommendations from industry groups that it should operate the registry itself. Further, auDA’s constitution says Advisory Panels will be used to develop policy recommendations, but the decision to operate the registry has come about before any consultation.

The decision comes about as key documents such as annual reports have disappeared from its website, leading to concerns within the industry that the organisation is rapidly heading backwards on accountability and transparency.

Friday’s announcement says the Registry Transformation Project team will be assisted by an Industry-led Advisory Panel, in addition to a Registrar Liaison Board. The composition of the Industry-led Advisory Panel will be announced shortly and auDA is currently seeking expressions of interest from registrars for the Registrar Liaison Board. The project team leader, Dr Tonkin, was most recently Chief Strategy Officer for Melbourne IT and was involved in the founding of auDA. He’s also been a regular participant in the Competition and Names Policy Advisory Panels since formation and has served 9 years on the Board of ICANN.

The current registry operator, AusRegistry, has held the role since 2002 and overseen a period where registrations of .au domain names have grown from around 307,000 at the end of November 2002, about the time when AusRegistry commenced registry operations to 3.115 million today. It was the ninth largest ccTLD at the end of December 2016 according to the latest Verisign Domain Name Industry Brief.

The decision by the Australian country code top level domain (ccTLD) operator “to build and operate this key piece of national infrastructure” goes against recommendations by its Industry Advisory Panel in 2008 and again in 2012 that the existing setup of auDA as the policy and regulatory body and a separate registry should be retained.

The 2012 Industry Advisory Panel recommendations to the auDA Board included Recommendation 1A that reads:
a) the competitive registry model should be retained;
b) auDA should initiate renegotiations with AusRegistry to extend contractual arrangements for 2, 3 or 4 years;
c) auDA should seek stakeholder input on relevant negotiating factors prior to the renegotiations with AusRegistry;
d) if renegotiations with AusRegistry fail, auDA should proceed to conduct a formal RFT process; and
e) the auDA Board should publicly commit to undertaking a formal RFT process once the renegotiated registry agreement expires.

Likewise in 2008, the panel recommended “that the existing competitive registry model should be retained with future licence terms to be increased from the current 4 year licence term to either a 6 or 8 year licence term” and “that auDA negotiates with the current registry operator with a view to extending the current registry licence term by up to 4 years.”

The decision also flies in the face of a letter from Richard Alston, then Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts who wrote to then President and CEO, Dr M. Stuart Lynn, that auDA would “be inclusive of, and accountable to, members of the Internet community including both the supply and demand sides [and] adopt open, transparent and consultative processes.”

It seems rather obvious that the process should have been for auDA to have called for an Industry Advisory Panel, one of which is due to be held. The panel should have had as one of the issues to consider whether the registry operation should be brought in-house. However the auDA hierarchy seem oblivious to previous industry recommendations and its own constitution and set on going down a road that no other ccTLD operator is interested in due to the cost and complexity involved.

Curiously, this writer posed 5 questions to auDA Thursday. But in a written response was told in part that auDA doesn’t “usually reply to requests for blog stories”. So no response was given. The questions, some of which were answered or partly answered by Friday’s announcement were:
1.    Why is auDA going against the recommendations of the 2012 and 2008 Industry Advisory Panels regarding the role of the registry without consulting with the industry again and in particular why take the competitive registry model in-house which has never been recommended?
2.    The auDA constitution states in section 24.8.a that “Advisory Panels will be used by the Board as the principle mechanism for developing policy recommendations to the Board for the purpose of clause 3.1(d) of this constitution” and in sections 3.1.d, 3.1.e and 24.8.a that auDA should consult on changes to the constitution. Can you explain the consultation that was undertaken in regards to the recent announcement on the operation of the registry?
3.    Why is auDA conducting ongoing consultations (the current online survey) regarding second level registrations which appear to only ask opinions on whether they should happen or not?
4.    Does the auDA CEO consider it appropriate to be seeming to reveal confidential information to some in the industry who, even if off the record, then widely disseminate information to their target group?

5.    It appears the 2015/16 annual report has been deleted from the auDA website. If so, why?

 * Disclaimer: the writer was an auDA Board member (2005 to 2007), served on 3 auDA Names Policy Panels (2007, 2010 and 2015), was a client of auDA for 14 years and is now a client of AusRegistry proving online media monitoring services and contributing to the Behind the Dot magazine.