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auDA Stacks Membership With Almost 1,000 New Members and No Accountability

It’s taken 2 people 5 Board meetings, a period that could be anything from 5 to 8 months, from submitting their application to join auDA to acceptance, sources have told Domain Pulse. But now we have 955 member applications approved in one Board meeting held today. News of the approvals had begun to circulate ahead of today’s Board meeting as auDA gains a reputation of being a leaky boat.

The drawn out process of vetting applicants combined with numerous reports of applicants having been called with obtrusive questions that aren’t related to their membership applications has been commonplace over the last 12 to 24 months. Seemingly however with a fractious membership, several registrars and the incoming registry Afilias have dragooned their staff, many of whom who are not in Australia, to join in record time. Was each applicant contacted all contacted and verified as per auDA’s previous process and did auDA verify that each payment was made from an independent bank account?

The record approval of new members comes about with a Special General Meeting looming next month that is calling for the ousting of the 3 Independent Directors, including Chair Chris Leptos. The newly approved 955 members won’t be able to vote in the SGM, which auDA acknowledged in an announcement today. However they will be able to vote at the upcoming Annual General Meeting to be held later this year which could in effect overturn the resolutions put forward in the SGM and rubber stamp constitutional changes that auDA is seeking to bring about including minimising the Member’s voice in the organisation.

The number of applicants approved in today’s meeting is hundreds more than has been approved before. As Domain Pulse reported last week, “as of 28 May 2018 there were 356 Demand and Supply members listed on the auDA website, up from 311 as of 15 February. … There were 318 members as of 29 June 2017 and 286 in January 2017.”

Approved at another Board meeting earlier this year were some members with the surname “Leptos”, the same surname as auDA’s Chair Chris Leptos. Domain Pulse would be interested to know if the members with the surname “Leptos” are family members of the Chair, and if any of those are minors, that is under the age of 16 years, as well as knowing if they have paid for their own membership dues. Further, do any of them even own a .au domain name or what is their interest in the .au domain name space?

The auDA announcement also refers to a “positive response from [registrars] Ventra IP, Arq Group [formerly Melbourne IT], Dreamscape Networks [better known as Crazy Domains] and [incoming registry operator] Afilias, other organisations and individuals” that has resulted in a “surge in membership.”

Domain Pulse understands that many of those joining are staff at the above companies, including around 200 from Afilias. Afilias currently has around 10 to 20 staff in Australia, so the vast majority will live abroad and have little to no interest in the Australian domain name landscape, apart from giving support to Afilias’ continued operation of the registry where they can when it comes up for tender again and where required to vote in favour of the current auDA management. Domain Pulse would also like to know how many of these people working for the registrars and incoming registry have paid for their own memberships. The auDA constitution forbids membership being paid for by anyone apart from the applicant.

Domain Pulse would also be interested to know of the vetting procedure. Has the obtrusive questioning on who applicants know and what their background is been done for each applicant? The obvious answer is no. These applications have been rushed through so “friendly” auDA members are ready to rubber stamp any constitutional or policy changes auDA puts forward at the AGM later this year and beyond.

In principle the increase in Members is welcome. The government and former Board members have called for auDA to increase their membership. One proposal floated by a former Board member has been to establish a model like the Canadian registry, CIRA, where all domain name registrants are automatically entitled to membership. For auDA, the .au country code top level domain manager, applicants have to join in “supply” (representatives of the registry, a registrar or a reseller) or “demand” (everyone else) and pay an annual membership fee. This rush of members though has nothing to do with democratising auDA but having the membership as a pliant tool for auDA management.

* Disclosure: the writer was an auDA Board member (2005 to 2007), served on 3 auDA Names Policy Panels (2007, 2010 and 2015), was a supplier to auDA for 14 years and is now a supplier to Neustar, among a number of other registries, providing online media monitoring services.