A breach notice is believed to have been issued by the Australian domain name regulator auDA to a local registrar with many thousands of domain names under management impacted. It even has the potential to indirectly impact the recent 5GN takeover of Webcentral, according to rumours swirling around the Australian domain name industry this week. The reasons for the breach notice are unknown, but it needs to be complied with urgently, possibly as soon as Friday this week.
It was supposed to be a new beginning. But on the day when a new auDA Board, including a new Chair, was announced, it appears there are still recriminations from those in the past with explosive allegations of what could at worst amount to corruption by outgoing directors. Not only that, the new Chair was second choice, with the first choice as Chair overruled due to what can be best described as a personality conflict.
First, today. A new Board has been appointed. The new Chair, Alan Cameron AO, was appointed after an executive search for the new Board. However the first recommendation for Chair, a high profile female company director, was overruled due to what Domain Pulse has been told can be best described as a “personality conflict” with at least one person on the outgoing Board.
Cameron has had a strong background having been appointed Chair of NSW Law Reform Commission in 2015 and prior to that was head of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) from 1993 to 2000. According to what is believed to be his LinkedIn profile he has been an Executive Director at Macquarie Group since 2007.
The new Board has stronger executive experience than previous Boards, but only a few Directors on the 9-member Board appear to have any background in the domain name industry. Also, auDA members were told there would be 6 independent appointed directors, one of which would be the Chair, and 4 elected directors. However in their announcement of the new Board today there were only 3 elected directors, none of whom have a background in domain investing which is sure to irk that community.
It also emerged today that a Freedom of Information (FOI) request in the name of Christopher Byron Leptos has been lodged on the Right to Know website [account now deleted – see below for explanation], a website setup where the public can make requests for information on the goings on in government departments and their agencies, of which auDA, the .au policy and regulatory body, comes under through their connection with the Department of Communications and the Arts. The request has been timed 2 days out for the annual general meeting on 14 November, the last of which the outgoing Directors will attend.
Leptos was the former auDA Chair who walked out of a Board meeting in late July never to return with claims he was spurned in his request for more information on the then auDA CEO Cameron Boardman’s allegedly falsified academic qualifications. However it’s likely Leptos is not the person making the FOI requests as several of the requests relate negatively to him, but rather a disgruntled present or former Director, or even staffer, or both, with intimate knowledge of recent happenings at the Board level.
There were 6 FOI requests to the Department of Communications and the Arts dated 12 November in Leptos’ name, these relating to:
- “serious allegations of bullying and intimidation committed by AUDA Chair Chris Leptos between May 2018 and June 2019 resulting in the resignation of a company secretary and an official complaint from a current AUDA staff member”
- a “serious breach of governance and directors duty committed by AUDA director James Deck via his attempt to inappropriately access AUDA marketing funds, specifically” relating to an application using Deck’s position on the Board for “substantial marketing funds for his private business” and that former Chair Leptos “attempted to cover up and misrepresent the conduct of Deck”
- a request for all relevant information on a direction from Departmental Officer Vicki Middleton instructing outgoing acting Chair Suzanne Ewart to “withdraw her application for Chair of the new AUDA board”
- allegations of “verbal abuse directed at Departmental staff member Annaliesse [sic] Williams by AUDA directors Joe Manariti and James Deck at the ICANN meeting in Barcelona in October 2018” including amount of alcohol consumed by Manariti and Deck and response of the then Chair Leptos
- an order by acting Chair Suzanne Ewart “to pay her A$10,000 per week despite there not being a Board resolution or budget for this to occur”, which didn’t include superannuation payments and was in addition to her Chair salary of $70,000 which would have taken her total salary “to $627,000 per year, making her the 9th highest paid public servant in Australia”
- expense claims by the aforementioned Directors James Deck and Joe Manariti relating to their attendance at the ICANN meeting in Barcelona where the FOI request alleges Deck and Manariti’s flights were “booked through Manariti’s wife [sic] travel agency (African Luxury Safaris) at 30% more than market rates and equivalent airfares and contrary to AUDA travel policy” with “4 nights in Prague, 4 nights in Paris and 7 nights in Barcelona which shows that only 3 meeting [sic] were conducted over the 18 day trip”, “hotel accommodation in Barcelona at A$1500 per night for a luxury suite, despite other AUDA staff and directors staying in A$250 per night accommodation and a “total expense claim showing the AUDA was charged over $35,000 for this travel for 3 meetings in 18 days”
- allegations relating to the above travel by Manariti and Deck that “AUDA incurred [an FBT liability] totaling over $11,000 as the travel was of a personal nature and not approved by AUDA and that the Chair of AUDA Suzanne Ewart covered up this liability”.
UPDATE: The Right to Know account set up to raise the allegations has now been suspended as a report was received the “account was created to impersonate someone else.”
The domain name pay.com.au sold this week for a very lucrative A$168,300 (US$116,000) deal in whatâs a record reported price for any three-letter .au domain.
The purchaser was Point Hacks Pty Ltd, a Melbourne based company, and the seller was Jack Media Pty Ltd based in the Australian surfing and lifestyle mecca of Byron Bay, on the east coast about 150 kilometres south of Brisbane.
The sale was brokered by well-known and now semi-retired domain investor Ned OâMeara who believes itâs a boost in confidence in the aftermarket for Australiaâs country code top level domain (ccTLD).
âIn a further confidence boost for the .au domain aftermarket, Iâve just negotiated the sale of the domain pay.com.au for a record price for an Aussie 3L domain of just over $168,000,â OâMeara told Domain Pulse.
âI was approached by a representative of the buyer who was a past client of mine, and as it turned out, the seller was someone who I had sold the domain to many years ago. So I came out of semi-retirement, and made it all happen within 5 days. Buyer and seller both very happy!â
The sale comes just a few weeks after it was revealed money.com.au had sold for $400,000 last year, which is one of the largest reported sales for a .au domain name, ever.
Policy changes proposed an auDA Panel have been slammed by the Internet Commerce Association who have said they should âembrace domain investingâ, âthe Panel has found solutions in search of a problemâ and it âhas not engaged in evidence-based policy makingâ and that the Panel has âcreated equally or more unclear policies which are impossible and costly to effectively enforce.â
In late March, auDA, the policy and regulatory body for Australiaâs country code top level domain (ccTLD), released a report compiled by their Policy Review Panel (PRP) who is inviting feedback from the Australian community on its final recommendations to the auDA Board. Itâs turned out to be just another sad and sorry chapter since a cabal associated with the right-wing political party of Australian politics took control of auDA in 2016.
Over the last 3 years this cabal has seen the founding CEO booted out, referred allegations of impropriety against former employees and directors to Victorian state police that have predictably come to nothing, overseen around one thousand people from outside Australia joining as members within a few weeks when only a handful of new members ever join every month to ensure they get constitution changes, seen multiple staff and directors bullied and harassed into leaving the organisation including one being given notice while she was on sick leave having cancer treatment and who later died, likely deliberately leaked a confidential report to discredit agitators against the direction of the organisation, been the recipient of an Australian government review that said the organisation was âno longer fit-for-purpose and reform is necessaryâ, seen Members agitate for 2 Special General Meetings that saw a Chair resign before being booted out, undertaken a dubious Registry tender and spent A$4.247 million in the year to 30 June 2018 on consultants and advisers to further their objectives, up from $1.783 million in the previous financial year.
So itâs hardly surprising a Panel appointed by auDA has come up with a list of policies that defy evidence, are likely unworkable and seeks to alienate the registrants of what is probably a significant part of the .au portfolio.
In their submission responding to the public consultation period auDA is currently undertaking on proposed changes, the ICA summarises their problems with the auDA Panel proposals as follows:
1. auDA should reconsider its approach to domain name investing and should embrace it as a beneficial and important part of the domain name ecosystem;
2. The Panel has found solutions in search of a problem;
3. The Panel has not engaged in evidence-based policy making;
4. Rather than clarifying the policies, the Panel has merely created equally or more unclear policies which are impossible and costly to effectively enforce.
It should be noted that under rules for .au, domain monetisation is allowed, but the registering of domain names for the sole purpose of sale is not. Sales of .au domain names happen every day in Australia through expired domains via dropcatchers and aftermarket sales. auDA themselves sold many generic domain names for a windfall back in 2002.
In their submission, the ICA defends the role of domain investors, or domainers, as a legitimate activity and they âwould have expected that the experiences of other countries such as the UK, Canada, United States, and New Zealand would have been examined and considered. In each of these aforementioned countries, domain investing contributes positively to the overall domain name ecosystem and helps ensure the success and viability of the registry.â
The ICA believes âthe primary beneficiary of the optimism of domain investors who register in bulk domain names that would otherwise sit unregistered is auDA itself. auDA likely receives millions of dollars in revenues from such registrations and renewals. From a public policy perspective, the question arises as to what harm is caused by the optimism that results in the bulk registration of otherwise unregistered domains when balanced with all the worthwhile initiatives that auDA could fund with the revenues from such registrations and renewals.â
The ICA also wonders what problem auDA is trying to address with their policy recommendations.
âThe Panel however stated in the Final Report, that âon balanceâ it âbelieves that the resale and warehousing prohibition should be retained and strengthenedâ. From our review of the Final Report however, it is entirely uncertain and undocumented as to what extent there is any genuine âproblemâ existing in the Australian namespace arising from the current rules as drafted, rather than an assumption by the Panel.â
The submission raises plenty of issues such as what constitutes the business of a domainer, what constitutes a âcomputer generated websiteâ which the auDA Panel report proposes as a means of determining if the domain name used is intended for domaining. Additionally, the report contends that if a seller lists multiple domain names for sale, then this is an indicator of a domainer. And as the ICA submission notes, thereâs no information provided by the auDA report as to how many domain names are listed for sale and sold, nor how many domains are warehoused.
The ICA also notes an âindicator proposed by the Panel for determining the âprimary purposeâ of the registration is whether more than six domain names were sold or transferred during the previous six months except in relation to a business.â The ICA then asks âwhat constitutes a business? Who investigates how many domain names were sold or transferred by a registrant? How does the registrant prove that the domain names were transferred for a bona fide reason?â
The ICA also raises concerns about the introduction of second level registrations, whose introduction this writer has long supported. However the proposals suggested by the Panel add complications. There are also proposed changes to domain monetisation. The ICA wonders what the problem is that the auDA Panel is trying to address as there is no problem that has arisen either in practice, or that the Panel has been able to identify. The Panel identifies anecdotal problems, but nothing that is substantiated.
To download, read and make submissions on the Policy Review Panel (PRP) report, see:
The submission by the Internet Commerce Association submission to the auDA PRP, see:
In a pace that even snails would outrun, auDA has announced the next steps in their “public consultation for policy reform” that includes allowing direct registrations, or registrations at the second level. Following the Names Policy Panel recommendations in December 2015 and accepted by the board in April 2016, auDA have announced yet another round of consultations.
It follows auDA, the policy and regulatory body for the .au (Australia) country code top level domain (ccTLD), having been beset by scandals in recent years since the current leadership took over.
In what will be a contentious move among many, the Panel has recommended a ban on registering domain names for the purpose of resale or monetisation, or domain investing/domaining. Difficult to ban, the board introduced a policy in 2006, updated in 2008 and 2012, that sought to legitimise registering domain names for the purpose of resale or monetising through advertising. Whether one agrees domaining is good or bad, the policy has been successful and domaining has been managed under .au.
And why make the change? The largest top level domain in the world operates under free market principles which allows buying and selling domains freely, and they have 139 million domain names registered. And dozens of ccTLDs, including currently .au, do so as well. auDA, under previous leadership, themselves have profited enormously from the sale of generic domain names back in 2002.
There are also questions to be asked of dropcatching as well should the change regarding domaining take place. There are currently 2 auDA-approved dropcatchers who make far more windfall profits each day than any domain investor ever would. And one of these dropcatchers (Netfleet) is 50% owned by the ARQ Group (formerly MelbourneIT). The current CTO of ARQ is Brett Fenton, and he is an active member of auDA’s Policy Review Panel.
As one person linked to domaining in .au told Domain Pulse, “In the opinion of many, auDA is going to find it very hard to stuff the genie back into the bottle.”
On the issue of second level registrations, an issue that .au has been considering on and off for well over a decade and was finally recommended by the Names Policy Panel in their report to the Board in 2015, the Panel recommendations do nothing other than allow individuals the right to register in a desirable space (currently individuals can only register domain names under the sadly unloved .id.au). The Panel, like the Names Policy Panel recommendations, hasn’t sought to differentiate direct/second level registrations from third level registrations. There are also potential conflicts foreseen in around 60,000 domain names where the same string is registered across multiple 2LDs with the report recommendations including registrants resolve among themselves who should be entitled to the domain name, and until they do, no individual or business would be entitled to the domain.
Under the new recommendations if accepted, the eligibility rules would be amended to read “a registrant is prohibited from registering any open 2LD domain name for the primary purpose of (a) resale, (b) transfer to another entity, or (c) warehousing”.” Additionally, there would be no grandfathering of existing registrations with registrants only allowed to keep their domains that fall afoul of the new rules until the end of the current registration cycle.
The Panel also made recommendations on an Australian presence requirement for domain names registered in .com.au, .net.au, .org.au, .asn.au, .id.au (existing 2LDs where businesses are able to register domain names) and (in future) .au. The Panel recommended that for all domain names registered in .com.au, .net.au, .org.au, .asn.au, .id.au and .au, the registrant must be a legal person with an Australian presence.
Trademark holder are also addressed where under .com.au and .net.au foreign registrants are able to satisfy eligibility requirements if the registrant owns an Australian registered trade mark, or is the applicant for an Australian trade mark. The Panel recommended applicants “for an Australian trade mark registration, or the owner of an Australian trade mark registration, should only be allowed to register a domain name that is an exact match to their Australian trade mark application or registration (if the trade mark application or registration is the sole basis for their meeting of the Australian presence requirement).”
Another change proposed by the panel is regarding domain name transfers. This means, as explained “if a domain name licence is for five years, and the registrant transfers the domain name licence to another registrant after one year, the new registrant will have the benefit of the remaining four years of the licence period. This approach is consistent with international practice and ensures that only one fee is paid for the duration of the licence period.”
There are also recommendations that deal with the suspension and cancellation of domain names, retaining the Prohibited Misspellings List and Reserved List as well as reserving a handful of terms relating government, parliament, the courts, police and military for possible future second level domains.
Disclosure: The writer served on the auDA Board from 2005 to 2007, participated in the 3 most recent Names Policy Panels, was a consultant to auDA from 2002 to 2016 and is currently a client of Neustar and a number of other registries and registrars.
The last director with any real connection to domain name registrants at the .au policy and regulatory body, auDA, has finally succumbed to pressure and resigned today. The resignation of Tim Connell means the current management has now cleared out all dissenting independence in its policy making bodies. Given that auDA is so fond of quoting its Constitution, one wonders if they now actually have a quorum?* Connell was the sole remaining elected Demand Class Director. Continue reading auDA’s Last Elected Demand Class Director Fed Up and Resigns
Hundreds of people from outside Australia have joined as members of auDA in recent weeks who have no demonstrated link to the future wellbeing of the .au policy and regulatory body. Apart that is from ensuring their employer will be able to direct them to vote as they see fit when required. Continue reading As auDA Cooks The Books With Hundreds of Foreign Members, They Stave Off Member Revolt
The largest transition of a domain name Registry in history, the transfer all 3.15 million .au domains and associated data from Neustarâs to Afiliasâ Registry platform happens Saturday night Australian time. And it has been controversial to say the least. In a post Friday by George Pongas, Vice President â Australian Registry Services, Neustar, he sets the record straight on the transition and rebuts some of the misleading claims published over the last 6 months.
The misleading claims include for the first time there will be 24/7 customer service and technical support in Australia. It already happens. Its also claimed there will be improvements in service for West Australian users due to a new dedicated DNS node in Perth. But there already was one. A claim of superior technology. However the new Registry system is retrofitted and not bespoke to .au as it is now. And the new Registry system âwill have reduced feature sets.â
The full post by George Pongas is posted below or can be read on the AusRegistry site here.
Setting the story straight: Neustarâs role in auDAâs Registry Transformation Project
By George Pongas
Vice President â Australian Registry Services, Neustar
To all .au stakeholders and community members,
Today Iâd like to discuss auDAâs .au Registry Transition and Neustarâs involvement in the process from start to finish.
Why now? Neustar has been intentionally silent on this topic so far, out of professional courtesy and due to our commercial relationship with auDA. It was not our place to comment or critique. That said, as the transition approaches we feel itâs important all the relevant facts are shared. Not only does Neustar pride itself on being a leader in the domain name Registry space and wants to protect its reputation, but weâre concerned that the Australian Internet-using public has been misinformed by recent communications regarding .au.
This has been a long and complex process â and rightly so, given the critical role .au plays in Australian business, technology and society.
First, let me start with the great job my team and my predecessors did over the last 16 years.
Neustarâs stellar track record with .au
Hereâs a quick snapshot of our time as .au Registry Operator:
- 100% DNS uptime since 1st July 2002.
- One of the first Registries to feature real-time dynamic DNS updates & to implement EPP v1.0.
- Aussie-built Registry developed exclusively for .au.
- Dedicated infrastructure based in Melbourne and Sydney & for Disaster Recovery commitments.
- Global leader in DDoS mitigation services, with a scrubbing capacity greater than 10Tbps.
- Phenomenal year-on-year growth leading .au from approx. 250,000 domains in 2002 to over 3 million today.
- Extensive, innovative Marketing and Education programs to Registrars and Registrants.
- Developed the .au âbrandâ â establishing logos and collateral.
- 24-7 and 100% Australian-based Registrar Support: from first tier through to Application Specialist all Melbourne-based.
- Regular industry contributor and participant, supporting organisations such as Internet Australia, .auIGF, ACCAN, APTLD and ICANN.
- 16 years of continuous participation in auDAâs Policy Panels, Committees and Working Groups.
- Helped establish a vigorously competitive Registrar channel holding regular Registrar events.
- Conducted research, zone file analyses and regular surveys of Internet users in Australia to track Internet and domain name trends & examine issues facing Registrars, Registrants and end users.
- Published monthly performance scorecard and the quarterly Industry magazine Behind the Dot.
Why the transition?
When auDA announced in April 2017 that it would conduct a competitive market exercise for the provision of Registry Services for .au, admittedly the process came as a surprise to us. That said, we were of course one of the most enthusiastic participants. We respect auDAâs right to conduct a tender process and applaud any activity truly intended to improve the performance, availability and security of .au for all Australians.
In December 2017, auDA announced that the .au Registry License Agreement would be awarded to Ireland-based Registry services provider, Afilias. Thus began the planning process for the largest transition of a domain name Registry in history, to transfer all 3.15 million .au domains and associated data from our Registry platform to Afiliasâ.
Setting the record straight
In the spirit of clarifying some of the claims that have been made throughout this process, I wanted to take the opportunity to clear up some points â because the .au community deserves to be fully informed.
The claim: There will be an improvement of the .au customer support service with 24/7 coverage
The truth: Neustar already provides 24/7 customer service and technical support, based in Australia
In a blog post Afilias announced that âno registrar will need to wait âtil tomorrowâ to resolve a problemâ due to the partnership between its Melbourne and global service centres to provide 24/7 support, also claiming that this service is âbeginning July 1.â
Neustarâs Australia-based team includes the entire .au operations personnel; from our already 24/7 support to all our developers, DBAs and network engineers. We have provided this service for a long time, so this will not be a new offering to Registrars.
The claim: Western Australia will be better served due to a dedicated DNS node installed in Perth
The truth: Neustar already operates a DNS node in Perth, and regardless this does not guarantee the claimed improvements
In a press release on June 13, Afilias and auDA claimed that âUsers of .au domains in Western Australia will now have more resilient DNS.â This is billed as a significant improvement to .au infrastructure in WA.
Neustar already has nodes in Perth, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Also, itâs important to understand that just because thereâs a locally-located DNS node, it doesnât mean that will be where a userâs query ends up. This ânewâ Perth node is not providing any improvement to service than what is currently offered.Â In addition, Neustar has 30 global DNS nodes supporting its full Registry system plus the largest DDoS mitigation platform in the world, with 10Tbps of mitigation capacity.Â Itâs unclear what protection (if any) will be safeguarding .au in the future.
The claim: The new Registry offers superior technology
The truth: The new Registry system is retrofitted and not bespoke to .au
The current Neustar Registry platform has two dedicated sites in-country (active/active) to support the technical demands of .au, with full failover possible in under a very short amount of time in case of a serious incident. The new Registry will switch to one dedicated site in Melbourne that is managed by engineers, DBAs, and developers mostly based overseas â with a cloud-based stand-by (cold site). The question is: has this been tested to see how quickly emergency failover can be implemented?
In addition, our current understanding is this new setup has been retrofitted from other TLDs; whereas our Registry was custom-built for .au, with over 16 years of development to explicitly meet all auDA policy and technical requirements. It was also built here in Australia and therefore has always stored and managed all .au data in-country.
The claim: The new .au Registry will provide enhanced security for DNS
The truth: Neustar is a world leader in DNS security and runs a global network with more than sufficient capacity to support .au
Afilias has pointed to âmassive capacity, smarter DNS, [and] DNSSEC deploymentâ as âenhancementsâ to the protection and safeguarding of .au.
In actuality, Neustarâs existing DNS is scaled globally to handle capacity massively above the regular volumes of traffic. Not only this, Neustar has multiple layers of security and features to handle unusual traffic, attacks and denial of service events. This includes firewalls, auto withdrawal of nodes, intelligent DNS response and DDoS scrubbing of data streams â in fact, Neustar is a global leader in DDoS mitigation, with a scrubbing capacity of over 10Tbps. DNSSEC is also already deployed across multiple .au zones and is available to Registrants through the Registry.
The claim: Registrars will see upgrades to their systems when the Registry is transitioned
The truth: The new Registry systems will have reduced feature sets
Neustar is proud of the relationship weâve built with .au Registrars over the last 16 years. Over that time weâve worked closely and developed true working partnerships that have allowed us to collaborate on making the .au Registry as efficient as possible for the benefit of Registrars and ultimately the .au internet community.
Weâve raised a number of concerns directly with auDA about what we considered to be inaccurate remarks comparing Neustarâs systems with the new Registry and implying that the new Registry will include âall previous functionality plus enhanced security and authentication measuresâ, as stated in recent auDA Member communications. We questioned auDA about this and were informed that the statement is comparing the various testing phases of Afiliasâ Registry â so the latest version has âall previous functionalityâ of the earlier versions. It doesnât mean the Registry will have âall previous functionalityâ of Neustarâs platform â which we believe the statement implies. It is a fact that a number of the proprietary features and services that Neustar currently provides to Registrars will no longer be available under the new Registry system, and thus Registrars will likely notice a difference.
What happens on July 1 once the Registry is transitioned?
At 00:00:00 on July 1, 2018, .au Registry switches in full away from Neustar. From this point, Neustar has zero control of DNS, security, support and other operations for .au. As requested by auDA, there is no rollback option for this transition â which sadly means Neustar wonât be able to support the .au community with its 3.1 million domains any longer.
As expected given the experience of running the .au domain Registry for the last 16 years, Neustar has strong opinions on the transition process. Weâve raised concerns with the timing and details of the transition and the inherent risks of this process to all relevant parties including auDA, the Department of Communications and the Arts (DOCA), as well as a number of other Australian Government agencies and departments. Â Neustar has not seen what we would consider to be a sufficiently detailed Transition Plan, nor did we participate in or have seen the results of the risk assessments performed by auDA. We have found this behaviour quite puzzling and concerning and believe it is unusual for a transition of this nature.
Regardless, we are committed to continuing to fulfil all of our agreed obligations during the transition as we have done over the course of this project. We truly hope for a successful transition and the continued service without interruption for the Australian Internet community.
Neustar is in Australia to stay
While we are disappointed to see the .au Registry change hands, Neustarâs operations in Australia remain a vital part of its global Registry business, Security Solutions businesses and all the other information services we offer globally.
Weâre excited to keep supporting many of our other domains for Australian customers, including the .CO domain which you might have seen in several campaigns lately, providing a truly global domain for entrepreneurs, startups and creatives. We also support the .melbourne and .sydney Top-Level Domains (TLDs), as well as numerous brand TLD clients in Australia and across Asia-Pacific.
In fact, Neustar maintains the largest portfolio of TLDs supported, with almost 300 global extensions and 14 million domains relying on our technology, expertise and know-how to keep them thriving.
We look forward to continuing to participate in and support the Australian Internet community, as we have done for 16 years and will do for years to come.
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.
Allegations of branchstacking have surfaced ahead of the upcoming auDA Special General Meeting with supply class members rumoured to be encouraging staff to join along with what appears to be family members of the Chair Chris Leptos.
The allegations also include a rumour that leading supply organisations may also be offering to subsidise membership fees, a move that is against the rules of auDA, but has possibly been agreed to through an undeclared imprimatur of auDA management.
To be clear, according to the rules auDA members must pay for their own membership and it cannot be paid on their behalf – at least this has been the case in the past. The 13 February minutes indicate the Board ‘noted’ an update to Membership Application Processing Policy and requested an amendment to Membership Application Policy. However, in typical auDA fashion of late – these changes remain secret – so much for improved transparency.
As of 28 May 2018 there were 356 Demand and Supply members listed on the auDA website, up from 311 as of 15 February when there were no members with the surname “Leptos”. There were 318 members as of 29 June 2017 and 286 in January 2017. The spikes in membership could easily be attributed to the leadup to the Special General Meetings, the first in July 2017, and the next to vote on the removal of 3 independent directors, including the Chair, and a vote of no-confidence in CEO Cameron Boardman in July 2018. However, the surge in members in 2017 was not accompanied by allegations of anyone paying membership dues other than the members themselves, while in 2018 these rumours are circulating.
It remains to be seen how many new members may suddenly appear ahead of the July SGM, and whether there are common threads to existing auDA directors or influential supply organisations – to either dispel or affirm the conspiracy theories circulating.
It all comes on top of rumours circulating that the wholesale fee for .au domain names will only be decreasing by 10% with additional costs being passed on to registrars, despite auDA’s boasting about leveraging a more competitive wholesale fee through the Registry Transformation Project.
Meanwhile at the auDA board meeting held in April, all directors voted a huge increase in fees paid to independent directors, the very same directors that are faced with a vote to oust them at the upcoming Special General Meeting.