In December 1998 the ".au Working Group" (auWG) was set up at the request of the National Office for the Information Economy (NOIE), an office within the Commonwealth Department of Communications Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA). The working group was given the responsibility to develop, in consultation with the Internet community, an industry self-regulating organisation capable of taking over the delegation and administration for the .au domain space from the current delegate, Mr Robert Elz of Melbourne University.
The auWG was selected with the aim of ensuring a broad range of expertise and experience was represented. Organisations and sectors represented included the CSIRO, the AVCC, ADNA, the Internet Society of Australia, the Internet Industry Association, the Australian Telecommunications Users Group and the general community.
An Australian public company, limited by guarantee, named ".AU Domain Administration" (or "auDA") is to be used as the corporate vehicle for the administering body. The constitution of auDA (dated 12 April 1999) says in its preamble:
"Taking the view that the Internet domain name system is a pubic asset, and that the .au ccTLD [country code top level domain] is under the sovereign control of the Commonwealth of Australia, auDA will administer the .au ccTLD for the benefit of the Australian community."
On 19 April 1999 11 people were elected to form the interim board of the auDA that will, in accordance with the constitution, serve until the first auDA AGM at which a new board will be elected by auDA members. The first AGM is currently scheduled to take place in September 1999.
One of the main objectives of the auDA interim board is to obtain government endorsement for transition of authority for the .au domain space to auDA.
PRE-REQUISITES FOR auDA
The following prerequisites to the transfer of responsibility for administration of the .au space to auDA were given:
- it needs to be representative of users of the domain name services, suppliers of domain name services, users of the Internet and Internet industry associations;
- it must be accountable to the Internet community in Australia and its officers must avoid conflicts of interest;
- its processes must be open, transparent, timely, efficient and relevant; and
- it is to be funded by members of the industry via fees (so the organisation must have the confidence and support of the Internet community).
In a letter to auDA in June 1999, NOIE stated that the formation of the auDA has the potential to meet the government's requirements for an administrative body but that further work needs to be done. Of major importance to NOIE were matters such as:
- funding arrangements for auDA;
- accountability of auDA boards to the Internet community, and
- operational stability of the domain name system in Australia.
GOVERNANCE OF auDA
The constitution of auDA allows for the following classes of members:
- Supply Class members (suppliers of Internet services);
- Demand Class members (users of Internet Services), and
- Representative Association Class members (representatives of Internet industry associations).
The constitution of auDA allows for a 14 member Board including three persons elected by the Supply Class members, 3 persons elected by the Demand Class members and three persons elected by the Representative Association Class members.
PURPOSES OF auDA
The constitution of auDA lists its principle purposes in section 3.1 as:
- to be the administrator of, and the Australian self-regulatory policy body for the .au ccTLD and its associated second-level domains;
- to maintain and promote the operational stability and utility of the .au ccTLD;
- to ensure a cost-effective administration of the .au ccTLD and its sub-domains;
- to develop and establish a policy framework for the development and administration of the .au ccTLD including rules governing:
- the operation of second-level domain registries;
- the creation of second-level domains;
- the accreditation of registrars and registry administrators;
- the registration of names within second-level domains and access to second-level domain registries;
- the equal access of registrars to second-level registry services;
- to manage the operation of critical technical functions including:
- primary and secondary .au name servers;
- zone files for second-level domains, and
- a searchable database containing information on registrations within the .au ccTLD;
- to liaise with national and international bodies on issues relating to the development and administration of domain name systems, and
- to establish appropriate complaints handling and dispute resolution processes to provide for conciliation or redress of grievances on matters associated with the administration of the .au ccTLD.
Clause 3.2 of the Constitution states that auDA will enhance the benefits to Internet users through ensuring such things as operational stability, accountability, competition, fair trading, consumer protection transparency, timeliness and relevance.
The major second-level domains recognised by auDA are:
- .com.au for commercial entities;
- .net.au for companies that provide Network Services such as ISPs;
- .edu.au for educational institutions;
- .gov.au for government bodies;
- .asn.au for association and non-profit organisations (eg political parties, trade unions, sporting clubs etc);
- .id.au for individuals;
- .info.au for major information resources;
- .telememo.au which is used as a gateway to the x.400 email service operated by Telstra Enhanced Services for companies that provide network services such as ISPs;
- .csiro.au for the CSIRO;
- .conf.au for conferences and exhibitions (short-term registrations only), and
- .org.au for miscellaneous bodies that do not fit within other second-level domains.
DELEGATION AND LICENSING
In its draft framework for domain delegation and licensing, auDA stated that it will licence, delegate or accredit (as appropriate) other organisations to perform functions such as policy development and registration services. These organisations must agree to certain performance and accountability requirements. auDA expects that those seeking licence or delegation to be substantive bodies (and with substantive communities of interest) operating at or near second-level domain status.
auDA does not itself wish to secure operational or management responsibilities beyond what it considers strictly necessary to discharge its supervisory responsibility.
Licences or delegations may be sought or granted at any of three levels: Policy; Registry; and Registrar.
auDA believes that it is important that the functions of each level are clearly separated and the interfaces transparent (but it does not necessarily require that a single body cannot be licensed or delegated or accredited for one or more of those purposes).
In an industry as fast and fluid as the booming Internet industry, the task of gaining and maintaining the confidence of a critical mass of the Internet community is a difficult one. This is especially the case in relation to domain names where deep philosophical divides separate various camps in relation to how domain space should be properly administered. Some feel that market forces should determine how domain space is allocated, while others favour a more controlled distribution based on social policy.
However, most in the industry would agree with the need for an overseeing body like auDA. To be a success, an appropriate representative balance will need to be struck in the first Board of auDA in order to achieve the support of the various Internet communities.
In one sense, this transfer of overall responsibility for administration of the .au domain space is simply a replacement of Robert Elz as the delegate with an industry representative body. We can expect that auDA will, however, be more active in administration of the .au domain. How this translates into practical changes for existing and potential registrants of domain names (especially those with .com.au registrations) remains to be seen.
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