Australians auction phone numbers online

Valuable commercial phone numbers will be sold online, in an auction designed to avoid previous problems with domain-name sales

The Australian Communications Authority has released the draft format for a planned auction of valuable commercial phone numbers, which will see it avoid the problems that plagued the auction of generic domain names last year.

The two auctions have similar characteristics, in that the intention is to make available to the public a resource that was previously held back. In the case of the Australian Communications Authority (ACA), this resource is a range of freephone and local rate numbers (13, 1300 and 1800) that had previously been unavailable, many of which may be desirable to businesses and other organisations because they spell a word on the keypad, or are simply easy to remember.

The Generic Domain Name Auction was clouded by controversy, with the amount bid for a particular domain rapidly increasing in the last few minutes of the eligible bidding time. In some cases auctions ran a few minutes over, and had to be held again.

"In some ways our scheme attempts to fix that. If there's a bid in the last hour it will go over to the next day," Paul White, executive manager in charge of the market based number allocation project at the ACA told ZDNet Australia. Once an entity has issued a bid for a number, the auction starts at least two weeks later with that bid as the reserve price.

The auctions will begin at 11 a.m. on the auction day and end at 4 p.m., unless a bid is received after 3 p.m., in which case the auction will be open again at 11 a.m. the next day. If no further bid is received the auction will close at 12 p.m. that day, if a bid is received the auction will be extended till 1 p.m., with the process continuing until no bid is received in the hour prior to the extended closing time.

"Our view was because it is Web-based, you don't want to make it second-critical and disadvantage some person who couldn't get online at the time," said White. The other lesson learned from the Generic Domain Name Auction was the requirement to authenticate the right of an entity to bid for a particular domain name, which proved "onerous and contentious", according to White.

Anyone can bid for any number in the freephone and local rate number auction. Evidence of a link to a particular number is only required for charities who are utilising the option to get the number in a special deal.

"Because charities have a special deal, they should have a special relationship with the number," said White.

White emphasised the auction proposal was still in the draft stage, and encouraged the public to comment on the proposals.