Government eyes auDA regulation?

The Federal Government has been looking into Australian domain name administrator auDA following a number of complaints, according to a domain name registrant.
Written by Ben Grubb, Contributor on

The Federal Government has been looking into Australian domain name administrator auDA following a number of complaints, according to a domain name registrant.

He was 100 per cent in [agreement] that auDA had operated outside of their own policy guidelines.

AWSDA president Paul Klerck

Australian Web Site Developers Association (AWSDA) president Paul Klerck has claimed the industry-regulated body wrongly terminated 500 of its domain names. He has been lobbying the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE) for action to be taken against the body.

Klerck, who is also the business owner of Infolink IT, a web design company, said he had personally invested over $100,000 in setting up AWSDA only to have it effectively shut down after auDA chief executive officer Chris Disspain "switched off" a number of its domain names.

According to Klerck, the association was building "information portals" using websites with the suffix .org.au. These portals provided Wikipedia-type information on different topics such as the Great Barrier Reef and the Melbourne Cup. The association would register the corresponding domain names for the portals.

Once a website was built, Klerck said the association would then place advertisements on it — or have the websites sponsored — with the proceeds going to charity.

Klerck said he was told after registering some .org.au domain names that he needed to provide proof of the association's existence to the regulator in order to be eligible for the domains. He did this, he said, and everything seemed to be in order.

"Then the next thing, they've [auDA] come back after we've registered more domains ... [and] decided 'no', that they don't believe that we have right to usage over these and that they are switching them off," Klerck said.

Disspain believed the names the association were registering didn't comply with its criteria for registering .org.au domain names, according to Klerck. auDA therefore terminated the over 500 domain names registered by the association, Klerck said. Klerck disputed the terminations at the time they occurred.

Klerck then approached his lawyers. He said they had found there were "no grounds" under auDA's policy to terminate the domain names. The matter was then taken up with the DBCDE, Klerck said, which had failed to get back to him in a timely fashion.

This then caused Klerck to approach one of his local MPs who referred the matter back to the department. According to Klerck, he then received a response from someone within the department who said the incident was "not an isolated" one.

Assistant secretary, spectrum and wireless services/networks policy and regulation, Brenton Thomas at the department told the association that it would "urge" auDA to give him a professional response as to why the 500 domain names were terminated, said Klerck.

According to Klerck, the department approached auDA's Disspain, who rejected the offer to respond, saying that because legal action was threatened he wouldn't comment further.

This caused the department, Klerck said, to "urge" the association to push forward with its complaint in a formal manner so that it could take the matter to Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

Klerck quoted Thomas as saying there was a "major file" within the department with people experiencing similar issues with auDA. Klerck said Thomas had told him the government needed to "voice this in parliament".

"He was 100 per cent in [agreement] that auDA had operated outside of their own policy guidelines," Klerck said.

ZDNet.com.au attempted to contact Thomas to verify quotes cited by Klerck, but he referred the communication onto the department's media team.

When asked for comment, auDA's Disspain said the administrator "never" commented on individual decisions. He would not comment further, suggesting instead that ZDNet.com.au make contact with Conroy's department.

The DBCDE did not confirm or deny meetings with Klerck, saying only in a statement that it "continues its normal oversight role of auDA" and that it kept "all policy issues under examination in providing its ongoing advice to government".

It did say that it had reserve powers to "make changes to the administration of the Australian domain name space under the Telecommunications Act 1997 and Australian Communications and Media Authority Act 2005", although it then went on to say that no changes to the current industry self-regulatory regime were being considered "at this time".

"While the government encourages all stakeholders in the community to raise any issues of concern with auDA in the first instance, we are also always keen to hear from all stakeholders on how arrangements could potentially be improved," it said.

Klerck said he was going to push his complaint further with government and was considering registration of a political party to lobby government further on the issue.

Disspain came under the spotlight recently when stephenconroy.com.au was placed into "pending delete" for not being eligible for registration. The owner then registered the business name Stephenconory and was successfully able to register the domain.

Earlier, auDA had a victory when the Supreme Court of Victoria ruled that it had acted correctly by deciding to terminate the registrar accreditation of Nicholas Bolton's registry company Australian Style, trading as Bottle Domains.

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