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'Yourname.au' proposed as discussion opens on Australia's domain future

The .au Domain Administration's Policy Review Panel has proposed a series of reforms to the country's domain name registration structure, including the option to register addresses like 'yourname.au'.

The .au Domain Administration (auDA) has proposed opening Australia's .au domain to allow the registration of "yourname.au" as a valid address.

In Registrant Policy: Enabling Australia's Digital Economy and Society -- Issues Paper, the not-for-profit policy authority and industry self-regulatory body for the .au domain space is asking for feedback on the current structure of domain name registration in Australia, including whether yourname.au should be a valid address.

The Policy Review Panel is examining and developing policies for the registration of domain names in the .au domain namespace -- direct registration -- and existing .au namespaces, including com.au, net.au, org.au, asn.au, and id.au. According to auDA, this is the most significant review, and the first major structural change to the .au domain, in 30 years.

"The opening of the .au domain namespace to registrations provides an ideal opportunity to review the policies that govern the registration of a .au domain name to ensure that they continue to meet the needs of the Australian community and digital economy," the paper [PDF] reads.

With a total of 16 questions posed in the issues paper, auDA is seeking feedback on the current .au structure, reserved names, eligibility and allocation rules, and domain name licence conditions.

"We might not think about it often, but the .au domain range has become a vital piece of national infrastructure," auDA Policy Review Panel chair John Swinson said.

"The .au domain increases trust, which can in turn facilitate positive economic and community activity. When internet users both here and overseas see the .au domain they associate it with Australia's secure and stable environment."

Swinson believes significant reforms to the .au domain, like the ones auDA is proposing, should be presented to the public for consideration.

"Giving Australian products the chance to be understood by their international customers in their own scripts, while simultaneously retaining the trust associated with the .au domain, could be a real boon to primary producers and other exporters," he added.

In 2015, the names policy panel released draft recommendations to allow Australian businesses and individuals to directly register domains in .au, which would mean domain names will sit directly under the .au top-level domain.

In April 2016, auDA announced it would be following the recommendations by introducing .au direct registrations.

At the time, Derek Whitehead, auDA panel chair and adjunct professor at Swinburne University of Technology, said the main reason behind the panel's push for change was because they believe it would create more options.

Speaking with ZDNet in October, Swinson said there are a number of issues that need careful consideration before the direct registration policy is implemented, such as whether priority should be given to existing domain name holders and how that priority should be determined.

In the paper released on Monday, it is explained the .au system would be implemented in a "first come, first served" basis, with no hierarchy of rights awarded, including to a trademark owner, which will have no better entitlement to a domain name than a business name owner, the way names are currently issued.

However, a question posed by auDA again asks whether this process is unfair, and if it should be tweaked to ensure domains with business names and trademarks are reserved for their namesake.

Currently, most domain names in .au are registered at the third level -- yourname.com.au -- but the panel is also examining the implementation of second level domain name registration (2LD), which is an org.au, com.au, net.au, id.au, and asn.au open address; a closed csiro.au, edu.au, and gov.au address; the legacy conf.au address; and restricted local community group addresses such as act.au, nsw.au, and wa.au.

As a result, auDA also asks what eligibility and allocation rules should apply to the .au domain namespace and the open 2LD namespaces, including whether domain monetisation should continue to be permitted in the com.au and net.au realms.

The net.au namespace was initially created for use by internet-related businesses, such as internet service providers, and the com.au namespace was for commercial entities.

In May 2002, auDA removed the policy requirement for net.au namespace to be used for internet-related commercial purposes with the rationale being the low uptake of net.au names and expanding the pool of 16 domain names available to commercial entities, especially where the desired com.au name was unavailable.

The panel feels this strategy may no longer be effective in driving greater utilisation of the net.au namespace.

"As of November 2017, domain name registrations in net.au accounted for only 9 percent of domain name registrations across both namespaces. Registrations of net.au domain names have been declining since 2014," the report explains.

It is also estimated by auDA that there are 77,136 identical names registered by the same registrants in com.au and net.au.

A question asked in the report seeks feedback on if the .net.au namespace should be closed to new registrations. It also asks if the asn.au namespace should be closed to new registrations or retained as a dedicated namespace for associations.

It also asks if state and territory namespaces should be used for other purposes.

The organisation also wants to hear public thoughts on whether its domain cancellation powers should also include a suspension, so domains can be paused rather than immediately cancelled should one be pending further information from the responsible party, as one example.

In a submission to the Department of Communications earlier this month, auDA said an evaluation of its current company structure, the nomination and selection process where board members or directors of auDA are concerned, and who it classifies as "stakeholders" need to be updated in order to continue its operations appropriately.

According to auDA, a more transparent approach would facilitate a "clear focus" on achieving its purposes and result in auDA acting in the best interests of the internet community.

One such change would be to shuffle its board, resulting in the chair and a majority of directors being independent, and the potential for conflict of interest issues for sector-appointed directors therefore being reduced.

Under this model, auDA may be a "Commonwealth company" to fulfil its responsibilities under relevant Acts; however, auDA would need to continue performing as an independent body so as to not let the internet be under government control.

auDA expects the panel will undertake at least two public consultations on each stage of the policy reform process, as well as conduct working groups and both online and face-to-face forums.

Submissions close March 4, 2018.

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