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AuDA leader defends changes ahead of SGM

On Tuesday, three days before auDA members are due to hold a Special General Meeting to petition the board for his removal as chief executive, Cameron Boardman defended changes at the organisation that manages Australia’s domain space as part of a much-needed reform process and said he has the full confidence of the board.

“We have a lot of further reform we need to do to satisfy the government’s terms of endorsements, and we’re absolutely committed to achieving that,” Boardman said, referring to the 29 recommended changes that came out of a federal government review of auDA in April.

“We have the leadership and the board and the structure in place to replicate the success of the last few weeks in our constitutional and ongoing management reform.”

Boardman was named CEO of auDA, a self-regulatory industry body tasked with putting in place the necessary infrastructure for reliable and secure access to Australian domain names, including government, banking, e-commerce and other websites, in 2016.

While Boardman on Tuesday emphasised the critical role of auDA today, as more transactions shift online, most Australians probably aren’t aware of its existence.

AuDA in the past has not had a direct relationship with the average internet user, or even online businesses, which typically purchase domain names from resellers like GoDaddy, which purchase them from the registry operator, which maintains the database of domain holder information and is selected through a tender process by auDA.

But Boardman wants to change that. He has created a $12 million marketing and innovation fund to be spent over the next four years to boost audDA’s profile. While Boardman has declined to say how he plans to spend the money, on Tuesday he said he wants consumers to know that Australian domain names are among the most secure in the world.

However, some in the industry have questioned why auDA needs to engage in marketing activity at all and say the organisation has forgotten the purpose for which it was founded.

“To me, it feels like our direction is being dictated to us as members. Considering that auDA is a [government-sanctioned] monopoly, it is of a concern to me that it would then be run in this way when we have historically had a consensus-driven approach to change,” auDA member Anthony Peake wrote on DNTrade, an industry forum, on July 10.

Critics also take issue with the way auDA is funding its new marketing budget, which is derived from its cut of the fees people pay when they purchase a domain name. Its cut recently increased threefold after it switched registry operators, from AusRegistry to Afilias.

But this is only the most recent controversy to divide Boardman and some auDA members, who comprise everyday internet users as well as industry representatives, such as resellers and registrar holders [another middleman of sorts between resellers and the registry operator].

In October, a contingent led by SEO consultant Jim Stewart successfully lobbied auDA to delay its implementation of direct registration, a way to register websites ending in .au, rather than, from this year to 2019.

At the time, Stewart accused auDA of a lack of transparency in the decision-making process and a failure to consult with appropriate stakeholders, a critique that has plagued the organisation for much of Boardman’s tenure.

In months past, the board has failed to upload minutes from its meetings, or uploaded incorrect minutes. Boardman has previously pledged to stop this behaviour, and according to several observers, he has.

However, Peake sees the switch to a new registry operator – which auDA claims was the result of an “exhaustive tender process” – as evidence of the same top-down behaviour, with decisions being made behind closed doors.

Peake told Internet Retailing that a group of registrar holders sent a letter to auDA chair Chris Leptos in December, detailing their concerns about how the new operator was being selected and asking for the switch to be postponed.  However, they received no response.

 “To me, the CEO is supposed to be the custodian of our collective will, rather than the current dictator of our direction … I’d even concede that the direction he wants to go in might be the right direction most of the time,” Peak wrote on DNTrade, which echo his comments to Internet Retailing.

“The problem I have with all that is what happens if it goes a little bit wrong? What happens if it goes totally wrong? Why would anyone want to ignore literally thousands of years of collective experience in the membership base?”

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