2015 NPP Meeting - 6 June 2015

Attendance:
Philip Argy, Jeremy Blackman, Andrew Christie, Gavin Collins, James Deck, Brett Fenton, Adele Flego, George Fong, David Goldstein, Jo Lim, Joe Manariti, Ned O'Meara, Nicole Murdoch, Anthony Peake, George Pongas, Holly Raiche, Derek Whitehead, Miguel Wood

Apologies:
Dan Hunter, Erhan Karabardak, Jon Lawrence, Peter Mead, Cobey Parnell

Actions:

  • DW and JoL to draft proposed policy models for direct registrations.

1. Confirmation of 2 April minutes

The minutes were confirmed.

2. Issues Paper public consultation outcomes

a. broad overview of submissions and survey responses

The Issues Paper was released for public consultation on 20 April with a deadline for comments of 1 June. The Panel received 27 submissions and 375 survey responses (193 complete or partially complete). A high level summary and analysis of responses to each question prepared by JoL was circulated to the Panel before the meeting.

Panel members observed that the issue of direct registrations (ToR issue 1) dominated responses to the Issues Paper, with strong opinions on both ends of the spectrum. The consultation also showed that there is, overall, a high level of satisfaction with the current 2LD policy rules (ToR issues 2 and 3).

It was noted that responses to the Issues Paper do not represent a broad cross-section of registrants and users, and that most people who responded appeared to have some kind  of interest in the current system, as an existing registrant or industry participant.

b. discussion of direct registrations

Submissions and survey responses indicated a rough two-thirds majority in favour of direct registrations. Panel members noted that the question of whether direct registrations should be allowed in .au is not a binary one, and that the circumstances in which direct registrations would be allowed makes a difference to people’s views on the subject. In particular, people are not surprisingly concerned to ensure that their own interests or rights are protected. This makes it difficult to gauge the true level of support for direct registrations.

It was suggested that the primary consideration should be whether there is any evidence of unmet demand or needs not being accommodated within the existing 2LD hierarchy. On this point, there was a lengthy discussion about individuals, focusing on how they can be accommodated within the Australian DNS and what would be likely to attract them to register a .au domain name. It is broadly accepted that id.au has not been successful in attracting individual registrations, although there may be several different reasons for this. It was noted that people may want to register a domain name for a personal project or hobby that subsequently turns commercial, which is a common pathway for many online businesses. Some different options were suggested for facilitating individual registrations, including:

  • allowing individuals to register directly in .au
  • allowing individuals to register in com.au without needing an ABN or RBN
  • creating a new 2LD for individuals with a more attractive/intuitive name, eg. me.au.

In addition to individuals, other groups that may be considered to have unmet needs include federal and state parliaments and law courts (although currently housed within the gov.au 2LD, they are actually separate from government) and indigenous nations. It was suggested that creating new 2LDs would be a more effective way of giving these groups a meaningful online identity. Some Panel members thought that the creation of new 2LDs should be given more consideration as a way of “opening up” .au, on the grounds that allowing direct registrations would have the effect of closing down future options to grow the space.

Panel members noted that direct registrations needs to be considered not only from the perspective of domain name registrants (existing and prospective), but also of general Internet users – ie. what would be the benefit for users? Panel members thought that shorter domain names would benefit users as well as registrants, as they are likely to be easier for people to remember/type. This would apply to both website URLs and email addresses. In particular, the increasing use of mobile devices for Internet access would make shorter domain names more practical and user-friendly.

On the other hand, it was suggested that direct registrations would cause significant confusion for Internet users who are familiar with the existing 2LD structure. The Panel noted one submission which raised the prospect of people registering .au names that look like existing 2LD names, eg. pmgov.au instead of pm.gov.au, which could cause confusion and even potential harm to users. However, it was pointed out that Internet users are already learning to cope with the proliferation of new gTLDs, and that the younger generation (so-called “digital natives”) is far less likely to be confused by different types of domain names.     

The Panel noted the number of responses to the Issues Paper arguing that the only people who will benefit from direct registrations are the industry participants (auDA, registry, registrars) who stand to gain a revenue windfall from people who feel compelled to defensively register their names. Many respondents highlighted the additional costs, administrative burden and inconvenience associated with defensive registrations. One submission suggested that the prevalence of defensive registrations in .nz and .uk, with registrants not using their direct name or simply resolving it to their existing 2LD website, has not resulted in any added value or public benefit in those spaces.

Panel members were asked about the types of data or evidence that might help to inform their consideration of the issues. The Panel noted advice from one registrar that 30% of people who commence registering a  com.au domain name on their website drop off during the process (for unknown reasons), with 22% returning within the next 30 days to register another domain name. Other suggestions included:

  • data from AusRegistry/auDA regarding direct navigation traffic to the .au servers (ie. how many people type a direct .au name into their browser in an attempt to get to an Australian website)
  • a direct survey of existing com.au registrants asking a simple question along the lines “if your name was available in .au, would you register it?” – could also ask for reasons why
  • a survey of tech university students asking their views, as representatives of the next generation of online start-ups and entrepreneurs
  • registrars adding a question about direct registrations to their regular customer surveys (phone or email)
  • registration statistics and information from ccTLDs that have made the transition using different methods of implementation, eg. .uk, .nz, .jp, .hk.

It was pointed out that solving an identified problem is not the only reason to make a change, and that making improvements is also a valid ground for change. Whilst it is important to articulate a clear case for change, the argument does not necessarily need to be based on 100% conclusive evidence. The Panel noted that several changes have been made to .au policy over the years which were also very controversial and divisive at the time, but which were successfully implemented and integrated into the Australian DNS, such as the release of generic and geographic domain names, and the facilitation of domain monetisation and the secondary market.

An informal straw poll of members present at the meeting showed that 10 were in favour of direct registrations, 2 were in favour depending on how the policy and implementation issues are addressed, 2 were against and 3 were unsure at this stage.

With a majority of members in favour of allowing direct registrations in principle, the Panel agreed that it needs to turn its attention to the policy rules for direct registrations. There was no support among Panel members or in public comments for an open slather approach to direct registrations, so the question is the degree of regulation that should apply to direct registrations. JoL and DW will develop a number of different policy models for the Panel to consider at the next meeting.

3. Next meeting

The next Panel meeting will be on Thursday 2 July 2015, 2-5pm.