“Really unfair”: Businesses argue consultation on .au domains ignored them, auDA says it wants SME views

SmartCompany, February 26, 2018

Several small business owners have raised concerns that there has been a lack of fairness in the consultation process around the possible introduction of a direct registration .au domain.

Last week, SmartCompany reported businesses and those in the SEO space had been calling for asking for the self-regulatory body that oversees domain registrations in Australia, auDA, to outline a business case for the possible introduction of “.au” domains in Australia.

The organisation has been holding consultations about the possible rollout of a new Australian web address format, after the idea for a simple “.au” address structure first started gaining traction around 2015.

However, some stakeholders raised concerns that not all organisations that currently hold “.com.au” web addresses would immediately get access to their equivalent “.au” domains, or if they would perhaps have to register to claim these addresses.

AuDA has told SmartCompany that it is continuing to take submissions on exactly how the new addresses would be rolled out if they were to happen.

However, some stakeholders and business owners have expressed the view to SmartCompany that the organisation could be doing more to consult with the business community about the possible implications of the changes.

In comments posted to SmartCompany last week, business owners expressed confusion about the policy idea, saying they had never even heard of the possibility that a new domain structure could be introduced in Australia.

Beyond the costs of claiming a new domain, many raised worries that if they did transition their companies to a new website name, it would be a challenge from a branding perspective.

“Like so many others we’ve spent a lot on our .com.au branding etc. It costs a lot to do it all not just a small extra cost,” said one comment writer.

Other business owners and stakeholders have contacted SmartCompany over the past week with concerns that the way the policy idea has been discussed by auDA has been “really, really unfair”.

One said he felt as though those in the business community had been treated like “fools” during the process, observing that public hearings on the issue held by auDA haven’t included many business voices.

Others raised concerns that auDA’s 2017 Policy Review panel, which has been holding consultation on the possibility of .au domains, was supposed to have appointed a “peak business body representative” to the panel, but this was never done.

Those worried about the process say this indicates that smaller businesses will not have their voices heard about how the new web address would affect SMEs, who might have to fight it out to even claim their equivalent web address if their “com.au” site were to fall into a pool of “contested” addresses.

Consultation continuing, says auDA

When contacted by SmartCompany, an auDA spokesperson said the organisation had contacted a number of business bodies for nominations to select a business representative to sit on the policy review panel.

“Consultation with these groups continues,” the spokesperson said.

The organisation invited stakeholders, including those commenting on SmartCompany about their concerns, to make submissions to the organisation via their consultation page.

“This a key part of the policy process and it is essential that businesses who have issues with the proposal provide feedback to us,” the spokesperson said.

Other business owners say they believe the shorter domain structure can be introduced fairly, with any comments about the possible harm this could cause to SMEs being speculation.

“There are many instances where similar changes in technology have been viewed with similar fear and trepidation, only to be unilaterally celebrated years later,” says chief operations officer at Crazy Domains, Gavin Gibson.

Gibson says he believes the concerns of stakeholders about the changes will be taken into account by auDA.

However, a number of stakeholders have told SmartCompany that while they are keen to weigh in on the changes, they are concerned small businesses do not know they are on the table in the first place.

“All this stuff is going to majorly affect people, and they simply don’t know about it,” one business owner told SmartCompany last week.

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