• Short History of AU domains in Australia

    The history of the dot-AU domain in Australia is an important story. If you understand the past, you can understand why things are the way they are but if you neglect history, you do not have the context to understand the present.

    The Internet started when in the late 1960s, researchers gained funding from the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a computer network concept. In September 1969, the first pair of nodes was installed at the University of California and the first external link was to Stanford Research Institute (SRI), several hundred kilometers away. The network was dubbed ARPANET. The two crucial protocols that form the foundation of the internet are Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), and with the addition of the DNS, or domain name system create what we now call the Internet.

    More and more universities connected to the network created by UCLA and SRI and here is where we will begin the Australian domain name story.

    The Australian domain network

    Back in 1980 Jon Postel, a UCLA network engineer had control over the global system of top level domains. In 1986, Jon Postel assigned the management of .au domain to Robert Elz, a University of Melbourne engineer. Both men developed the internet with the aid of volunteers but after the death of Jon Postel in 1998, a Californian non for profit organisation, ICAAN took over the volunteer functions, previously managed by Postel.

    May 1989, a 56Kbps satellite Internet link from the US to the
    University of Melbourne connects Australia to the Internet

    In May 1989, a 56K satellite link to Melbourne University connects Australia to the internet.

    Interest in the internet exploded, but Elz found it increasingly difficult to process the flood of domain name registrations. In 1996, he gives MelbourneIT, a non-exclusive five year licence to the com.au domain space. MelbourneIT was floated on the stock market for hundreds of millions of dollars. On October 25, 2001 ICAAN gives control of the dot-au domain from Elz and gives it to an australian domain authority. This is despite, Elz protests and his 15 years of volunteering that brought the internet to Australia.

    The commercialization of the internet is in full swing and has no time for volunteers who would hinder its development. 

    Although, the case of redelegating the dot-au domain from Elz to an Australian domain name authority did not make headline news, the point to note is the precarious legal standing of domain name registration. If ICAAN can take away responsibility of dot-au domain from Elz, then it can do the same to any domain name owner. ICAAN and similar organisations are not accountable to the courts or governments and their decisions are binding. ICAAN is one of the most powerful organisations in the world and most people know or care very little about ICAAN, how its managed or its board members.

    There is a fine line between freedom of speech and censorship, a fine line between democracy and dictatorship and a fine line between the right to police the internet and the right to privacy on the internet.

    Has ICAAN become too powerful without due process? Probably. What can be done about it? Very little.

    The Internet Today

    Today's internet and HTML is old and was not built for the challenges of internet crime, spammers, scammers, large scale use of VoIP, video and audio sharing. There are many who believe that the very structure of the internet needs to be rebuilt from scratch and it is very likely that in the next decade, that significant changes to internet protocols will occur. A network that was built for University students and staff to exchange information is on the brink of outgrowing its capacity to deliver the bandwidth and reliability that people require for trade and communication.