A joint venture between RegistrarsAsia and Afilias has been awarded the com.au, net.au, asn.au, id.au and org.au second-level domains.
The decision deepens the controversy regarding ownership of the .au country top-level domain for Australia.
Following a long battle, Robert Elz, a reclusive but respected IT engineer, lost control of the main .au top-level domain in October this year. He was displaced by commercially run organisation auDA (.au Domain Adminstration) - which Mr Elz had granted the rights to run the most-used second-level domain, com.au.
auDA argued that Mr Elz was damaging their business since he was unable to keep up with demand. It argued an organisation (such as itself) was needed to run the Australian Internet infrastructure and wrote to the Internet's overseeing bodies asking for ownership.
Mr Elz said he had no problem with an organisation running the TLD but raised several concerns he had with auDA, in particular the effect on competition that handing .au over to auDA would have on other registrars. He turned to the Australian government and asked it to run the domain. The government replied that it wished the market to self-regulate.
auDA was handed the .au TLD and preceded to put all the second-level domains out to tender, ignoring the current owners. This sparked some argument over its rights. But - backed up ICANN - it has gone ahead.
Yesterday, it decided to hand the most significant second-level domains to one company, created by RegistrarsAsia and Afilias.
Afilias has long been a controversial company. It is a consortium of some of the largest companies in the Internet market, including Netnames, Network Solutions and Register.com - which, combined, provide a large proportion of the funds that keep the Internet overseeing body ICANN afloat.
Afilias argues, with some justification, that its expertise makes it an ideal choice to run a top-level domain. However, its critics see the selection of Afilias in many cases (often through closed-doors, non-transparent decision-making processes) as evidence of an old boy's network.
Afilias was awarded the heavily contested .info TLD, and proceeded to embark on a disastrous registration system which has seen have to prepare to send at least 10,000 suspect registrations to a domain arbitrator.
auDA also made the controversial decision to sign up to ICANN's newly created contract for ccTLDs. The contract gives ICANN a stranglehold over different countries domains and is despised by most countries.
Many believe that auDA signing up to ICANN's contract was a reward to the secretive organisation for its support in securing the .au TLD. Now, with auDA awarding most of the second-level domains to an old friend of ICANN's, the Internet looks more like a gentlemen's club than ever before.
It's debatable whether any of the involved organisations have the authority to make these decisions. (See here for an excellent review of the .au situation).
Of course, it's unlikely that anyone will see anything to gain by overturning the agreed situation - even if they could - and so the perceived takeover of the Internet by a small group of self-interested parties continues. ®