DotAsia registry tries to put poll problems behind it and set new strategy

Home of the .asia gTLD has had a challenging year

Special report DotAsia, the organization that runs the .asia registry, has reconstituted its board after its most recent election was disputed, then conducted anew.

The org hopes to implement major reforms and implement a new strategy but continues to face criticism – and legal action – from one of its board members.

DotAsia is a private company founded to create and operate the generic top-level domain .asia. A business was chosen to do the job because the many countries in the region lacked a single body that could represent all of them.

To get off the ground, DotAsia's proponents sought support from the registries of country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) across the continent. One incentive offered to those bodies was a plan to set aside some of DotAsia's revenue for sponsor community projects (SCPs) – regional efforts that promote internet use and development. DotAsia also promised networking opportunities among ccTLD operators.

Armenia was one of the nations that backed the .asia domain and the DotAsia company to run it. Like other nations whose internet governance orgs agreed to the creation of .asia, Armenia therefore became a "sponsor member" of DotAsia – status that conferred voting rights for the org's board.

But in early 2023, Armenia quit DotAsia on the grounds that, in its view, the membership benefits weren't sufficient.

"Unfortunately, the past years have not let us enjoy such benefits," wrote Internet Society of Armenia (ISOC AM) chair Igor Mkrtumyan in a January 7 letter that served as his org's resignation from DotAsia.

But when voting in the DotAsia board elections opened on January 30, a vote was cast by an Armenian representative – even though Mkrtumyan had resigned the society's membership of DotAsia more than three weeks earlier.

Despite the anomaly of a recently resigned member organization casting a vote, DotAsia's board was elected and got to work.

That Armenian vote was noticed by some DotAsia board members, who expressed "a concern … regarding the validity of a number of the votes," as documented at point 3.8 in the minutes [PDF] of the org's annual general meeting in February.

The board therefore commissioned an external assessment of the election while it and the registry otherwise carried on as usual.

Internal disputes and governance reforms

Another complication for DotAsia is that one of its board directors is a stern critic of the organization. That director is Joel Disini, who also serves as CEO of dotPH – the registry for the Philippines' .ph ccTLD.

Disini has detailed his beef with DotAsia on a site titled DotAsia Exposed that criticizes the registry's operation and finances, and alleges the business has largely failed in its mission to foster the growth of the internet across the region.

DotAsia CEO Edmon Chung rejected that point of view, telling The Register half of DotAsia's revenue funds its eleven-person team, who contribute to many initiatives across the region including the NetMission.Asia – an effort to engage youth internet governance.

Disini and dotPH are also in a legal dispute with DotAsia regarding investments in and operations of an entity that ran the .spa top-level domain (reserved for Asian spas and wellness centers). That dispute has left DotAsia in the red.

As it considered its troubles, DotAsia noticed the situation at AFRINIC and APNIC – the regional internet registries for Africa and the Asia-Pacific – both of which have recently seen their governance challenged by entities calling for major reform.

To inoculate itself against similar strife, the DotAsia board proposed alterations to the organization's Articles of Association. The announcement of the proposed amendments stated they were needed to protect the org from "hostile entities" and to "better protect DotAsia against capture by bad faith actors and improve the overall standard of governance for the organization."

DotAsia board chair Jordan Carter told The Register the proposed Articles of Association changes were suggested as a proactive measure to make hostile action against the registry harder, by slowing turnover of the board, testing the eligibility of board candidates, adding an appointed board member, and not allowing individuals engaged in litigation with the org to run for its board.

"If people want a fundamental change of direction, they will need to get it done across multiple election cycles," Carter explained.

DotPH's Disini opposed the changes, criticizing them as designed to stifle dissent.

Election re-run

The external investigation into DotAsia's board election did not deliver a report until October 31.

That assessment [PDF] found "no evidence of non-compliance with existing DotAsia procedures or corporate documentation."

The report included advice from the outside law firm DotAsia commissioned to review its elections. That advice was that the termination of Armenia's DotAsia membership and its subsequent vote created uncertainty, and that four directors were not properly elected. The review recommended the best course of action was to stage a by-election to re-elect four directors whose election could have been impacted by the Armenian situation.

The four directors agreed, and resigned. DotAsia called for candidates to be nominated for the resulting four vacancies.

Only four candidates were nominated for the four vacant positions, meaning the election was uncontested and a fresh vote was not needed. The four appointed directors were Jordan Carter, Joel Emmanuel Disini, Nicole T. I. Chan, and Maureen Hilyard.

Disini has since disputed the process. During a December 12 members forum [video] held online, he called for a general meeting of DotAsia at which members would vote on both the decision to re-run the election and to approve the re-appointed directors, and challenged the report's findings that only one vote was in question at the time it was cast.

During the forum, Carter and Hillyard repeatedly pointed out that the election review found no breaches of process, that the by-election was a proper response, and that Disini's suggestions for an additional vote were not covered by the established election procedures. Hilyard, who led DotAsia's election committee in 2023 and therefore drove the review of the vote, appeared unimpressed by Disini's arguments and several times told him his questions had been "asked and answered."

The meeting became a little heated, and Carter eventually had Disini muted.

The meeting moved to on consider DotAsia's plans to adopt its new election procedures, which Chung said he hopes will be in place ahead of 2024's vote for directors.

The chief exec also briefly showed a document outlining a fresh strategy for DotAsia. As it scrolled down the screen, The Register was able to glimpse planned initiatives including a "moderate and gradual price increase," a plan to increase Asian participation in global internet governance, and tactics to increase purchases of .asia domains – such as engaging with Asian communities around the world.

DotAsia planned to conduct a board meeting in the week of December 18 to consider the strategy and other matters, and intended to release a summary of the strategy shortly afterwards. Proceeds of the meeting, and the strategy summary, have not been posted in public view at the time of writing.

Why the strife?

DotAsia's Chung told The Register the org's troubles in 2023 are essentially growing pains.

"We were developed in an environment of a lot of trust," he said. "When commercial interests intersect, conflicts emerge" – a pattern he's seen during his time serving at ICANN as it broke away from control by the US. It's also a pattern that's currently evident at APNIC and AFRINIC – organizations The Register hopes to revisit soon.

DotAsia, meanwhile, continues to serve the registrants of over 250,000 .asia domains, and hopes to continue offering a service that sees it attract more. ®

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