Net guru passes the baton

Net guru passes the baton

Internet legend Robert Elz may be poised to step down as Australia's top gun in the Internet domain space.

Elz is expected to soon transfer all rights of the national top-level .au domain to industry self-regulatory body auDA. Control of the .au space will also automatically make auDA the arbiter of all sub-domains and give it the ability to delegate administrative rights for each of them.

According to auDA acting CEO Mark Hughes, the transfer could take place "within one or two months".

Pressure for a change has been mounting. Elz is one of the old guard of Internet purists who predate its transformation into a war zone of rival commercial interests. This has led to friction between Elz and the new generation of Internet entrepreneurs like Larry Bloch, chief executive of domain name registrar NetRegistry.

"I think Robert Elz has done a fantastic job, but the Government should not be prepared to put an entire industry at the risk of a single individual," says Bloch. "He could wake up, have a bad day and decide to delete every entry in the .au zone file."

Sometimes called the father of the Internet in Australia, Elz was given control over the .au space in the 1980s by the Internet Assigned Number Authority. His principled refusal to cash in on his position is a matter of public record, however.

An academic in Melbourne University's computer science department, Elz passed up a fortune last December when he delegated non-exclusive registration rights in the space to Melbourne IT. His action cleared the way for Melbourne IT's $93 million public float, but Elz rejected offers of shares in the company as compensation.

Elz was not available for comment, and some industry sources claim he has only been waiting for a suitable body to emerge before transferring authority. His conditions were that the new .au controller must be financially stable with the resources to support long-term administration of the .au domain. It also needed to handle issues and policies through a public process rather than a secretive, backroom system.

A recent agreement with Melbourne IT which pumped $659,000 into auDA's coffers appears to satisfy Elz's first condition.

The creation by auDA of two new review panels with built-in public accountability may meet the second. The first panel, whose members are charged with modernising Australia's outdated domain name eligibility and allocation policies, has met twice.

Among other issues, it is debating how to increase protection for intellectual property and trademarks on the Internet. The second panel, whose shortlist of about 20 members is still being decided, will recommend a new competition model for domain name registrars.

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