Early Australian Internet

In 1986, a year after the Internet domain name system was deployed, Australia's.au country code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD) came into being at the approval of the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute (performing IANA's function at the time).

The administrator, Jon Postel delegated management of the.au domain to Kevin 'Robert' Elz, a network programmer at the University of Melbourne.

Seen as a pioneer in establishing Australia's connection to the world via the Internet, in the 1980s Mr Elz was heavily involved in the establishment and management of the email systems connecting Australian researchers and academics to communities around the world - including the first ever exchange of Internet messages internationally from Australia in 1989.

As reported by AARNet1, "on the night of June 23, 1989 Robert Elz of the University of Melbourne and Torben Neilsen of the University of Hawaii completed the connection work that brought the internet to Australia." He went on to be appointed as the Australian representative on the International Internet Architecture Board, the only Board member outside USA and Europe.Mr Elz held the.au administrator position in a voluntary capacity from 1986 until the early 2000s and was responsible for the introduction of the second-level domain name structure (2LDs). At the time, these included: asn.au, com.au, conf.au, csiro.au, edu.au, gov.au, info.au, net.au, org.au, and oz.au.

As well as the management of these 2LDs, Mr Elz's original qualification in Law led him to develop a "policy rich" approach to the namespace, establishing policies for eligibility and abuse mitigation. With such a high number of 2LDs to manage, Mr Elz sub-delegated edu.au, gov.au and info.au to Geoff Huston from Australian Vice Chancellor's Committee (AVCC), net.au to Hugh Irvine of connect.com.au and asn.au to Michael Malone from WA entity, Connect West.

Mr Elz was responsible for managing com.au, org.au, id.au and oz.au and for developing the overall 2LD policy. (The CSIRO also had access to the 2LD csiro.au, which was managed in-house.)

Demonstrating the changing times, 1994 marked the first time that the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) surveyed businesses on their use of information technologies. The Business Use of IT survey in 1993-94 found that 49.4% of businesses had computers (211,548 in total) and these businesses accounted for 82.6% of total employment. The survey excluded agricultural businesses and businesses without employees. However, the survey also found that only 30.5% of employees (1.6 million) used a computer once a week or more. The focus was on the capital expenditure on IT equipment and 25.3% of designated information technology and telecommunications professionals were primarily involved in data entry3.Due to the rapidly growing nature of domain registrations in Australia (prompted by the increased activity and commercial growth in the Internet), it became evident that com.au required a more dedicated focus.

In October 1996, Mr Elz granted a five-year license to the University of Melbourne through its commercial arm, Melbourne IT Ltd. At this point in time the commercialisation of the domain name industry began in Australia. Melbourne IT began to charge for domain name registrations and quickly built a business around domain name services. It was however becoming more and more evident that a structured and coordinated approach to the management of the.au ccTLD was required in order to meet the rapidly evolving nature of the Internet in Australia and around the world.