Who are we? Why are we here? And why do we have such vocal critics?
I’ll address the last question first. I think that basically they fall into two general camps – though I’m likely to be criticized for this – the first are those who don’t really understand what CIRA does or what our responsibilities are. And shame on us for not telling our story better and educating people on CIRA’s reason for being. We are working on it, but it does not come naturally for an organization that has spent most of its young life as a technology operating company.
The second set disagree with our mix, pace, and chronology of activities. They want us to do more of X before Y, or a bigger dose of A rather than B. The vernacular often used here is “armchair quarterback”. This doesn’t mean that their views aren’t honestly or passionately held, it’s simply that the view from the sidelines is often quite different from the view on the field. But what is the view from the field? What is CIRA actually supposed to be doing?
We recently had our Board of Director elections. Fortunately they went well, with participation up 20% and several very strong new Directors added to the Board. However, during the election I was struck by the high degree of misunderstanding about the role of CIRA. CIRA was founded in the late ’90s as a not-for-profit, non-share capital, corporation designated to “…administer the .CA (dot-ca) domain space on behalf of Canadian users”. There are a number of other elements associated with this objective, such as the notion that the dot-ca is a key public resource; that we promote the development of electronic commerce; that CIRA rely on market forces and private sector leadership; that we follow fair and sound business practices; and that we are very transparent in our activities. There are others, but this provides a flavor of our specific obligation to the government. This is what we MUST do. In other words, we run the dot-ca registry and the Domain Name System (DNS) that underpins it.
What does this mean? Basically that when you register a dot-ca domain name you can be assured that you will have a unique address – we manage nearly 1.3 million of them – on the Internet and that your domain will not be hijacked. It also means that for everybody who types in a dot-ca address or sends an email which ends in dot-ca, the traffic will be routed to the correct place. We do this 24/7/365. We are never down. CIRA facilitates more than 600,000,000 transactions on an average day. That is over 400,000 a minute, in a 100% uptime environment. That is the core of what we do.
In 2006, CIRA updated its Letters Patent to expand one of its objects, in order to give CIRA the flexibility to now also “develop, carry out and/or support any other Internet-related activities in Canada”. This means that when we have taken care of our core obligation, the one that the Government of Canada requires us to do, and we have sufficient surpluses, we can support our Internet community undertaking “other Internet-related activities.” As a federal not-for-profit, CIRA may only do the things outlined in our Letters Patent. What people may not realize, however, is that our corporate objects do not set the things CIRA is required to do, but rather the scope of the activities CIRA is allowed to do.
Our Board of Directors has stipulated that for prudent planning and risk management practices, a reserve equal to a full year’s operating costs must be accumulated. Even though we are not quite there yet in terms of our reserve requirements, CIRA is already engaged in a number of these Internet-related activities. We play a significant role on the international stage, including having members of our executive in key roles of global responsibility. CIRA was the key catalyst in kicking off the next round of development for the software that runs 85% of the DNS, a significant contribution both to the domestic and international Internet community. Further, we are also a major supporter of Media Awareness Network, a not-for-profit organization focused on equipping young people with the tools and knowledge to use the Internet safely and wisely.
Our Board continues to work in this object of the corporation. Interestingly, it is this least “critical” function that generates the most criticism. In spite of the fact that we are already doing quite a bit as mentioned above, it is never enough, not the right thing, not fast enough. Ironically we get criticized for focusing on our core mandate, the one on which every Canadian and every Canadian business depends and benefits from.
So while our armchair quarterbacks may shout from the sidelines, the average Internet user can rest assured that we will continue to keep our eye on the ball. Through our actions we will maintain our global reputation as one of the best registries in the world, and as our resources allow, continue to build on our existing investment in other Internet-related activities for the benefit of all Canadians.