Who are we?

9 Comments

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.

Disponible en français sur demande.

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  • Trevor H.

    This blog is too funny. Here we see CIRA trying to explain why it is doing. Meanwhile common sense and business courtesy seems to have evaded CIRA’s thinking.

    Why does CIRA have so many critics? Maybe it is because CIRA says one thing and does something else. Byron, where are those translations you promised? Here’s your quote from September 10: “Lorsque nous recevons des questions en français, comme dans le cas du commentaire que vous avez soumis, une réponse en français sera fournie.”

    Broken promises for sure. Folks are still waiting for the CIRA leader to act on his word. And meanwhile, CIRA seems to have quietly taken away the blog link on the French section of the site. Clearly, CIRA is not interested in working the Canadian way.

    Every time I read Byron talking about CIRA’s so called “international reputation”, I feel like laughing out loud. “International reputation?” Anyone who has even been to an ICANN meeting knows it very easy to be popular with the Internet crowd when you have deep pockets. Why does CIRA have so many critics? Maybe CIRA should stop jet setting at registrants’ expense and instead focus on what Canadians need? Canadians do not need CIRA to fly around the world talking about the “fun” stuff. Canadians need CIRA leaders to start working on service for Canadians—the “boring” stuff. Byron if you “sweat the small stuff”, why do so many CIRA CERTIFIED REGISTRARS offer poor/awful service while you and others cruise the halls of Europe? You guys should spend more time at home working on making service better for the folks at home.

    Trevor

  • Dilip Shankarnarayan

    Well said Trevor. CIRA appears to have more money than vision. The Internet did fine without CIRA registrants paying for so many staff trips to exotic locales.

    CIRA has spent over 1 million bucks on travel in the past 3 years! And no Auditor General to keep things open, transparent, and accountable.

    Let’s put things in perspective. The Internet will do fine if CIRA shifts its attention (and dollars) to the real needs of Canadians. After all these years, after all these ICANN trips, it is crazy that so many CIRA certified registrars offer such crappy service. But why expect better? CIRA is a government mandated monopoly. Not a thick registry. A very thick registry :)

    Byron…Just a friendly reminder. Those “armchair quarterbacks” you are referring to are the ones who are paying for your travel expenses.

    Dilip S

  • http://www.ciratalk.ca Jim

    Byron – Please, take off that silly cape before you try to leap a tall building or something.

    Jim over at CIRATalk.ca

  • Byron Holland

    Hi Trevor & Dilip,
    I read your responses to my blog post with interest. As you can imagine, I disagree with most of the points you make.

    There are approximately 140 Registrars to choose from and there are a lot of great ones. If you don’t like the one you are with, you are free to transfer to another one. Like anything in the private sector, nothing speaks as loudly to a business as walking away from it. If you have a specific complaint about a particular Registrar please contact us at http://www.cira.ca/corporate-contact/ We investigate, follow up, and resolve complaints.

    ICANN is a much maligned organization, but the fact is that it is the forum in which the governance and coordination of the internet happens. This is where the discussion and decisions around internet policy, law, governance, technology, protocol, and security issues happen and get made. Are you really suggesting that .CA should have no part in determining the future course of the coordination of the internet? Gotta be frank here…that is a pretty small minded view for such an important issue.

    Do you really want to leave these issues up to the likes of Syria and the very Registrars you complain about?

    I’d like to make you aware of the ways you can be involved with CIRA.
    We’ve recently held the elections for the CIRA Board of Directors (https://elections.cira.ca/2009/en/election.html); however, there are other ways to be involved. The call for members of the nomination committee – the committee that selects the candidates who will appear on the final ballot for the Board of Directors election – goes out in January.
    The elections process for Board members will begin in May.

    Now, if I could just get this cape untangled…

  • http://creemore.ca Peter Lomath

    I’d like to see far less travelling to foreign places and more effort put into defending the rights of Canadians against the continuing efforts of the common carriers to control the CRTC and take over the Internet for their own profit.

    Canada is about to see huge increases in costs for internet access, bandwidth and site access if the common carriers are allowed to eliminate “re-sellers” and take total control not just of the backbone but the right of individual sites to exist without be charged for access by internet users.

    The CRTC and the Canadian government need to take a sober second look at the way in which Canadians may soon find the internet access disappearing before their eyes and their pocketbooks as more and more “IP based” connectivity is used for high profit television and multi-media content controlled by the common carriers or their associated companies.

    CIRA should be “front and centre” loudly protecting the rights of its site registrants against any attempts to take control of the internet in Canada for the benefit of private common carriers. If CIRA does not start standing up for our rights there will be no need for CIRA to exist since I for one would not be able to pay a common carrier for access to my sites.

    On the matter of “spending” CIRA should have an “audit committee” made up of registrants to keep a very close eye on how the funds remitted by registrants are disbursed by CIRA directors and staff.

    Thank you

    Peter Lomath

  • Byron Holland

    Hi Peter,
    Thanks for your comments.
    While I think that forward progress has been made by the CRTC, with increased notice and transparency, clearly there is still work to do. This is likely just the first step in this debate rather than an end point.

    As a domain name registry, I hope that you can appreciate that carrier traffic shaping policies are well outside CIRA’s field of endeavor. That said, it is an issue we are examining.

    As for expenses, I would remind you that we have an openly elected Board of Directors, 3 of whom come directly from the registrant base. The Directors set the strategic plan and the associated annual budget, which CIRA staff is then held accountable for meeting. At the end of the year an audit committee reviews and approves the financial statements. At this point they are sent to an outside auditor, who specializes in not-for-profits, who again reviews the statements and provides final sign-off. At this point they are published for all to see. I would also remind you that there is a Government of Canada representative on CIRA’s Board.

    As you can see, there is direct registrant representation as well as a significant set of checks and balances in the financial reporting process.

    Byron

  • Rob

    CIRA seems like an organization that exists to justify itself. However, apparently it does have something to do with directing .CA traffic. What is this stuff about going through CIRA to make Contact Information changes? How come I can manage all my other domains names without some 3rd party in the way?

    Hmm, only in Canada, you say.

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