On Usage-Based Billing

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A few weeks ago, I spoke at a dinner at the ISP Summit in Toronto. The conference brought together Internet service providers from across Canada to hear about issues like DNSSEC, IPv6 and Internet exchanges, among others.

Interestingly, the day of the dinner happened to coincide with the CRTC’s announcement of its decision regarding usage-based billing. This controversial issue was certainly the high profile event for the Canadian telecommunications industry that day. Tension was palpable among certain groups, and there was no way the CRTC was going to please everybody.

So, with a room full of ISPs, I didn’t know what to expect when Timothy Denton, one of the CRTC commissioners, proposed a toast. For sure, no one in the room expected the following.

So, as CIRA’s Christmas gift to you (and with Tim’s blessing), I present On Usage-Based Billing, by CRTC Commissioner Tim Denton:

On usage-based billing, oh let’s take a stab!
Perhaps it’s no more than a revenue grab
And network congestion, which we try to fix
Is just like the shortage of IPv6
A number so large, so vast, and so great
Like stars in the sky, we can’t estimate.

Whatever the problems, we must settle the rates
That players may know what shall be their fates
So networks are built and blockages go
Investors rejoice, and signals do flow.

Demand must be forecast, a risky affair.
The costs are predicted, and traffic load share
Is derived by methods unwise to declare
Assumptions are made, the numbers inserted
From the mouth of the spigot, the prices are spurted.

The Commission’s at work, deliberations profound
To sift through the mountains of evidence found.
If we get it wrong, our doom is foretold,
The Commission’s abolished, its assets are sold.

If we get it right, the public’s appeased,
The carriers will groan, but the Cabinet’s pleased.
So where do we go, to solve the dilemma,
of Internet pricing – no easy problema.

T.M. Denton

CRTC Commissioner

By the way, if you are interested, here’s a link to the CRTC’s decision.

Happy holidays.


Beyond words: Diverse voices and miscommunications

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A few days ago, I sat in a meeting here in Ottawa with our IT Director and Director of Marketing and Communications. These are two highly intelligent people working on the same team, for the same company, talking about a common subject. And yet, something was amiss in achieving mutual understanding. Each was seeing things from his own distinct perspective and as such, speaking his own language. As I reflected on my team’s internal dynamic, I began to see parallels in areas that have an even more direct impact on the Internet ecosystem.

Recently in Dakar at the meeting of the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) and the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO), different languages (and I mean that figuratively) were clearly being spoken and mutual understanding was not achieved. Phrases like ‘very, very disappointed’ were used, voices were raised, and the tension in the room was palpable.

While fireworks often happen at ICANN meetings, there was a new sense of urgency displayed.

A lot happened behind the scenes, and it was, in my opinion, symptomatic of a few challenges facing a maturing organization.

ICANN is made up of many – sometimes – disparate voices. That’s the beauty of the multi-stakeholder model – those who should have a voice do have a voice. However, disparate voices can also lead to some severe, albeit unintentional miscommunications.

I live in Ottawa, and as anybody who has lived or worked here knows, government folks have their own language. It goes beyond a vocabulary rife with acronyms; every message, every sentence (to us outsiders, anyway) is nuanced and massaged. Contrast this to the direct nature of private sector players, Registrar and others, in the Internet world.  These are “chronic entrepreneurs,” folks who look for the most efficient, pragmatic solution, often bred in the wide open early days of the Internet. When these two groups get together, the potential for miscommunication is enormous.   Each speaks the same language, but the “dialects” of their cultural groupings can be quite different.

The law enforcement community has been calling on Registrars for a long time to curb criminal use of the domain name system. This issue has finally come to a head with the blowout at the meeting of the GAC and the GNSO, who represent the interests of the Registrar community at ICANN, and subsequent meetings between the GNSO and other groups.

Law enforcement first introduced a set of recommendations in a document called, appropriately, ICANN Law Enforcement Due Diligence Recommendations, to curb illegal activity on the Internet in 2009, and these recommendations were endorsed by the GAC in 2010.

The Registrar Stakeholder Group, a sub-group of the GNSO, had a discussion at the ICANN meeting in Singapore in June 2011 about implementing the law enforcement recommendations. There was a clear miscommunication at that time, because in Dakar the GAC were convinced that the Registrars would be returning in Dakar to report on progress toward implementing in short order nine of the 12 recommendations.

When the Registrars came back with an update on implementing just three of the recommendations (and at that, they were the three most minor of the bunch), the GAC was understandably upset.

In the government’s world, the appearance of making progress can be just as important as progress in and of itself. There’s no point in doing something if you can’t show that you’ve done so.

The Registrar Stakeholder Group, I’m sure, believed they were reporting a major success. They have a point. The fact is, even if they adopt all 12 of the recommendations and shut down nefarious activity originating in their respective countries, a Registrar somewhere else in the world will likely just fill that void. Why make investments, time and money, if it’s likely not going to make a difference?

In the minds of the Registrars, they think they’ve made real progress. If you can’t get 100 per cent, there’s no point in wasting time and energy trying. Most of the good guys are already taking appropriate steps anyway. The GAC is going to have to go back to their respective countries, where some of them are facing a good deal of pressure to have Registrars implement the Law Enforcement recommendations, and let their leaders know Registrars won’t voluntarily adopt them and self-regulate.

Fine, you can’t get 100 per cent, but you have to give us something, the GAC seems to be saying.

This was seen by both the GAC in particular, and as a result the ICANN board, as having some pretty severe consequences, and they let the Registrars know their disapproval.

But what’s the GAC really saying here? It’s a metaphorical scream for help. It’s a, “Guys, help us so we can help you!”

Why?

Because governments want – need – to curb criminal activity on the Internet. If the current structure that oversees the Internet is ineffective in helping them do so, another model for governing the Internet will start looking more attractive to them.

Bodies like the GAC, who have been, for the most part, supporters of the multi-stakeholder model, are trying their best to protect that model from external pressures, often coming from governments. Fact is, governments are flexing their muscles, and all of the players in the Internet governance ecosystem better listen. There are expectations placed on GAC members by their home governments, and when they need to deliver, they need to deliver.

And there are a few options that are gaining awareness around the world, such as in moves by the International Telecommunication Union to exert their control over the Internet, and more recently we’ve seen it in the form of a proposal commonly referred to as the IBSA proposal.

The IBSA is a proposal developed by India, Brazil and South Africa (thus, the acronym), calling for the development of a new global body, within the current United Nations system, that would oversee the technical development and operations of the Internet. In other words, it calls for the dismantling of the multi-stakeholder model for governing the Internet.

Fact is, the IBSA is the sound of the bolts being tightened around the key players. Although it’s unlikely to succeed, there will be other proposals that will follow, and if something doesn’t change soon (as in, start listening to each other, Registrars and GAC), eventually one of them is going to succeed.

In a way, this really puts the Registrars in a no-win situation. If they’re not willing or able to materially self-regulate, regulations are going to be imposed by governments. And, it’s in their best interest to self-regulate. This course of action will be the best for everyone involved because it will be the path to protecting the multi-stakeholder model.

Many of the Registrars need to better appreciate that the Internet isn’t the Wild West anymore. It’s a maturing industry, and it’s an industry like no other – all of the disparate stakeholders have a (more or less) equal say. And, more and more governments around the world are starting to take notice.

At some point the Registrars need to realize that they need to start really listening to what the other stakeholders are trying to say to them. This not only means listening to the words being spoken but also really hearing the meaning of what is being said. It’s in their own best interest. I can promise you one thing – if the multi-stakeholder model is dismantled, whatever replaces it won’t have nearly as much room for a voice from private sector actors like Registrars (or any other non-governmental agency, for that matter).

Coming back to my team at CIRA; we are increasingly sensitive to the idea that we need to listen closely to each other’s dialects so that we don’t miss the meaning of what is being communicated. A net gain is achieved when we broaden our view point beyond what directly impacts us in our own disciplines and really approach at the situation holistically.

What do you think? Am I understanding the GAC and Registrars’ respective points of view or am I also interpreting through my own lens?


The Canadian Internet Forum

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I am happy to announce that this week CIRA launched the 2012 Canadian Internet Forum (CIF).

This is the second year for CIRA hosting the CIF – in 2010-11 we held the first ever CIF. It was a very successful event, with more than 500 Canadians participating in a dialogue about the future of the Internet in Canada.

While the 2011 CIF included a series of consultations in Canadian cities, this year we’re taking a different approach. In an effort to include as many Canadians in the dialogue as possible, the CIF will initially focus on online participation, using an all new, highly interactive discussion forum. The discussion forum will run until the end of January, and we will host a nationally webcast event in February 2012.  To identify the topics for discussion in the 2012 CIF, CIRA worked with Nanos Research to conduct a national survey. Hot topics among Canadians included digital literacy, security and safety, access/cost, digital economy, policy and governance, and technology and regulation. Once complete, the results of the CIF will be shared with our government and private sector partners.

One of the interesting results from the survey was that 40 per cent of Canadians couldn’t identify a challenge and nearly 50 per cent of Canadians couldn’t identify an opportunity for the success of the Internet in Canada. This fact highlights the importance of our work on initiatives like the CIF in raising awareness of Internet-related issues.

The survey results inform the themes we will be exploring.  You can view them here (.PDF).

And if you think we missed something, you have the ability to create your own discussion thread in the CIF forum.

Please, take this opportunity to have your voice heard about the future of the Internet in Canada. The Internet affects us all in many ways, be it professionally or personally. We all have a stake in its future, and the CIF is the venue to have your say.

Please visit the CIF website to have your voice heard. You can also help us get the word out by talking to your friends and colleagues about participating, and, if you’re on Twitter, tweet about it using the hashtag #CIRAif.


ICANN and a Conflict of Interest policy

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As I thought, the issue of ICANN’s lack of a robust conflict of interest policy is a hot topic here at the ICANN meeting in Dakar. On my way here, I was working on the following blog post. Now that I’m here, there are a few quick points I’d like to make.

A strong conflict of interest policy would address two very different things. A Board member must declare a conflict and recuse themselves from voting. This is in the current ICANN COI policy, as was clearly stated by Ray Plzak at the ccNSO ICANN meeting on Tuesday. This provision covers the ‘now’, as in “If I am influencing something right now that I will benefit from then I will step aside.” The other important issue (in my opinion and in light of recent events THE most important issue) is that of the serious lack of any kind of revolving door policy – what happens when a Board or staff member leave the organization.

What’s the difference? While it’s important to declare a conflict when one exists, it is critical that mechanisms be put in place to protect from a board or senior staff member from benefiting in the future from decisions made now.

The time to act is now. There are some big decisions coming up around the new gTLDs, and ICANN’s Bruce Tonkin stated at the ccNSO ICANN Board meeting that a new policy will not be in place before January 12 (the launch date for the new gTLDs). With the implementation of the new gTLDs, ICANN is being watched.

I’d also like to note that I like what Steve Crocker, the current ICANN Chair, has been saying this week, so I am certainly encouraged by what I am hearing. Let’s just do this right and get a robust COI policy in place before the year end, at the latest, and take this issue off the table.

That said, here is the original post I was working on:

Since the departure of Peter Dengate Thrush as chairperson of ICANN, and his subsequent appointment with Top Level Domain Holdings, there has been a fair amount of criticism of ICANN for its lack of a robust conflict of interest, and particularly a “revolving door” policy. Fact remains, Dengate Thrush did not break a single ICANN rule by taking a position at Top Level Domain Holdings. Why? Because, as quite a few of us blogged, at this time, there isn’t a rule regarding post-employment at ICANN to break.

ICANN is an organization that hasn’t gotten a lot of mainstream press in the past. This is changing, in part because of recent decisions from the ICANN board on new gTLDs and .XXX, and also in part to – or maybe because of? – broadened interest in Internet governance.

As an entity that succeeds because of its agreements (here and here) with the U.S. government, and one that is increasingly in the public eye, it is more important than ever that ICANN put in place policies and procedures to protect itself and its employees – just like every other major organization.

To this end, I’m pleased to see that one of the topics up for discussion at the ICANN meeting in Dakar is Ethics and Conflict of Interest. In fact, ICANN has gone so far as to set up a ‘work party’ to revise the current ICANN policy and develop an “Ethics Regime,” and have engaged an external party to advise “on ethical issues, to advise and help develop an ICANN Ethics Regime or set of Guidelines for the Board, the staff and the community.”

But let’s face it – ICANN is not like any other organization. It is the force that, like it or not, guides the development of the Internet – an entity where borders don’t exist. Add to that the fact that it is a not-for-profit corporation, governing one of the greatest economic drivers of the post-industrial revolution world, and you have a very unique organization.   Further, as an added complexity, it is a stakeholder-driven organization.  This means that the folks who work at ICANN, and those that volunteer for Board positions typically come from – and have to go back to – the Internet industry.

Clearly, ICANN, and more specifically the ICANN Board, is in a position to make decisions that can make people and organizations a lot of money. Couple that with the fact that the Internet space is a highly mobile one, with industry influencers moving freely between organizations, and you have the recipe for real and perceived conflict.  An appropriate balance has to be drawn between preventing real and apparent conflict, with people’s right to continue on making a living in the Internet industry post-ICANN involvement.

So what would a conflict of interest policy for ICANN look like?

Fundamentally, it would establish trust that the directors and employees of the organization are doing their job in the best interest of ICANN. It also protects directors and employees for being put in harm’s way leading to undue temptation, and practically eliminates the potential for perceived conflict.

Apart from the obvious components, such as disclosure of gifts, abstaining from voting on an issue when a conflict of interest exists, the critical part will be around post departure rules and ensuring that people cannot directly benefit from rules or policy they have recently been involved in making while at ICANN.  This will be no easy challenge, as many industry actors participate actively, positively and constructively  in various ICANN roles.  A delicate balance will need to be drawn..

I’d like to see a provision regarding post-service rules for employees and directors. Lots of organizations have them; I called for one at ICANN in a recent blog post .

It’s important to remember that I’m not in any way implying that past, current or future ICANN employees and directors have or will engage in nefarious activities. What I am saying is that ICANN is an organization that is increasingly in the public eye and under scrutiny from a number of corners. Even a perception of wrongdoing can and will seriously damage the organization, and the implementation of a robust conflict of interest and revolving door policy will go a long way in protecting both the organization and its people.


The Model is the Message

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In 1964, Marshall McLuhan (a Canadian, by the way) famously wrote, “The medium is the message.” This phrase popped into my head last week as I listened to the opening speakers at the Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi.

McLuhan meant that the form in which a message is delivered – the medium – embeds itself in the meaning of the message. The medium influences how the message is perceived and understood and is therefore inseparable from the message itself.

What does this have to do with the Internet?

The bottom-up, multi-stakeholder governance model that currently governs the Internet enables decisions to be made at ‘Internet speed’, and has allowed it to thrive. Any other governance model would NOT have resulted in the Internet becoming the incredible economic and social force it has become. The success of the Internet is inextricably linked to the way in which it is run.

The organic mix of public and private entities at the regional, national and international levels that are at the heart of governing the Internet is the reason why the Internet became a success – it ensures that those who have a stake in the success of the Internet are the ones making decisions about its future. The model also ensures that those decisions are made in a manner that is in keeping with the dynamic nature of the Internet.

This model for governing the Internet is also behind its democratising power, and its ability to promote innovation, human rights and social and economic development.  On the other hand, countries in which the Internet is blocked, controlled or shut down by governments often have poor human rights records and their populations cannot benefit fully from what the Internet has to offer.

Therefore, I am disheartened by the thought of what the Internet, and indeed the world’s economic and social situation, would look like if a different model, for example, a multi-lateral model – such as is employed at many United Nations agencies like the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – were used. That model has worked well in the past for different industries. Case in point, the ITU (which has been around for more than a century), has ensured a robust and functional telecommunications network globally.

However, what would the Internet be like if a multi-lateral body were in charge? As history shows, it is often not the issues of the day that influence the discussions at these institutions. Rather, multi-lateral treaty-based organizations are typically hierarchical, top-down bodies that exist in a hyper-political environment. As such, they are susceptible to political intervention, influence and trade-offs, are slow-moving, and involve decision-makers so far removed from the implications of their choices that discussions, and resulting policies, can be very challenging. This is demonstrated with Dr. Hamadoun Touré’s comments at ITU’s Plenipotentiary last year.

As numerous nations and multi-lateral bodies continue to push their agendas, Internet governance has been the subject of quite a few media stories lately, and not just by the core Internet-focused bloggers.  While it concerns me to hear about the push by some to move the Internet away from its current model, it is important that these issues be discussed and debated openly.

These discussions should take place not only in the media, but in fora like the Internet Governance Forum, where certain states like India, Brazil and South Africa were openly questioned last week about their proposal (.PDF) to create a new body (within the UN structure) to oversee the Internet.

Their proposal received cross constituency, real-time feedback from the stakeholders and experts at the multi-stakeholder IGF. In essence, feedback was provided on a major proposal in a timely manner by the very organizations, nations and experts that the proposal affected. This is the multi-stakeholder model at its best.

The irony was not lost on many of us that the very model the group set to dismantle was the model that proved its power in this discussion. Such a fulsome and timely debate would likely not have happened in a multi-lateral treaty-based environment.

With apologies to McLuhan, with regard to Internet governance, the model IS the message.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not arguing that one governance model is better than any other. What I am saying is that each model has its place, and the model that suits the Internet is the multi-stakeholder one. There is room for both models, and each has its role to play – let’s just make sure we put the right model in the right place.


Regional and National Internet Governance Forums

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Last week, I was in Nairobi for the United Nations coordinated Internet Governance Forum (IGF).  The IGF brings together governments, private sector, academia, and civil society in an informal, democratic and transparent structure. There are no mechanisms at the IGF to make binding decisions; its objectives are simply to facilitate dialogue and find solutions to policy issues, to foster the sustainability and robustness of the Internet, and to facilitate development. That said, it’s much more than a talk shop. It is an appropriate venue to discuss, in an “apolitical,” multistakeholder environment, issues confronting the Internet.

The IGF provides numerous opportunities to discuss and debate many different issues.  It’s also a venue for national and regional Internet governance forums to present their local concerns and issues.

I participated in a panel to discuss how regional and national governance fora related to the global IGF, and presented the process and findings from the 2011 Canadian Internet Forum, a CIRA-led initiative where we engaged Canadians in dialogue on issues related to Internet governance. The CIF was incredibly successful, and we will be launching the second CIF in a few short weeks.

It was very interesting to hear the experiences of the other panellists, some of whom were presenting on behalf of regional IGFs (for example, West  Africa, Asia-Pacific) and others on behalf of national IGFs (such as United Kingdom and  Japan). Depending on the region, very different processes and themes emerged.  While IGF-USA engages in scenario exercises, where they considerer different Internet governance models, East Africa’s IGF looks at ways of improving access and infrastructure. While some national IGFs last for one or more days, others take on a year-long project format.

Though there are very real fundamental differences between national and regional IGFs, there are some surprising similarities. For example, improving digital literacy and access to the Internet, two major themes that emerged at the CIF, were also top-of-mind at most regional and national IGFs. As well, while the global IGF is a discussion forum with no decision-making ability or concrete outcomes necessary, the opposite is often true for regional and national IGFs. Concrete, practical policy recommendations are common.

Local discussion of Internet issues are fed up to the global community. The debate and best practice sharing this amazing dialogue produces makes the global IGF experience rich, rewarding, and crucial to maintaining the multi-stakeholder governance model we currently enjoy.

As I mentioned, we’re planning the launch of Canada’s next Internet forum in a few weeks. We’re looking forward to hearing about the issues Canadians  raise and how we can contribute to continuing the success of the Internet. Keep your eyes and ears open – we’ll be making an announcement very soon about how we are going to engage  you in this dialogue.


CIRA’s Election Results

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Yesterday, we announced the names of the successful candidates in CIRA’s Board of Directors’ election.

Congratulations to Kerry Brown (who is a returning Director), Bill St. Arnaud, Susan Mehinagic, and Andrew Escobar. I look forward to working with them over the next year.

A full list of all the candidates and their vote count is available here.

I would like to acknowledge the hard work of all of the candidates. This was one of the hardest fought elections I have seen since my involvement with CIRA. The issues were debated in the candidates’ forum, in social media and face-to-face at networking events like CIRA’s AGM.

I’m also very proud to say that we had a 22 per cent increase in voter participation over last year. I think our message of the importance of getting engaged in the discussions that affect the Internet in Canada is resonating with our Members.

I would also like to thank the Directors who are departing the CIRA Board: Lynne Mackan-Roy, Ross Rader and Tom Williams. Thank you for your dedication to CIRA and good luck.


Canadians Connected 2011

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On my way back to Ottawa from Canadians Connected 2011: CIRA Symposium and Annual General Meeting last week, I spent some time reflecting on the activities of the day. It was the first time we brought our AGM to Vancouver since 2008, and I’m very happy we did.

Those of us who work in the Internet world sometimes think the Internet is the ultimate tool for communication.

Bold statement – it’s not.

Yes, the Internet is about connections. It’s about connecting people to other, like-minded people. But here’s the important part: it will never take the place of connecting to people face-to-face. That’s why it was so important to hold Canadians Connected 2011 in Vancouver, and that’s why it was so important to hold our first .CA Members’ networking event in Calgary. (By the way, we’re planning our next .CA Members’ event – in Montreal this November – as I write this).

More than 200 people joined us at the Pan Pacific in Vancouver, and another 53 joined us via webcast.

Once again, our keynotes were outstanding. Jonathan Zittrain, considered by many to be the leading authority on the future of the Internet, gave an engaging talk about where the Internet is heading. I was sold when he said “the Internet needs to be open and free from regulatory intervention in order to facilitate the social and economic innovation it has stimulated.” If you read this blog, you will know that I am a staunch defender of the multi-stakeholder model for governing the Internet.

Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of Flickr, also presented the Internet as a tool for unprecedented innovation. He asserted that the Internet has been a biological leap for humanity, more significant than invention of print press. Butterfield ought to know. He is, after all, one of the great innovators in the Internet world.

This was our second AGM where social media played an important role. We had a very active Twitter stream that was projected on a Twitter wall on site. In fact, the #CIRA2011 hashtag was a trending topic in Canada. This is interesting to me because it really is an indicator of how engaged our stakeholders are. They want to be having the important conversations about things like Internet governance, IPv6, DNSSEC, and a myriad of other issues that in the past were relegated to insiders in the Internet world.

AGMs are typically a time of looking back and taking stock of where you’ve been. I find, though, that our AGM has become a time to look forward. Yes, we turn our focus to the activities of the past year, but in CIRA’s case, I think this is more in order to provide a guide as we move forward. CIRA has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. We are a world-class registry, and I believe there are many areas where we punch above our weight. Please take the time read our 2011 Annual Report.

Don’t take my word on it – watch these videos of participants telling us what their favourite part of the day was.


Guest post by Paul Andersen: Go Vote

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This week, the Chair of CIRA’s Board of Directors, Paul Andersen, pens a guest post on the current CIRA election. Enjoy!

This is always an exciting and eventful time of year for CIRA. As I write this, our staff and Board of Directors are returning from Vancouver where we held this year’s Canadians Connected – CIRA Symposium and Annual General Meeting. The .CA community got together to hear about the progress of the organization during the past year, listen to great speakers and engage in lively discussion about the future of CIRA. I am proud to say that this was one of our best attended AGMs to date, and we had a record number of participants via webcast.

At the same time, we are in the final stage of this year’s Board of Directors election. Like many other elections, CIRA’s has a long period where very little seems to happen, and then in a matter of a few weeks the process heats up as we enter the final stage up to the balloting.

This year we have a very diverse and qualified set of candidates who have made it to both the Nomination Committee and Member side of our ballot. Each year I spend the time to read all the submissions from the candidates as I find it encouraging to see people so excited and dedicated to the concept of giving their time and energy to the governance of CIRA and the .CA domain.

To many, Internet governance is not a particularly exciting topic. To many, we are basically a server, and keepers of contact information for each registered .CA domain name.

While on the surface what we do appears simple, what CIRA does is far more complex and far-reaching. The Internet has become the fabric of all parts of our daily lives and the various aspects of how the Internet is governed at the core impacts each and every one of us in our daily lives.

As a world class registry CIRA requires a strong Board of Directors. I encourage you all to take just a little time out of your day to review the statements by each candidate in their applications.

Most importantly – please ensure you take just a few moments to vote. Each and every vote counts. If you’re a Member, you will have received an email containing a virtual token that allows you to access the voting system. CIRA Members may also access the vote ballot through CIRA’s election website. You will need your Member email address and Member password to login to the voting ballot. Note: if you haven’t received your email, please contact CIRA right away.

And, talk to your colleagues and friends. If they are .CA Members, encourage them to vote, too.

To me, the more votes that are cast in the election means a more engaged membership. And, the result of a more engaged membership is a stronger Board of Directors – ultimately a stronger CIRA.

I’ve been involved with CIRA for 10 years now, and have found the experience to be incredibly rewarding. In fact, CIRA’s first Board of Directors was held in August 2001 and I was there.

So, who is CIRA and what does CIRA actually do?

We are a federally incorporated not-for-profit corporation managed by an elected board of directors and guided by our letters patent. We operate the .CA domain name based on a mandate given to us in 1999 via a document commonly referred to as the Binder Letter.

At its core, our work is the management of the .CA registry. This involves two components: the operation of the underlying Domain Name System (DNS) – which allows Internet users to connect to those with .CA domains – and the operation of the registry systems that allow our community to efficiently register and maintain their domain names. This is very important work. Many consider these activities part of the essential Internet infrastructure, which we strive to undertake in the most effective and efficient manner possible.

CIRA is also involved in activities that go beyond the technical plumbing of the registry and DNS.

The operation of the .CA Registry and DNS is always our primary focus – none of the Board or our dedicated staff ever lose sight of this. We operate in a 100 per cent up-time environment. However, in 2006 we updated our Letters Patent to give CIRA a clearer mandate to also “ . . . develop, carry out and/or support any other Internet-related activities in Canada.”

Simply put, if after ensuring our core work is done at a world-class level and at a competitive cost, we constantly look to re-invest a portion of our resources in other activities that support the Internet in Canada.  We undertake activities that give back to the community such as our Community Investment Program and the Canadian Internet Forum (.PDF), and we also actively participate in the governance of the Internet on behalf of our community both domestically and internationally.

That may sound like it opens up a world of possible activity for CIRA, but this is not the case. The Internet world is a very large one with many players who play many roles. Other players in Canada include governments (such as Industry Canada, Canarie and the CRTC), the private sector (i.e. ISPs, other telcos and Registrars) and academia.

When looking at such activities we keep our focus in the areas that have an impact on our part of the Internet. While we watch with interest the activities of others (and sometimes even add our two cents when we have two cents), we cannot get involved in every issue.  As a federal not-for-profit, CIRA may only do the things outlined in our Letters Patent.

So what does the CIRA Board do? What is the role of a director?

A director must act in the best interest of the organization – in this case CIRA – at all times. As an elected board member, you have a “fiduciary duty” to the organization. It means that a director has an obligation of loyalty, honesty and to act in good faith as a representative of CIRA without regard to other external interests.

Directors are expected to bring their full wealth of knowledge to each and every topic the board faces. We strive and encourage a diversity of views on issues. Debate is what makes a board stronger, and ensures that we are making the best decisions for the future of the organization we represent. But make no mistake, each director needs to make decisions based on a course of action they believe will benefit the organization and not any individual stakeholder group.

CIRA plays an incredibly important role in running the Internet and it is one that I am proud to have played a part in for the past 10 years. Our influence on the national and global stage is growing, and I credit this in part to 10 years of good governance at the board level.

I encourage all of you to review the minutes of past meetings that are posted on the CIRA website, and the committee that preceded it, dating back to 2009. If you would like to see what is discussed at board meetings, this would be a good place to start. For more information about the roles and responsibilities of a board member for a not-for-profit in Canada, check out Industry Canada’s Primer for Directors of Not-for-Profit Corporations.

CIRA is a great organization with an important role to play in making sure our part of the Internet thrives. And to do that we need the best people.

I encourage you to check out the candidates and vote. I also ask that you encourage your friends and colleagues to vote, as well.


Canadians Connected 2011

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Next month, CIRA will host a unique event in Vancouver called Canadians Connected 2011. It will mark the second year we’ve combined our Annual General Meeting (AGM) with an Internet symposium.

Last year’s incredibly successful event was held in Toronto. Not only did we take care of CIRA business, we heard from an expert panel on the future of the Internet and had keynotes from marketing guru Mitch Joel and CBC personality and ad guy Terry O’Reilly.

The AGM is a great way to get involved in Canadian Internet governance issues. You can learn about the important work CIRA does as we take care of operational business matters.

This year, we are going to have presentations from Jonathan Zittrain, considered the foremost authority on the future of the Internet and Stewart Butterfield, co-founder of Flickr, the popular photosharing website.

We will also be hosting a networking reception. It’s your chance to meet the members of CIRA’s Board of Directors, staff and other folks interested in the Canadian tech world.

Even if you’re not able to make it to Vancouver for Canadians Connected 2011, you can still participate via webcast.

Oh, and did I mention that the event is free? One caveat – although anyone can attend the CIRA AGM and symposium, you must be a CIRA Member to vote in the AGM or the Board of Directors election. The good news is that it’s free and easy to become one.

Register now to join us on September 20 for this important event.