Laying the foundation for a higher performing Internet in Canada

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For many of you, I’m going to sound like a broken record here, but over the past decade Canada has lost its leadership position in the global digital economy.

In just about any indicator you care to pick, from the OECD to the Berkman Center, it is clear that Canada has slipped into the bottom quartile compared to its international counterparts. I’m not just talking about pipes and pricing, I’m talking about the entire Internet ecosystem, from innovation and venture capital to policy and infrastructure.

On the infrastructure side, this is particularly evident in Canada’s very low number of Internet Exchange Points (IXPs).

An IXP allows local network traffic to take shorter, faster paths between member networks, alleviating congestion on major Internet backbones and helping to reduce network costs. This results in a substantial improvement in local Internet performance and resiliency. The benefit is highly visible to end-users who would, as an example, experience less jitter when using Skype or watching video. With the current infrastructure, packets must travel much further than they would were there an IXP nearby, reducing latency and improving resiliency.

There are about 350 IXPs around the world and they have proven to be integral to the Internet infrastructure of many nations. The United States has about 85, thanks largely to the efforts of the private sector. In Canada we have only two, notably OTTIX in Ottawa and TORIX in Toronto.

Simply put, Canada is not keeping pace with other OECD countries.

There is nothing to be gained by dwelling in the past and pointing fingers of blame about why this was allowed to happen. What we must focus on today is where we need to go and what it will take to get there. As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the .CA domain this year, it is more important than ever to take stock of how we can continue to improve the Internet in Canada and ensure that we have a strong digital economy for the next 25 years.

Last fall at the ISP Summit in Toronto, I asked Canada’s Internet business leaders to join me in working together to restore Canada’s position as a leading tech nation. Part of what I called on them to do is work with us to establish a robust community of IXPs across Canada. For the past seven months, CIRA has been talking to community-based stakeholders about IXPs, and we recently launched an IXP wiki for these stakeholders to share their activities with regard to establishing IXPs.

Based on independent expert research that identifies optimal IXP locations based on data flow, population and geography, CIRA has identified a number of locations across the country that would be ideally situated for IXPs. We’ve started a dialogue with a number of interested parties, such as Winnipeg’s MBIX, Montreal’s B2B2C, Colbanet, Oricom, Teksavvy, Telnet Communications, Electronic Box, and VIF Internet. We’ve also been speaking with members of the Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Halifax’s Internet communities. A meeting of the Montreal community members will be held shortly.

Creating more IXPs is about improving security, speed and network resilience, while maximizing the amount of traffic that stays within Canada for the benefit of all Canadians. While CIRA has no desire to operate IXPs, we are committed to bringing together the resources necessary to facilitate their development. We can’t do this alone; it will require investments, new servers and other hardware to achieve the vision. Today, we are once again calling on all stakeholders in Canada’s digital economy, including network operators, Internet service providers (ISPs) and others from the public and private sectors to work together and with CIRA to create more IXPs across the country.

It’s not like we have to clear new ground to create these IXPs. We can learn from the pioneers in the Canadian IXP space – TORIX and OTTIX. In fact, CIRA already has a relationship with these IXPs (we are a member both of these organizations), and we look forward to continuing these positive relationships and learning from the expertise that they bring to the table.

If we are to compete on the global marketplace, we as a nation must have the vision and commitment to build the modern infrastructure required. A robust Canadian Internet infrastructure, including a nation-wide fabric of IXPs, is the 21st century equivalent of the railway that connected our country in the 19th century. If we could achieve that, we can certainly achieve this.

Keeping more of our domestic traffic in Canada will improve security, speed of data and network resilience for the benefit of all Canadians. We have to do this, because no one else will do it for us and we can’t afford to settle for the status quo. As we prepare to celebrate all things Canadian on July 1, what better time to continue this discussion in earnest.


Guest Post: The .CA Impact Awards

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In this post CIRA’s Director, Marketing & Communications, David Fowler discusses the 2012 .CA Impact Awards and introduces us to the four winners:

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of announcing the winners of the .CA Impact Awards at the mesh conference in Toronto.

The .CA Impact Awards recognizes youth, educators, not-for-profit and public organizations, small businesses and web developers and designers for their innovation and the impact of their .CA websites and applications. In short, the .CA Impact Awards celebrates Canadian organizations that use the Internet and .CA to achieve their goals.

The Impact Awards are a part of CIRA’s Community Investment Program. While our key function is to run the .CA registry and underlying DNS infrastructure, CIRA also supports the development of the Internet ecosystem both domestically and internationally. The Impact Awards help us to achieve this.

The four 2012 .CA Impact Awards winners represent the very pinnacle of Canadian ingenuity and creativity. This year, the winners include an initiative whose goal is to help Canadians experience the joys of eating together, an animation school, an innovative furniture seller that incorporated a charity into their daily work, and the developers of a mobile application that helps visually impaired people navigate their city.

Please, meet the four .CA Impact Award winners in the following videos:

Jeffrey Blum, In Situ Audio Services (ISAS). ISAS (isas.cim.mcgill.ca) was the winner of the 2012 .CA Impact Award for Applications. ISAS also won the mesh Peoples’ Choice Award.

Video available here: An interview with Jeffrey Blum from ISAS

Sydney Massey, Director of Nutrition Education at BC Dairy, from Better Together BC. Better Together BC (bettertogetherbc.ca) was the winner of the 2012 .CA Impact Award for Public Sector and Not-for-Profit.

Video available here: An interview with Sydney Massey from Better Together BC

Joanna Kakkavas, CEO and President, Condobox. Condobox (condobox.ca) was the winner of the 2012 .CA Impact Award for Small Business.

Video available here: An interview with Joanna Kakkavas from Condobox

Mario Pochat, Director, Vancouver Animation School. The Vancouver Animation School (vanas.ca) was the winner of the 2012 .CA Impact Award for eLearning.

Video available here: An interview with Mario Pochat from the Vancouver Animation School

Please, stay tuned. We’re going to be launching the 2013 .CA Impact Awards later this year. I hope you will enter your .CA website!


Internationalized Domain Names and .CA

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This week, CIRA released key highlights of how we plan to implement French language characters, or Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs), in .CA domain names. This plan comes as a result of seven months of outreach by CIRA. We’ve talked to subject matter experts, our CIRA Certified Registrars and conducted two public consultations to obtain feedback, and I believe CIRA’s IDN initiative is stronger for it. CIRA received a tremendous amount of feedback during the consultation which has directly shaped our approach to implementing IDNs.

Here are some of the highlights of our planned approach:

- French Characters: CIRA will allow the registration of the following characters: é, ë, ê, è, â, à, æ, ô, œ, ù, û, ü, ç, î, ï, and ÿ.

Administrative Bundling: Character variants will be bundled together, meaning that the Registrant of a particular domain name will have the exclusive right to register all of the variants of that domain name (e.g., only the Registrant of preside.ca will be able to register préside.ca, prèsïdë.ca, prësîdê.ca, etc.).

Single Registrar: Domain names in a bundle must all be held by the same Registrar under the same Registrant contact.

Pricing: The wholesale pricing of IDNs, including French character variants of existing domain names, will not be higher than the pricing for any ASCII or English domain name. This will not apply, however to any price related promotions that CIRA may choose to offer, from time to time.

As stewards of the .CA domain space, we are committed to running a world-class domain name registry for the benefit of all Canadians, and that includes both English and French Canada. The implementation of French characters not only allows us to better serve Canadians in both official languages, it also creates a more accessible Internet experience for all.


Guest post: The Flame Virus

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In this post CIRA’s Director of Information Technology, Jacques Latour discusses the Flame Virus and what Canadians can do to protect themselves:

The media has been on fire this week with the news of a ‘new’ and very serious piece of malware, the so-called Flame Virus. While there is a lot of information out there about this virus, I have noticed that much of it is not entirely accurate. Here’s what we know:

-  The virus is complex. Very complex in fact, and that’s the reason it has piqued the attention of people like me. It is clear that as it exists today, it is not active to the full extent it is capable of. The Flame Virus is certainly one of the most sophisticated viruses we have ever seen.

- At this time, there is no anti-virus product that can identify and delete the virus from a computer. That said, there are many very smart people working on this right now, and I know that the ‘fix’ will be out soon.

- The Flame Virus is currently not spreading via the Internet. But because of its complexity, it most definitely has the capability to do so should the creators of the virus decide to make this tactical shift. Currently it is spreading via USB memory sticks and on local area networks, or LANs.

- Actual infection rate is very, very low – estimated to be at about 1,000 computers around the world. The virus is also incredibly targeted, targeting mostly computers in the Middle East (and in particular Iran). Canadians are currently at minimal risk for this virus.

For a good, thorough explanation of the virus, Kaspersky, a Russian Internet security firm, has released an information resource available here.

So while the vast majority of Canadians are currently at no risk for this virus, there are a few things we should all be doing to protect ourselves from malware generally:

- Make sure your operating system and anti-virus programs are up-to-date. This means updating your software when updates are available and restarting your computer regularly. Updates are the key to stopping viruses and keeping Canadians safe online.

- Check your anti-virus providers’ website regularly. While the fix for the Flame Virus will likely be available in the next few weeks, it may not be available as an update to your regular anti-virus program. It might be distributed be a separate tool, and you may have to access it independently of your regular anti-virus program. The solution may also vary from vendor to vendor, so it’s best to check their website for specific info on the virus.

- Avoid becoming a victim of ‘click-through syndrome’. Very often, new programs require elevated privileges on a computer, and a pop-up will ask you to grant these privileges. Many people have become accustomed to automatically clicking ‘okay’ when met with this request – thus becoming a victim of ‘click-through syndrome’. Many viruses require these elevated privileges to be fully operational, so before you click ‘okay’, make sure you know, and trust, the provider of the program.

- Only download antivirus products directly from the vendor’s website, and avoid third party distributors.

- One of the ways that the Flame Virus is spreading is via infected USB memory sticks. It is always good practice to only use USB memory sticks from a source that you trust.

We developed a great tip sheet to help Canadians stay safe online with Media Smarts (formerly the Media Awareness Network), available here (.PDF). The Canadian government’s site getcybersafe.ca site is also a great source of information.

We all have a responsibility to keeping the Internet a safe and secure place for all Canadians. Please do your part.