The sublime and the ridiculous

History, so they say, is written by the victors. Watching as people try to write history when they're not the winners or when history hasn't finished being made is quite laughable, but I had ample opportunity to see both attempts made recently.

History, so they say, is written by the victors. Watching as people try to write history when they’re not the winners or when history hasn’t finished being made is quite laughable, but I had ample opportunity to see both attempts made recently.

The first is the most astounding, the second the most astonishing. I called the National Party spokesman on telecommunications, Alec Neill, only to be told the most astounding facts. The problem with rural internet access is all Telecom’s fault for not maintaining and upgrading the network properly over the past 10 years. I had to agree, but this from a National Party guy? Furthermore, allowing Telecom to not do this is the fault of — can you guess? — government. Yup, Neill believes the rural users’ ills are the fault of his own party’s policies of the past decade coupled with a greedy incumbent paying out huge amounts of cash to its shareholders instead of investing in the infrastructure.

I had to sit down. It was all too much. Neill stopped short of calling for the local loop to be unbundled but I think if he’d had more time he’d have been suggesting nationalising the network and creating a joint venture with NZ Post. I wonder if he realises that the National Party is supposed to be more to the right than Labour and not the other way round.

I had a chat with his Labour Party counterpart, Paul Swain, about regulatory environments for the feature this week and I must say he’s converting me to the belief that wholesaling of the local loop may be better than unbundling, at least in the short term. If Telecom actually plays the game and avoids resorting to the kinds of stalling tactics we’ve seen from Telstra in Australia and BT in the UK, things should go quite well for the incumbent. One advantage we’ve got over those countries is the clause in the new regime that says if you want to appeal any ruling handed down from the commissioner, you can do so, but the ruling takes effect in the meantime. In Australia ,the ruling waits until the whole sorry mess has been through court after court and on as high as it can go, by which time any ruling is probably completely irrelevant.

The astonishing tale comes, of course, from the Internet Society. As regular readers will know, the society owns Domainz, which is charged with running the .nz name space. A tit-for-tat round of abusive emails on the ISOCNZ mailing list resulted in the head of Domainz, Patrick O’Brien, suing one society member, Alan Brown, for defamation after the latter called the former a buffoon.

The case has been heard and while I’m waiting for an actual transcript of events, it’s been reported elsewhere that O’Brien told the court the suit was actually initiated by Peter Dengate Thrush, chair of ISOCNZ.

If this is true it must spell the end of Dengate Thrush’s role as chair. It’s one thing to have the Domainz chief executive suing a society member, but quite another to have the chair of the society pulling the strings. To have the chair hide his role in the suit is inexcusable, especially after last year’s AGM showed members wanted the suit ended as quickly as possible.

Of course, this being the Internet Society, there’s more. Dengate Thrush appeared on TV3 news as an independent “internet expert” and, while not talking about the case in particular, his role in Domainz or the society wasn’t spelt out either. Certainly, TV news can edit out just about whatever it wants, and that might well be the case here.

However, this conflict of interest is not the first Dengate Thrush has been called on. During last year’s AGM he was called on to step aside briefly because of a conflict of interest while the society voted to “deplore” the actions taken by Domainz in support of O’Brien’s suit. AGM motion 29 “directs the incoming council to request the Domainz board to withdraw their support” of O’Brien’s case and was carried, although Dengate Thrush was one of two who voted against it.

Many of the problems getting information out of Domainz or ISOCNZ about O’Brien and the case are now made clear. If what O’Brien has said is true, Dengate Thrush should resign as chair of the society. I would question his continued role as representative of the society at international meetings as well. ISOCNZ members should demand nothing less.

Brislen is a Computerworld reporter. Send email to Paul Brislen.

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