A dream of a better ISOCNZ

I had a dream. I'd gone backstage after a recent concert by Neil Finn and friends. In the dream I go up to the legend of Split Enz (and much more) fame and ask, "Who stands out above all others in the land for the ability to split hairs?" "ISOCNZ" was his unhesitating answer.

I had a dream. I’d gone backstage after a recent concert by Neil Finn and friends. In the dream I go up to the legend of Split Enz (and much more) fame and ask, “Who stands out above all others in the land for the ability to split hairs?”

Maybe I’d expected him to name some of his fellow former band members. But “ISOCNZ” was his unhesitating answer. What did the dream mean, I wondered?

I told Computerworld reporter Paul Brislen about it and he laughed knowingly and said he’d been having ISOCNZ nightmares for months. They ceased when he eventually resigned his membership of the organisation (but recur whenever he’s required to report on its activities).

He helped me get to the bottom of my dream, which can be interpreted like this. The ISOCNZ

(Internet Society of New Zealand) is, like it or not, involved in a defamation action being brought by the former head of its subsidiary, Domainz, against an ISOCNZ member. Domainz collects money from New Zealand organisations wanting to register a .nz internet domain name. This probably amounts to several million dollars a year.

Domainz’s boss was referred to impolitely in a mailing list by an ISOCNZ member in December 1999; the Domainz board decided to fund defamation proceedings on behalf of its boss; and the ISOCNZ governing council “acknowledged” that decision.

Following that “acknowledgement”, the make-up of the ISOCNZ council changed (at last year’s June AGM) and the new lot told Domainz they disapproved of funding the court action. Meanwhile, the court action crept ahead.

Here’s where the hair was famously split. ISOCNZ maintains it doesn’t agree with Domainz’s support of the defamation suit. But most reasonable people would agree that 10 months of allowing a subsidiary organisation to press ahead with action of which you “disapprove” amounts to support of that action. ISOCNZ risks being labelled an anachronism for such futile hair-splitting, which it has indulged in repeatedly in response to Computerworld (and IDGNet) coverage of this point.

But it needn’t be an anachronism. It just needs a dose of reform to bring it into the modern internet age, in line with its US equivalents, ISOC (the US-based Internet Society) and ICANN (the US-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).

ISOCNZ is unlike its US counterpart in that it has responsibility for the .nz domain, a role undertaken in the US by ICANN, but with one important difference. Whereas ISOCNZ passes management of .nz to subsidiary Domainz, ICANN has a commercial arrangement, subject to ratification by the US Department of Justice, with US company VeriSign for running the .com, .net and .org domains. ISOC, for its part, confines itself to policy and technical oversight (as umbrella organisation of the Internet Engineering Task Force [IETF] and Internet Architecture Board, among others).

Is it just coincidence that controversy seems to swirl around ISOCNZ and ICANN, two bodies with commercial roles in internet management? While the ICANN-VeriSign relationship is more arm’s-length than that of ISOCNZ and Domainz, ICANN still attracts criticism, being described in a February Senate hearing as “accountable to no one but God Almighty”. In contrast, ISOC, which has a “purer” policy role, seems to be comparatively immune from controversy.

ISOCNZ wants to be closer to ISOC, a resolution to that effect having been passed at last June’s AGM. Another called for Domainz’s domain name registration system to be reviewed. The society would proceed “in an orderly manner” toward both objectives, it told us.

But is it enough? Before it starts getting close to ISOC, ISOCNZ needs to take a leaf from ICANN’s book. The money collecting side of domain name registration should be contracted out to a completely separate organisation. Until then, the society risks continuing to be distracted from its policy-setting activities by the Domainz millions and the mud that attracts.

It’s appropriate that policy be set in the democratic fashion of an incorporated society, which has helped steer the internet from its informal beginnings 25 years ago to where it is today. But to avoid becoming an anachronism, it needs to acknowledge the commercial and policy sides of internet governance are incompatible in an age when the net is mission-critical to countless organisations.

That’s a dream I’ll happily have night after night.

Doesburg is Computerworld’s editor. Send email to Anthony Doesburg. Letters for publication should be sent to Computerworld Letters.

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More about Department of JusticeICANNIETFInternet Architecture BoardInternet Corporation for Assigned Names and NumbersInternet Engineering Task ForceISOCNZUS Department of JusticeVeriSign Australia

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