Internet Society may have played its last get-out-of-jail-free card It can be easy to forget how much the Internet in New Zealand has changed since the beginning of 1996, the year when it all took off. On January 1 of that year, neither Telecom or Clear operated dial-up ISPs and Ihug was only a couple of months into its ultimately influential flat-rate plan. Almost all international capacity was provided by Telecom and onsold by Waikato University. All new domain names were added to the DNS by Waikato’s sainted Rex Croft. In the course of such rapid change — and of unprecedented growth — it is inevitable that not everything should go smoothly and that not everyone would be happy with a new model for stewardship of the New Zealand Internet. The people who established the Internet Society of New Zealand to take over governance of the New Zealand DNS, as per the wishes of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority sometimes seemed to be on a hiding to nothing. But, three years on, at a time when the Internet is poised to become a key element of the economy, it is not encouraging that Isocnz still seems to have serious governance problems of its own. If the manner of the society’s most recent announcement, by chairman Jim Higgins and secretary Frank March, was curious — an embargo that expired at midnight on a Saturday, a release that went to only one newspaper — its content was startling. It indicated a name change for Isocnz to Internet New Zealand — an idea canvassed briefly, to some support at its summit in Auckland earlier this year, but not formally approved by Isocnz’s members and councillors. It also announced the New Zealand Internet Foundation, a body to provide "grants towards activities leading to enhanced access to, and use of, the Internet in New Zealand". The new foundation would "initially" use money made from the management of the DNS by Isocnz’s monopoly registry business, Domainz, which is apparently projecting a $1.5 million annual surplus over the next five years. The announcement came as a surprise not only to the society’s members, but apparently to some councillors and even its executive director, Sue Leader, who was out of the country when it was made. Leader was obliged to rush out a "supplementary" release pointing out that the foundation idea had only been "endorsed in principle" at a strategic planning meeting last month. A business case for the idea had yet to be put, and its establishment approved by Isocnz members at the AGM in December, she said. Quite. When Isocnz began charging for the registration of domain names under .nz in July 1996, then-chairman Roger Hicks promised that registration would be "non-profit but self-sustaining" and would also not be used to finance any other activity. His treasurer Colin Jackson further emphasised that "we’re not doing this to build up a cash surplus and any surplus we do generate will be re-applied for genuine DNS purposes". That policy is still in place, and the fact that the chairman and his chums were either unaware of it or prepared to ignore it reflects very poorly on Isocnz’s leadership. There may be some merit in the idea, but it should never have been presented as a fait accompli, in error or otherwise. That this vague, grand plan for the use of stakeholders’ money should have been mounted while Domainz still, apparently irrationally, refuses to spend a modest sum on a whois server — standard kit for DNS registries the world over — seems bizarre. But the crisis of confidence in the society may yet turn out for the best. A new chairman will be elected next month, and already at least one current councillor is pushing for a "shared registry" model like that applying to .com, in which Domainz would carry a more technical and less commercial role, and ISPs would act as retail registrars, billing their own customers. Such a change should be widely welcomed — and would still likely produce some surplus for good works in the Internet community. What needs to happen now is that the leaders of the Internet community — and Isocnz’s corporate members in particular — decide to get involved in next month’s council elections. Otherwise, Isocnz may have played its last get-out-of-jail-free card. Rusell Brown is @IDG’s news editor. Contact him at email@example.com Letters for publication can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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