Domain name row sparks talk of mutiny

The future of the New Zealand Internet's domain name system could be resolved this week, after a fortnight of acrimony. But not everyone may go in the same direction.

The future of the New Zealand Internet's domain name system could be resolved this week, after a fortnight of acrimony. But not everyone may go in the same direction.

As smaller ISPs and even consultants weigh up the possibility of abandoning the Internet Society and setting up their own DNS service, another group of larger providers, including Voyager and Xtra, is preparing to align itself behind ISOCNZ's controversial new domain name regime.

The overnight introduction of the new DNS charges -- $20 initially and $50 annually per domain name -- and procedures continues to be the issue generating the most heat. Spokesmen for major ISPs such as Iprolink and KC, which are members of ISOCNZ, have complained that the announcement of charges on the day they applied was unprofessional and meant they were unable to adjust their prices for registration services.

ISOCNZ chairman Roger Hicks told Computerworld that although a DNS regime along the lines of the new one had been signalled for some time, it was rushed into place under pressure from Waikato University, which had suffered budget cuts and doubted its ability to continue providing a DNS registration service without outside revenue.

Fears of a "run" on new registrations meant no warning was given before the introduction of charges, although those ISPs with members on the council, such as Netlink, were entrusted with the knowledge.

The upshot has been an online firestorm which has seen at least one participant speculate on legal action against individual members of the ISOCNZ council and others discussing life without the society.

"There's so much heat flying around at the moment that's its difficult to understand the real issues, or even to identify them," says Hicks. "To be honest, my mailbox is swamped. The noise level is drowning the signal."

Hicks has been talking to individuals on all sides of the debate, including Chris Wedgewood, the co-ordinator behind the idea of an ISP co-operative which could even run its own DNS service.

"It's important to get the ISPs to identify the key issues causing problems. And it's fair to say that I've also seeded the issues with some of the major ISPs to come together and try and do that."

Hicks admits that some aspects of the changeover--such as ISOCNZ's online DNS registration form, which was running new software brought in from Australia and broke down shortly after the announcement--had gone poorly: "I'm a software person and yes, I hate it when code breaks down."

"What I've been emphasising to people is that what we have done isn't set in concrete. In terms of whether it will change, I think the answer is yes. This was the first task. We did what we thought was best, given the time and information we had. It's clearly going to change."

If an independent DNS service emerges, it would probably mean a co-op or company registering a single domain, such as dns.co.nz, via ISOCNZ and then allocating domain names below that -- for example, idg.dns.co.nz.

"That may well be the way the industry wishes to proceed, and it is perfectly viable," says Hicks. "Such a private service would simply pay its $50 a year to ISOCNZ for its single domain name. We would simply revise down our estimates of revenue."

If the industry stays with ISOCNZ, revenue from DNS will rise considerably over the next few years--some estimates run to a million dollars annually at current charges, in which case, says Hicks "we will simply reduce charges. The revenue from DNS will only go to DNS purposes."

Stronger action from rebel ISPs, such as taking the society to the Commerce Commission to challenge its stewardship of of the New Zealand DNS, would raise interesting issues. But ISOCNZ has been delegated responsibility for the .nz domain by the US-based Internet policy body IANA, via Waikato University.

What seems more likely is the formation of an Internet industry body to voice the concerns of ISPs -- and more responsiveness from ISOCNZ. Hicks says that ISOCNZ taking on a full-time employee is also a possibility "but that could not come from DNS revenues."

The reckoning may come in a year's time, when all comers are free to challenge Waikato for the ISOCNZ contract to manage the DNS. By then, even the billing service will probably be up for tender--which could put to the test the unpopular $16 charge for the raising an an invoice embodied in the new regime.

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