CIRA (who?) comes to
by Alan Zisman (c) 2003 First published in Columbia Journal
, May 2003
On February 27th, CIRA
came to town. The visit to Vancouver
of the board of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority didn’t get
as much publicity as the visit of members of the International Olympic
Committee a week later.
CIRA is a quasi-governmental
organization mandated that oversees Canada’s
dot-CA domain. Initially, anyone wanting a .ca Internet presence
contacted a volunteer committee, led by UBC’s John Demco. The process
was free, quick and informal. As the Internet grew, the demand for .ca
addresses grew as well, outstripping what a small group of volunteers
could easily deal with.
CIRA was established with support
from Industry Canada
(a federal governmental agency with a seat on CIRA’s board). A network
of commercial domain registration services sprung up—if you want to get
a .ca address, you contact one to act on your behalf. Annual
registration fees are split between CIRA and your registrar. (You can
get a list of registrars from www.cira.ca).
CIRA’s board is mostly elected; 50
qualified electors are needed to nominate a candidate. Each .ca
address-holder gets one vote. Board members are from the business,
university, and social service sectors. The voting process is
cumbersome, requiring would-be voters to enter an obscure login name
and password. And though the Internet promises democracy and community,
there’s little connection between most candidates and voters, giving
voters little way to choose between candidates. Not surprisingly, voter
turn out has been pretty low.
The board came to Vancouver
to spread the gospel of .ca as the Canadian presence on the Internet,
meet the public and answer questions. A formal question and answer
session was followed by an eat, drink, and schmooze session.
Invitations were sent out to the listed reps of each local dot-ca
Most of the hundred or so attending
seemed to come from local Internet domain-name registrars. I only got
to see the tail end of the Q-and-A session, but from what I saw, the
best question was the last.
“What is CIRA’s vision?” Bill
Gibbens of www.influency.com
wondered? “What does CIRA hope to do with the several million dollars
is collecting each year from .ca address holders? If it is just bottled
water you are selling, Canadians want more." How about, he suggested,
each Canadian with a unique IP address free of charge?”
The board’s response was
non-committal; the chair, Maureen Cubberly, suggested that people with
vision run for the board and asked how many people in the room had
voted in the last elections. (Not many, it appeared).
As visions go, this is an appealing
one. Starting in the 1960s, universal medical care became one of Canada’s
most popular social programs, one which most Canadians feel helps
Perhaps it is time for another
universal program for Canadians—giving each of us with universal access
to information and the ability to communicate with one another.
Providing each Canadian his or her own Internet address would be a big
step towards making this happen. This address, (the series of numbers
like 126.96.36.199 that lie behind more recognizable domain names like
‘columbiajournal.ca’) could turn into a universal phone number, making
each of us accessible anywhere in the world, via this single number.
Take it one step further: provide
the equivalent of universal health care to all of these IP addresses.
The technology already exists to keep these addresses nearly free of
e-mail spam and viruses. Such services are used now mainly by large
corporations and organizations. While not perfect, they work pretty
well, far better than the software sold to individual users.
This could be a universal program
for the new millennium, something as distinctly Canadian as universal
Idealistic, sure. So was universal
medicare when first proposed. And like medicare, it won’t happen unless
people start organizing and demanding it. If you’ve got a .ca Internet
address, check out the candidates for CIRA’s June election.