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    CIRA (who?) comes to town

    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

    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 address.

    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 wondered? “What does CIRA hope to do with the several million dollars it is collecting each year from .ca address holders? If it is just bottled water you are selling, Canadians want more." How about, he suggested, “providing 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 define them.

    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 that lie behind more recognizable domain names like ‘’) 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 medicare.

    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.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan