CIRA Should Give Out Domains, Not Door Prizes

CIRA, the agency that administers the dot-ca domain name, holds its annual general meeting in Toronto today.  Attendees will vie for door prizes and hear from executives about the growing number of Canadian domain name registrations, the robust financial health of the organization, and a small list of corporate by-law amendments.  Yet as CIRA moves into its second decade, my weekly technology law column (homepage version, Toronto Star version) argues the promise of a leading Internet voice in Canada and an active, engaged membership is gradually fading away.

Engaging Canadians was viewed as a top priority during the organization’s early years (I was a board member from 2001-06).  Meetings were held in communities across the country in an effort to educate Canadians on the dot-ca and to encourage participation in Internet governance issues.  The annual general meeting was webcast to ensure all Canadians could attend, even if only virtually. While CIRA never managed to become a household name – many registrants simply want their website or email to work without regard for bigger policy issues – it could count on hundreds of Canadians to vote for the board of directors, participate in consultations, and show their interest in how Canada’s domain name space should be managed.

Today, most of that interest and energy has disappeared.  CIRA has been largely absent from the public policy issues of the day and few members show much interest in its governance.  This year, only three people were able to muster the necessary 20 indications of member support in order to appear on a board of director ballot.  In fact, one member became so frustrated with CIRA’s support for election debate that he created his own site at Perhaps the greatest failure, however, has been the stagnation in parlaying the organization’s financial success into a bigger contribution to the Canadian Internet landscape.  Rather than focusing on Canada’s domain name registration statistics, where Canada ranks in the middle of the pack as compared with other developed countries, it is worth considering how it has fallen behind other country-code domain names in allocating resources toward Internet public interest initiatives.

In the United Kingdom, Nominet (which runs the dot-uk domain), has contributed millions of dollars to charitable organizations that help disadvantaged groups access the Internet.  Similar programs are in place in Australia, which makes annual grants to projects for the benefit of the community.

Other domain name agencies have concentrated on research and policy development.  The Austrian agency funds an annual call for projects to enhance Internet access, the Netherlands’ agency supports organizations focused on Internet security and innovation, while the Italian agency maintains a prize competition for student research.

Yet another approach is to concentrate on developing countries.  For example, the French domain name agency provides support to the International College Fund that promotes Internet use in the developing world.

A fourth possibility is to remove any financial barriers to domain registration by offering free registration to residents.  Citizens of Rwanda and the Republic of the Congo are both entitled to free domain name registrations that run on local servers.  In South Africa, is offered as a second-level domain freely to South Africans who cannot afford other .za domains.

At the heart of these initiatives is the recognition that a country-code domain name is a public trust that must look beyond commercial opportunities to fulfill its mandate.  To achieve that goal, CIRA should be thinking about giving away domain names or scholarships, not thousands of dollars in door prizes.


  1. VancouverDave says:

    CIRA is supposed to be a non-profit organization.
    That’s why it hires countless marketing and polling firms and is constantly growing in staff and salary level. The excess profit from the inflated .ca domain name rate has to be bled off in order to maintain non-profit status.
    Of course, the easier method would be to simply reduce the cost of a .ca domain, but that would cut into the fun of empire-building.

  2. Please vote for me in CIRA Elections
    If you own a .ca domain name and have registered to vote, CIRA elections start today at noon (Sept 23) and the election period runs for a week, ending Sept 30, noon, Ottawa time. Please visit the CIRA election site and read my Statement of Nomination. I stand for ordinary Canadians as opposed to business interests. I have been on the board for one year and I’m trying to turn CIRA from a corporate mindset to more of a true non-profit mindset as I think we all wish it would be. The analogy I’m using this year is Craigslist. I wish CIRA was run more like Craigslist, whose main goal is decidedly NOT to make money, but to do the most good for the most people. In one year we’ve made a tiny bit of progress. At least the CEO has started a blog You can contribute here without registering.

  3. Wow, absurd.
    Actually, looking at it, only two, not three, got the required number of signatures. And they’re both current board members.

    So much for fresh blood and fresh ideas.

    Maybe it’s time for you to take another crack at it Michael.

  4. Hi Gerrit, and all

    Paradoxically, perhaps, there are so few members candidates on the final ballot in part because there were so many. 38 people put their names forward, and there were over 370 shows of support, but split that many ways it was hard to hit the required 20. On top of that, I rather suspect people were deterred from reading 38 statements.

    Look, I’m not going to make a similar “vote for me” plea here. I understand that many of Michael’s base of readers are disillusioned with CIRA. What’s easy to miss is that many board members (including myself) absolutely share Michael’s general priorities but have to consider our goals in a wider context because we are responsible for all of CIRA’s operations while he no longer is. I’d even venture that if Michael were still on the board his perspective might be different. I’ve been on other boards and I’ve seen the same happen to others and to myself. Things look different from the outside, and it’s harder to trust what’s going on when you aren’t on the inside. I’d welcome Michael’s return to the board – but I’m not sure it would spark radical change.

    Anyway, I just wanted to stave off any great disillusionment regarding candidates here. Yes, the two members’ candidates are incumbents. But that’s because the Nominations Committee chose six entirely new people to run – of which you’ll get there. Of the directors who are ending their terms this year, you’ll have 75% turnover.

    I know how easy it is for ordinary people to join the board. Three years ago (Feb 2006, in Toronto) I was just another guy from the audience with opinions. At the AGM yesterday I ran into a number of people who remembered that, but couldn’t recognize me as a director. Maybe it’s because I put on a tie. But joking aside, the organization has a lot of vibrancy and is receptive to change. I’ve seen it and I still believe that, which is why I’d love three more years.

    Vote for me or not, but please believe that CIRA has a lot of potential and is aiming to realize it. Don’t tune out simply from discouragement. Michael is welcome to his view but it remains only one view. Watch what we’re doing and think for yourself. And please, do participate. The point of Michael’s critique is that we need more participation. If you take that as a reason to disengage, that would be a shame.