Hard News by Russell Brown


NetHui is here

Some things you may not know: there are nearly half a million internet domain names under the .nz country code and, after margins, they generate about $6 million annually in fees. The income from this natural monopoly goes to Internet NZ, the non-profit organisation delegated as the manager of .nz by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and its own management organisation, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

Internet NZ is an open-membership body which uses its revenue to operate the Domain Name Commission, which directly manages .nz, and the New Zealand Registry itself, and to advocate for an "open and uncapturable internet".

It was born in 2001 in the wake of an extraordinary revolt in the ranks of the then Internet Society of New Zealand, whose secretive monopoly domain registrar, Domainz, was perceived by many in the local internet to be running off with the ball. (The full drama -- which took in a spectacular defamation suit -- is recorded here.)

From that point, the renamed organisation became a vital lobbying force, submitting on, in succession, the 2001 the Crimes Amendment Bill, Labour's Telecommunications Bill, the Consumer Protection Bill and the Inquiry into the Operation of Films Act. It also became the default voice of opposition to the rights holders' lobby in copyright issues. You have, in part, Internet NZ to thank for the fact that you may legitimately format-shift your own music.

It would be fair to say that not all .nz registrants -- let's say rianz.co.nz and apra.co.nz -- appreciate their fees being used to lobby in this direction, but it's chilling to ponder how things might have gone had there been no such voice in play.

Internet NZ also provides the majority of funding for NetSafe, and helps bankroll the New Zealand instance of the World Internet Project surveys, which offers a precious picture of who New Zealanders on the internet are and what they do.

And now … a conference. Or, rather a hui -- so named to emphasise its aim to be democratic inclusive of the whole internet community. They're certainly walking the walk with fees -- $34.50 for three days (buy your own lunch) is extraordinarily good value, and the event has, unsurprisingly sold out.

I don't think NetHui has entirely met its promise of inclusiveness -- the creative community is all but absent, and it's fair to say that most delegates will agree on most things -- but there will be much to see and hear at Sky City in Auckland from tomorrow till Friday.

Media7 will be joining the party. We have a panel comprising Internet NZ CEO Vikram Kumar, Ellen Strickland (head of the conference's Access and Diversity stream, secretary of the Pacific Islands chapter of the Internet Society and media studies lecturer) and New Zealand internet pioneer Colin Jackson.

You can join us for tomorrow evening's recording at TVNZ whether or not you're attending the conference. If you're coming over from the launch drinks at Sky City, we'd like you to put down that drink and get over the road (come to the Victoria Street entrance) by 5.45pm at the latest. Do drop me an email to let me know you're coming, because I expect we'll have a bit of a crowd.

There's plenty to see and hear on all three days. The World Internet Project team present at 9.45am tomorrow and Lance Wiggs hosts the only discussion in the whole three days that's explicitly about the future of internet content (with the exception of the Creative Commons group, content creators are, as I noted, thin on the ground).

Steven Joyce is speaking with his ICT minister hat on at 10.15 on Thursday and there are a series of sessions on open government thereafter. I'm joining Auckland University's Dr Luke Goode for a session on "civic engagement" at 1.25pm. And Bill English delivers a "leadership address" at 4.25pm.

Friday, with Sean Plunket as MC, is the big one. Professor Lawrence Lessig delivers the keynote and David Cunliffe is the lead speaker in a digital citizenship session that follows. There will then be a screening of the BBC three-parter The Virtual Revolution. (My auntie sent it to me on VHS last year -- it's remarkable for who it features, from Jimmy Wales to Bill Gates and the Google founders, but old hands will weep every time Aleks Krotoski uses "the web" as a synonym for "the internet".)

The 11.15 panel on Globalisation, the Internet and the Law, led by Colin Jackson and featuring Chris Finlayson, Lessig, Judge David Harvey, Ross Lajeunesse and Rick Shera, looks compulsory. It's followed by plenary panels from the Government and Openness and Access and Diversity streams.

If you're not attending, you needn't miss out. The proceedings will be all over LiveStream, EdTalks, Ziln and YouTube -- details are on the site itself -- and I expect the #NetHui hashtag will be very lively. If you see hordes of geeks roaming the Auckland CBD in the evenings, you'll know where they've been.

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