Friday, August 11, 2006

Internet Governance in Pakistan

Some quick facts before we begin:

  1. Government of Pakistan and all its IT and Telecom departments are typically the last one to understand any new concept specially if it is related to new age communication and Internet. [There are smart guys in these ranks, no doubt, but I am talking about the outcomes, such as legislations and 'instructions' that come out of these corridors - horribly clueless!]
  2. The industry - whether it is Telecom in general, cellular sphere or even plain Internet Service Providers - has not been able to produce world class trade-associations that can help the Government in new-age matters that are beyond its quick comprehension. All that we see are plain, old trade unions void of any professional thrust and effective technical acumen.
  3. Pakistan, like the rest of the South Asian countries, is facing an upsurge in Telecommunications and given its socio-economics problems and the potential of ICT to prove helpful here, it needs to make sure that nothing stands between itself and scalability of Telecommunication and Internet.

Domain Names, IP Addresses, Spam, Identity-theft etc might be 'the issue of 0.1%' in Pakistan but that 0.1% might be meaning a lot in terms of influence to the rest of the country. Hence, dealing with these issues early on is a sensible course. We have some problems with all of these areas and they need to be fixed - sooner or later. The earlier, the better.

The .pk ccTLD (country code top level directory) has been historically managed by a group of ex-pat Pakistanis. In the very early days, it used to be Imran. Then, the stewardship went to Ashar Nisar who has steadily been there at PKNIC for a long time now. PKNIC has been working satisfactorily (from an end customer's perspective) providing reliable services. However, we have some problems:

  1. PKNIC is a misnomer. If you go by the convention, XYZNICs are typical bodies that manage IP addresses and other common, collective resources for a given country or economy. PKNIC has been a 'domain registration' shop so far. It does not do any of the other essential Internet resources (such as IP address, AS Numbers etc)
  2. Its 'satisfactory working' aside, PKNIC remains an 'elusive' body. You cannot 'walk' to the PKNIC office and meet some human representative there. In a booming Internet and Telecommunication market such as that of Pakistan, would you imagine that PKNIC does not have a physical presence in the commercial capital of Pakistan - Karachi? A perfectly logical answer to this objection might be the financial state of the registry and the subsequent inability to have multiple physical offices in Pakistan but hold on - answer this question: Could it be the traditional working style of PKNIC that has been limiting the growth of the services that it provides?
  3. PKNIC's Pakistan office does not even has a telephone number. Just one ghostly fax number that has been sitting there ever since we grew up! The website of PKNIC remains poorly designed in terms of user-interface and usability. From 1996 to 2006, I can only remember 2 or 3 site design changes (I might be grossly wrong here). True, as long as the services are being rendered, this does not make any difference but just try to see the point I am trying to make here - lack of symptoms life!
  4. Because any NIC is so important to any economy in this digital age, it needs to be run democratically, with useful participation from the relavent masses. Once again, PKNIC has tried hard to 'dress up democratically' by having a 'PKNIC Advisory Group' membership to which is open to all. However, what is the exact use (if any) of this group except that it happens to receive a few policy level updates once in a blue moon. Whether this group has the power to make new changes or undo previous once is certainly unclear.

At the peril of being misunderstood as a clueless PKNIC critic, here is what I would suggest:

  1. PKNIC needs to be a vibrant body - something you can feel and touch right here in Pakistan. The servers can happily sit in the bandwidth rich North America but we need to have the rest of the things in Pakistan. At least I am ready to given life-long ownership/stewardship of this national asset to the current organizers but please bring it here. Imran and Ashar Nisar are national assets for us and they have been doing great work for all of us but God forbids, if a natural calamity hit, do we have a transparent succession planning and a DRP?
  2. PKNIC needs to enhance its role - not just should it be handling domain names but it should be enhanced to the level of a Regional Internet Registry (RIR) or a National Internet Registry (NIR) so that it can manage IPv4 and IPv6 addresses for Pakistan. Just to give you an idea, the ~200 odd ISPs licensed in Pakistan pay ~ $200,000 per year to APNIC for a limited amount of services.
  3. By breathing in a 'local life' into PKNIC - we can even have roaming PKNIC ambassadors in each city where there cannot be a full fledged office - we can double or even quadruple domain name registration and usage in the .pk ccTLD. This would bring down the cost per domain and further fuel the usage and consumption.
  4. PKNIC can be an excellent forum of discussing and solving other related issues such as Internet traffic exchanges between local networks, policies related to SPAM, content filtering, privacy and identity crisis etc and be the social forum of choice for handling Internet age issues in Pakistan
Now, getting back to the start of this post, here is the problem statement:
  • Government has been traditionally clueless on the new-age stuff (read Internet)
  • PKNIC guys did a great job in managing the .pk ccTLD at a time when both public and governmental awareness of the subject was next to nothing
  • Pakistan is at a take-off state in terms of IT and Telecommunication and will needs lots of shared Internet resources such as domain name space, IP address space, IPv6 and general network
  • Current PKNIC set up is working satisfactorily but there is a huge potential that remains to be unlocked in terms of possibilities. And as the needs rise, these unlocked potentials will become unaddressed pains
  • Current PKNIC set up needs to be 'revived' in terms of local presence and participation while upholding and acknowledging the services and contribution the current PKNIC leadership has provided
  • In case we cannot get PKNIC revived in the above sense, an ugly, loose-loose war is immanent where a late-awakening PTA and other governmental wings will try to create a parallel body with a split support of local industry that might support them due to the current participation void that they feel with PKNIC.
I invite your comments here to take this issue further.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Is your ISP ready for Vista?

Microsoft's oft-delayed, next generation operating platform - Vista is now expected to arrive in January 2007. Vista is reported to be extensive on collaboration and security fronts. To achieve many of the new feats that Vista promises to its users, the 1-Gig OS requires IPv6.

All applications made for the new platform are IPv4/IPv6 compliant and some are reportedly IPv6 only. Since Microsoft knows that not every ISP that the new Vista users connect to would be providing IPv6 services, it has come up with IPv6-over-IPv4 tunnel services that will tunnel the traffic from the end users to Microsoft tunnel servers hosted at one of its data centers.

To ensure scalability, natually, Microsoft has no other choice but to team up with local ISPs in each country to distribute the traffic load as close to the users as possible. This brings up the question of this post - who, if any, is the possible ISP who can contend for this slot. What is the requirement that if fulfilled, this tunnel service could be passed on as a co-located service to the local ISP.

I am starting a series of interaction with the local Microsoft office in Karachi to get an answer to this very question and would be sharing this with you here.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Pakistan IPv6 Operators List

After the Pv6 Forum's first ever event in Pakistan on Saturday, a virtual community of operators has been established for experimenting with and eventually deploying IPv6 in networks in Pakistan. For now, it is in the form of this mailing list to which interested local operators (technical staff only please) can subscribe to.

Other information about IPv6, its deployment, benefits (and IPv6 related politics!) can be obtained from IPv6 Forum, IPv6 Forum Pakistan, Networkers' Society of Pakistan etc.