PTA Meets on PKNIC Issue

PTA has conducted a meeting of various stakeholders and industry representatives on the issue of PKNIC today in Islamabad. There have been a series of interesting posts on TGP on this topic since this morning and we expect a detailed unofficial minutes of meeting by one caring participant of this meeting soon.

PKNIC Outage

PKNIC, the entity responsible for the global top level domain of Pakistan (.pk), is reportedly down for the past 8 hours. This is the latest in the series of now very ‘old pains’ that have now become synonymous with the domain controlling body.

While this do not have any immediate affect on the globally operating domains under the .pk ccTLD for now (due to the way the DNS system works), users trying to reach the site for updating their domain records or paying for their domains will be facing problems.

It is most likely that the problems would be resolved and we will see the site back soon.

However, once again, this incident points towards the weakness of PKNIC as a user-focused entity. Despite being run as a commercial operation, PKNIC has not been able to fulfill the basic need of communicating with their paying users such as providing them with a representative office or officer one can reach, a helpline one can dial, a blog that keeps its users informed about the latest with the entity and so on.

This lack of communication has been shedding a very bad light to its name. Unless PKNIC addresses the basic need of communicating with its paying users in ways that are a norm of today, it would only be normal and logical for the general public to view every move of PKNIC with doubts.

In an age where dozens, if not hundreds, of offshore companies having their ‘touchable’ operations going on in Pakistan, there is no reason why PKNIC which holds the linchpin of the Pakistani cyberspace can’t have a reachable and touchable representation in Pakistan.

I sincerely believe that this will help PKNIC and its users.

Pakistan’s Persistent ccTLD Pains

The painful topic of .pk ccTLD vis-a-vis Pakistan and its fledging ICT boom has been discussed on this blog in the past. Right now, an active debate is taking place on the same topic at Pakistan ICT Policy Monitor list here (yahoo ID required).

PKNIC Stats

Continuing our discussion of PKNIC and the future of the .pk ccTLD, I was provided some interesting figures by a reader of this blog last week. Faried Nawaz says he has been grabbing a copy of PKNIC’s zone file everyday for the past ~ 6 years. On my request, he’s given a snapshot of the database for a random date (27th Jan, every year) all the way from 2001 till 2007. I’ve compiled the figures in a tabular format to highlight the growth of the various domains (hopefully reflecting the associated sector to some extent) and the entire .pk sphere. Here it is:

PKNIC

First impressions: To be honest, the size of the registry sort of disappointed me by at least 100%. I had always assumed there would have been at least 50,000 total domains registered under .pk. Like elsewhere on the Internet, the .com counterpart at .pk (.com.pk) is leading the herd with six digit registrations in 2007. Runner up, in 2006 and 2007, is the name.pk domain which PKNIC started in 2006.

There is also a marked growth in the overall numbers in 2006 and 2007, the years that have seen strong growth in cellular and voice services. It is plausible that there is a co-relation between increased cellular voice usage in the country and the Internet-based (or Internet aligned) businesses in the local market.

PKNIC charges Rs 2,000 per domain per annum for two years for all domains except the name.pk domains which are available at Rs 1,000 per domain per year for Pakistani customers. Government domains are not charged any fee provided they are able to demonstrate a government agency backing the registration of the domain.

A quick back of the hand calculation will give anyone an idea of the revenues that PKNIC can expect out of these numbers. Leaving that as an exercise to those interested in the dollar figure and focusing back on my initial disappointment at the smallness of the total domains figure, I would request PKNIC to reduce the domain name registration cost further, provider a local face to the single-most important Internet company of the nation, and open up more channels for easier uptake of the .pk domain name by the local businesses.

I am very confident that these ~19,000 domains do not reflect the activity of Pakistan and its business outfits truly. There has to be a tremendous amount of local businesses that have turned to the .com and .net gTLDs just because they were cheaper, or more easily available, or had reseller agents roaming in the street doing the stuff for them without much hassle. Let us work towards increasing the size of the pie and everyone should benefit from it. Just like MADE IN PAKISTAN is (supposed to be) a matter of pride for all of us, let .pk be our badge of honor in the Internet.

PKNIC is talking!

Haris Shamsi who represents among various other entities, Pakistan IPv6 Task Force, reported the proceedings of a recent PTA meeting in Islamabad that discussed a rather extensive 9 point agenda that included exciting stuff like putting up an IX, introduction of IPv6 in Paksitan etc. ‘Bringing back’ PKNIC to Pakistan (a topic we have earlier discussed here and here) topped the agenda list.

PTA had been receiving complaints about PKNIC from various of its customers and of recent, the regulatory body has reportedly made contacts with PKNIC management (that happens to be outside Pakistan) in what is being described as ‘a thick regulatory tone’. Interestingly, PKNIC does not come under any existing service definition of PTA and being a company established outside Pakistan, is immune to any serious regulatory influence. This is despite the fact that the body (PKNIC) is responsible for managing the digital linchpin of Pakistani business and digital citizen life, the domain names that end with a .pk.

Hearing from those who were part of the meeting, it appears that there is a thrust towards ‘bringing it back’ to Pakistan. Without proper thoughts and debates around the subject, such a thrust would be highly ‘misplaced’ and is bound to create more problems than it aims to solve. Also, probably for the first time, PKNIC ‘sent’ two representatives, one of which was a lawyer named Barrister Omer to a PTA initiated meeting.

PKNIC and Pakistan is a sweet & sour story. Very (very) briefly, here is some background:

First the good things about these people: PKNIC’s early owners (it has reportedly changed a couple of hands, I am short on this data) put Pakistan on the TLD early on way before lots and lots of other countries were on the net. They have managed the whole thing without any serious, sustained outage for the .pk TLD as a whole. I can’t remember that in the past 11 years at least I have seen a major ‘not there’ issue with them. However, stories of customers getting high-rates, bad support and 100% irrelevant ‘collateral damage’ outages on their business production sites are abound. They have no real office in Pakistan, no staff (the Barrister mentioned by Haris deserve a photograph on flickr so the millions of PKNIC customers can, for the first time, put a face to the name of the company that is responsible for their digital identity linchpin). The processes and policies at PKNIC were initially closed door but later went through a corporate whitewash to include a number of stakeholders. Domain disputes and hijacking were the most dreaded aspects of life of a PKNIC customer due to various reasons. PKNIC continued to offer free .gov.pk domains to GOP requirements where, reportedly, the only requirement was a letter (not an email!) sent to them on the official letter head of the government agency and the domain get registered and activated. Electronic payments at PKNIC (something we take for granted while dealing with something as ‘nety’ as domain registration) arrived quite late .

Brining PKNIC back to Pakistan is logical and desirable. But how and when? What would the rules be? What is the collective track-record of Pakistan (regulatory and industry combined) in terms of Internet Governance? Are we ready to face an ‘Network Solutions/ICANN’ and post ICANN issues in a Pakistani light?

Some people (including this scribe) are of the view that PKNIC’s obscure and non-customer-friendly thorns aside, the consistency of the service might have heavy attribution to the fact that the body was being managed outside Pakistan in a rather ‘private’ matter. Of course this is highly debatable and views and proves are welcome.

My strictly personal views are that PKNIC is doing a good job and unless we are 100% sure that we can snatch the responsibility from them and run it on our own without making a joke of our digitalselves, we should not proceed in the direction of a total ownership change. My own suggestion in this regard is to let PKNIC continue the operations but bring them under some regulation net. Let there be some customer service benchmarks set for them, pricing would be next and so would be the issue of physical presence of the DNS server inside (and their backups outside) Pakistan.

Network Admins of Pakistan will be discussing this topic among the technical ranks to arrive at some recommendations which will subsequently be presented to the people in Islamabad.

Dear PKNIC

Dear PKNIC,

Can we have a telephone number we can call you when there is an urgent need to do so? Yesterday, a fellow ISP had a problem in their domain record that apparently occurred at PKNIC’s end. The NS glue records were changed. The site disappeared. The emails were not going through. It was a sorry sight to see him ask around everyone about a PKNIC support telephone number they might know about. Of course he was short on luck.

We all know PKNIC doesn’t believe in having a public number to serve its paying customers.

In this era of voice over IP, unified communications, Instant Messaging and cheap (for North American businesses) BPO services, it is hard to believe that one of the core digital era services of an entire country like Pakistan would not have anything besides an email address to serve thousands of customers who are charged a fee for the service.

I am not debating how small or big the PKNIC fee structure is. I know PKNIC serves government and military domains for free (by the way, showing respect for the powerful used to be a shame in the past). I know PKNIC tries to remain democratic in its process development. I know PKNIC pays a lot to its DNS hosting company. We’d ben on these issue before too.

I am just asking one question: Can we have a number to call PKNIC in times of distress?

Last we checked, for business outfits, customers used to be the king. Or did I miss the news about PKNIC changing its status to a charity during the recent past?

PKNIC has been a great service to Pakistan. It was there when not a lot of people knew how essential a service it is for Pakistan and its digital future. Please make a phone number available for your paying customers.

I promise I wont be calling just to say ‘hi’.

An Otherwise Satisfied PKNIC Customer

PTA Keeps on Lipservicing Broadband Cause

PTA has yet again paid lipservice to the cause of wide broadband penetration in Pakistan. At a seminar organized on the theme of Wimax by South Asia Middle East North Africa (SAMENA) Telecommunications Council, PTA’s chief repeated the combo of words that could easily be created by anyone associated with the industry.

More clear, practical announcements on the broadband penetration cause would have been far more useful. Yes, PTA has published a consultation paper that aims to bring down the costs of Internet bandwidth in Pakistan but bandwidth tariffs are just one part of the broadband proliferation. Matters relating to IP traffic exchange between service providers, local loop unbundling, application agnostic Internet infrastructure, development of localized contents, IPv6 adoption via incentives and legislation, subsidies on local telehouses in the private sector and many other factors are needed to kick-off a broadband revolution in Pakistan in its true sense.

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