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.