We recently had the privilege of interviewing Byron Holland, President and CEO of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), auDA’s Canadian counterpart.. Byron shared his thoughts on CIRA’s latest innovations, the importance of multi-stakeholder internet governance model and building a trusted internet.
You’ve led CIRA for almost 15 years as President and CEO. In your experience, what makes the domain name system (DNS) and country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs), such as .ca and .au, critical internet infrastructure?
From my perspective the answer is twofold. First, while the internet is global, it has always been a collection of communities. From the first research and university-based Usenets, to the social media platforms of today, what is global is also local. ccTLDs such as .ca or .au provide users with a sense of community and identity on the internet. They create a sense of place for citizens and allow countries to develop a unique internet ecosystem that reflects their nations’ values and priorities. This is an important reason that ccTLDs are critical internet infrastructure, without them, the internet loses a significant part of its identity. But it is not the only reason. The other key element is that local ccTLDs also provide a secure and trusted technical foundation for the local internet. A local internet that is always available, high performing, resilient, free and open.
As stewards of Canada’s .ca domain, how does CIRA ensure the internet remains a trusted resource for Canadians?
What we want for the internet is to ensure that it is safe, secure, trustworthy and interoperable for all Canadians no matter their background or where they are across the country.
First, we ensure that the .ca domain remains secure, reliable, high performing, and uniquely Canadian. This is critical infrastructure and building trust starts with making sure that every .ca domain can be relied upon by businesses, institutions and individual Canadians across the country. Next, we contribute to a safer internet with our cyber security services to protect our institutions, small businesses, critical infrastructure and individual Canadians and their families. We also frequently bring together experts, stakeholders and other thought leaders in the cyber security space to share ideas and advocate for a more secure internet in Canada. That advocacy extends to a range of internet-related issues that help build trust. From misinformation to internet access, privacy and data sovereignty, we provide data, analysis and expert opinion on the digital issues of the day.
To maximise the impact on the communities we serve, it’s also critical to support domestic and international internet governance, policy and advocacy. Establishing partnerships that leverage and amplify Canadian voices and projects is a key component of our work. We continue to be involved and engaged as a leader with the domestic and international internet community, providing people, resources and financial support in key industry forums.
In a rapidly changing digital environment, how is CIRA contributing toward internet innovation at a local and global level?
At CIRA, we embed innovation across the organisation to ensure that new ideas and technologies are explored in a way that can enhance existing operations and develop new services.
In Canada, this is reflected in services such as CIRA Canadian Shield. This free service provides DNS privacy and security to thousands of Canadians, and was the first nationally based public DNS resolver in the world. With partners such as Mozilla, who have made our Canadian Shield DNS over HTTPS service the default for Firefox users in Canada, we have been able to expand our reach to protect even more Canadians.
Globally, we contribute to many forums that are advocating for new standards and technologies to make the internet safer and more reliable. Additionally, our homemade registry service, the CIRA Registry Platform, is gaining momentum in the Top Level Domain (TLD) community with partners such as .ie and .nz. The CIRA Registry Platform is the only TLD management platform with features and functionality designed specifically for the modern forward-thinking ccTLD business.
CIRA's mission includes being actively engaged in and supportive of the Canadian community. How is CIRA making an impact in this space?
CIRA is a nationally recognised leader in digital philanthropy through its Community Investment Program which has emerged as a key player in Canada’s digital equity ecosystem. To date, the program has provided more than $10.4 million in grants to more than 200 community-based projects that help build a trusted internet for Canadians. Projects are selected that align with our core mission in three areas of focus: internet infrastructure, online safety, and policy engagement.
Similarly, CIRA’s public good infrastructure and services, such as our support for local internet exchange points (IXPs), our Internet Performance Test and CIRA Canadian Shield, have strengthened the organisation’s reputation, reach and relevance in these areas of focus. The CIRA Internet Performance Test is used by communities across Canada to advocate for better internet access, and the data is frequently consulted by governments when making infrastructure decisions. CIRA Canadian Shield now protects more than 2.2 million users across the country.
At auDA, our .au membership base plays an integral role in our multi-stakeholder community, helping to represent the digital needs of Australians. How has the CIRA membership community helped shape .ca policy?
CIRA members are a key element of our multi-stakeholder approach to governance. Arguably the most critical role members play is electing individual Board members who oversee and help develop CIRA’s overall strategy. Additionally, we host a series of member events throughout the year on topics ranging from misinformation to cyber security and everything in between. We offer a member-exclusive Q&A session with CIRA executives to provide an opportunity for more communication and transparency. We also survey our members on a regular basis to get their feedback on CIRA and provide us with insight into their views on internet issues.
What are CIRA’s top priorities for the coming year?
Coming off two years of pandemic-fueled growth, our priority for the year is ensuring our growth continues to outpace the ccTLD industry. We are evaluating everything from our channel operations, to marketing, to put .ca in the best position to succeed. We are also putting a specific focus on DNS abuse to ensure that the .ca zone remains a trusted resource for Canadians.
We will continue to innovate on our cyber security and registry products to bring more value to our customers and expand into new markets. We have seen great momentum within the industry, and we have some ideas on how we can take these new product segments to the next level.
Finally, we will continue to be an advocate and champion for Canada’s internet at home and abroad. Through our Community Investment Program, and our policy initiatives, we will continue to build a trusted internet for Canadians. In my opinion, trust is absolutely critical if we hope to maintain a creative, generative, free and open internet, the kind of internet that global society has benefited from over the past several decades. That internet is at significant risk at this time. CIRA’s key priorities will include vigorous participation in the various internet governance forums that ensure a safe, secure, and trusted internet as well as a vigorous defense of all that has made the internet the greatest invention of humankind!
Learn more about CIRA‘s work at cira.ca
Enjoy this Q&A? Find our full series, featuring incredible tech leaders here.
The views expressed are the interviewee’s own.