Recently, Dr. Michael Binder, the author of the infamous Binder letter that led to the creation of CIRA, announced his retirement. Before he turns off his phone and begins his well-deserved retirement, we asked him a few questions about his role in the creation of CIRA.
1. What were the circumstances that led you to write the infamous Binder letter?
At the time, ICANN was talking about democratizing domain names and country codes and a group of Canadian technical people, including some university researchers (from UBC), decided it was time to protect a .CA concept, as opposed to everyone going through .com. The researchers didn't know who to hand this .CA responsibility over to. They approached us (at Industry Canada) as we had an ongoing relationship with them and we decided that there was no real precedence to all of this. No one really knew what the internet was going to be all about or how it was going to be managed, so we created this letter that would give them the authority to proceed and blessing from the government.
While some people challenged whether we had the authority to do that or not, I think that time has proven that it was a good idea. It created the basis for us to create CIRA and now CIRA is an independent structure by itself that has done pretty well.
I always liked the concept of "industry led, government pushed", and this was a situation where the industry wanted to take matters into its own hands and the government gave them the power to do so rather than making it a government concept.
2. Did you foresee CIRA and .CA evolving into what they are today?
The U.S. came first with .com, so the question was whether .CA could be profitable as a standalone entity. We believed that country codes would become popular to Canadians and Canadian services. It was really our hope and I think that hope was realized. We thought that providing geographic differentiation for Canada online would prove attractive as opposed to .com which was not tied to a particular geography. It is great to see/know that .CA is here to stay as it continues to flourish.
3. As you reflect on your career, how does your role in CIRA's creation rank in your accomplishments?
When we initially set it up, we didn't think it was a big deal. We saw it as necessary in order to protect the Canadian interest. Throughout my career, I always looked out for what was in the best interests of Canadians which is why I personally pushed so hard to create CIRA. We knew that kids would take to the internet, and we also believed that it would be an important tool for education and knowledge which was why providing access to Canadians was so important. Our objective was always to make sure that Canada developed the next generation skills that workers would need. We realized that we were creating a new domain and we wanted to make sure Canada had the skills to succeed in it. Canada has been very successful in the field of innovation and technology and I think we had something to do with that.
If you ask me, do I feel good about being part of that? Yes I do. We were promoting the digital economy when no one knew what the internet was.
4. What's next for you?
People ask me that and my answer is always, how would I know, I've never retired before.
It will be like everything else, I will try to adjust and learn what life as a retiree is all about. I'm sure I'll find things to do, I have a lot of interests. For the first few months, I'm looking forward to being in a "tools down" state.
NOTE: This interview has been edited for length and clarity