Hooked Part 4: Showdown at the .PH Corral

In Part 4 of our series, “The Day the Philippines Hooked Up to the Net”, we have our first encounter with the PH Domain administrator.

This was originally published in March 2001.

(continued from Part 3)

Showdown at the PH Corral

Sometime during the first week of March, Dr. Rudy Villarica and members of the Philnet Technical Committee (Arnie Del Rosario, Richie Lozada, and Kelsey Hartigan-Go) sat down for a meeting at Club Filipino in San Juan with Joel Disini. Then, as now, Disini was the administrator of the top-level domain (TLD) for the Republic of the Philippines, .PH(pronounced “dot PH”).

Sometime in 1990, Disini obtained an appointment from the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) to act as the .PH domain administrator. IANA was in the process of creating the first country-code TLDs and was handing them over for free on a first come, first served basis to individuals who applied who could prove they were technically competent. Of course, in 1990, there was hardly any interest in the Internet in the Philippines.

Philnet believed the .PH domain should be handled not by an individual, but by a foundation that was promoting the use of the Internet in the country. Besides, being backed by the Department of Science and Technology, they believed they had the authority of the Philippine government on the matter.

Villarica recalls the Club Filipino meeting: “We wanted him to turn over the administration of .PH to us. Philnet wanted to be a single point of contact for connecting to the Internet. We brought it up. We asked him to give it to us. Kelsey, Richie, Arnie were saying that the .PH domain should really belong to Philnet because we were going to provide the first full Internet access in the Philippines. Secondly, it’s a foundation. And at the time, there was really no money in the Internet or in domain administration. It was free at the time and administrators were unpaid volunteers.”

But it wasn’t meant to be. According to Villarica, Disini’s reaction was to ask what he would get in return. He claimed he had invested about P50,000 to P60,000 in trips to the US and other related expenses. Disini also said he would consider if he got direct leased-line access to Philnet.

Villarica balked. “It would have jeopardized the setup,” he recalls. “Giving him the leased line for free would put him on the level of the preferred partners.”

Hartigan-Go recalls that it was a “very heated discussion.” The talks continued virtually after the Club Filipino meeting, eventually spilling over to technical Filipino mailing lists like STACnet. In the meantime, the inability of Philnet to issue EDU.PH domains for the universities was becoming a very real problem.

If Philnet went online, email addresses of the universities would need numerical IP addresses at the end instead of meaningful domains. With no .PH domain, Philnet registered the domain Philnet.net with the US-based InterNIC as a contingency measure.

After a couple of board meetings, Villarica returned to Disini with an offer to reimburse him for all his expenses while administering the .PH domain, but said that Philnet could not give him free leased-line access. Disini refused. Villarica tried to appeal to his patriotism, also to no avail.

Then Villarica tried the back door to get control of the domain. Philnet had an early supporter in the person of Dr. Steven Goldstein of the US National Science Foundation (NSF). At the time, the NSF managed much of the Internet infrastructure, Goldstein worked as a tireless evangelist of the Internet worldwide, helping various countries get their infrastructure started. He once paid a visit to Philnet in 1993 upon the DOST’s request, to see if he could assist in the project.

“He was supposed to come here and teach us how to do these things,” recalled Villarica. “But when he arrived, everything was already plantsado (prepared) and he was surprised.”

After talks with Disini bogged down, Villarica contacted Goldstein and asked him to assist in lobbying with IANA to reassign the .PH domain to Philnet. His e-mail went:

“Our talks with J.E. Disini, present administrator for the .PH domain name have ended abruptly due to his intransigence in turning over the name to Philnet. He is demanding compensation for “turning over” the administratorship to us.

“In view of your vast knowledge of Internet, could you please enlighten me as to how we could obtain the PH domain name for Philnet since our foundation has been mandated and supported by the Department of Science and Technology to set up the country-wide network for R&D and educational purposes primarily?”

Goldstein did what he could behind the scenes, but was unsuccessful. At the time, IANA placed more authority on technically savvy individuals than on governments in Internet maters. They also wanted to stay away from foreign politics and infighting, preferring that the parties work it out internally.

After consulting with colleagues at the NSF, he replied in an e-mail dated March 23, 1994:

“My colleagues and I have spent much time during the past week discussing via e-mail the various sides of the “problem” which you allude to. We have also had direct communication from Joel Disini. Mr Disini states categorically that he well delegate a complete and appropriate subdomain(s) such as gov.ph or edu.ph to Philnet *immediately* and with no changes.”

Goldstein also noted:

“As long as Mr. Disini discharges his responsibilities properly, there are no grounds for ‘impeaching’ him. From what he has written to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) it appears that he is quite ready to assign you an appropriate subdomain *instantaneously*. This will be the fastest route to getting Philnet ‘on the air,’ and I ask you to give it serious consideration.”

Philnet would have pursued the matter further but Villarica also received around this time, a rather nasty hate mail from Randy Bush, then a high-ranking pillar of the Internet community. Apparently appraised of Disini’s situation, he “flamed” Villarica and Philnet decided to drop the matter altogether. It simply wasn’t worth the aggravation.

Despite Disini’s letter to IANA, Philnet continued to wait for the EDU.PH and GOV.PH domains to be turned over. Philnet had to follow them up.”It took us over a month and half to get them working at the universities,” recalled Hartigan Go.

(To be continued in Part 5)

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