Disclaimer: My present employer is Fernando Contreras Jr., one of Joel Disini's sharpest critics, as you'll see below.
As of this writing, Joel Emmanuel Disini is the ccTLD administrator for the .ph domain representing the Philippines. Nephew of former Marcos crony Herminio Disini.
Joel Disini came to the United States in the late 1970's as a student, and obtained a degree in electrical engineering from Caltech in 1984. Afterwards, with his uncle's aid, he worked as a communications and networking engineer in Silicon Valley. He was a skilled Macintosh hacker, having produced a Mac networking product, the Netway 1000 SNA/Bisyn Gateway, which was MacUser's Editor's Choice in 1988.
The following year he returned to the Philippines, and began what would be one of the first Internet Service Providers (in a loose sense) in the country, the E-Mail Company, which used programs developed by his other company, Pacific Rim Software. The company used FidoNet to connect to a host in the United States using prohibitively expensive dialup links, and obtained indirect access to UUnet that way (Ironically, one of the people operating the FidoNet hosts he connected to was none other than Bombim Cadiz, who would later be one of his vocal critics, as narrated below). Having access to Usenet and Internet mail that way, Disini soon obtained, probably from the late Jon Postel himself, the position of ccTLD administrator for the .PH domain.
A few short years later, some developments began that would place Disini in the middle of acrimonious disputes for the rest of the decade. By 1993 the DOST (Department of Science and Technology of the Philippine Government), along with four of the nation's largest universities, began development of infrastructure that would provide the Philippines' first continuous, live TCP/IP network with full access to the Internet backbone: PHnet. The network had very low bandwidth in the beginning, understandably, essentially a single 64kbps leased line, but it was a start, and was for some years the only live TCP/IP connection the nation had. Joel Disini's position had already been known, and PHnet began to take steps to obtain the ccTLD administrator position from him, as they were in a far better position, as operator of the only Internet connection in the country, and backed by the Philippine government, to run the Philippine ccTLD. Disini refused, of course, saying that he had invested significant quantities of his own money in attempting to obtain access to run the domain, but said that he would consider if PHnet provided him with a leased line of his own. PHnet administrator Dr. Rudy Villarica balked at this, however, as it would have jeopardized the planned structure of PHnet. They then attempted to contact Postel and the IANA through their friend Dr. Steven Goldstein of the NSF, to gain control of the domain. Goldstein was unsuccessful in convincing Postel and the IANA to hand over the .ph domain to PHnet, but Disini was eventually convinced to hand over control of the .gov.ph and .edu.ph subdomains to them. The latter domain (for Philippine educational institutions) is still in the hands of PHnet, while the former is now controlled by PHnet's government sponsor, DOST.
After this, Joel Disini continued as ccTLD administrator, and ran it in a highly informal way, charging 900 to 1350 Philippine pesos per domain (about the equivalent of US$36-$54 in 1995 dollars), with a delay of several weeks to a month for the processing of a domain (while Network Solutions would take only a day or so in those days to do the same), and official receipts were never issued, a point that is very troubling for many. The same fees were charged for every modification one wished to make a domain, again without any official records.
A year or so later, commercial ISP's providing continuous TCP/IP service began appearing, at first buying from PHnet's highly limited bandwidth, and later on obtaining access from telcos. The first of these was Mozcom, and followed shortly after by IPhil Communications, a company co-founded by Fernando Contreras Jr. whose primary focus was providing network access and services to corporations as opposed to individuals. Disini became a client of IPhil in 1996, obtaining access for his online services company and domain registration facilities via a dedicated dial-up link. At first Disini attempted to obtain a leased line connection, but Contreras turned this down as the infrastructure he had in place at the time was insufficient, so Disini obtained his extra bandwidth from a different source.
By 1999 Disini set up another company, DotPH Inc., which was created to formalize the processing of .PH domain names. There were, however, a number of troubling aspects to that development:
- Increased prices for domain names. By 1999 domain names were being sold by DotPH for US$70 for two years, at a time when the prices of domains in the .com/.net/.org hierarchies had dropped to US$15 and less due to the removal of the Network Solutions monopoly. This has caused more Philippine web administrators to stop getting .ph domains instead as they are much more expensive.
- Disini decided to market the .PH domain internationally, in the same way the .tv, .to, and .nu domains were, pushing the domain as .PHone. This has produced an inevitable backlash as many in the Philippine Internet community believed the domain to be part of the national patrimony, and should not be commercialized (less charitable persons would say prostituted) in that manner.
- Allegations arose of DotPH giving away .ph domains for free to the subscribers of Joel Disini's ISP, the E-Mail Company or EMC. This is something strictly forbidden both by RFC 1591 and ICANN's ICP-1, but is something that hasn't yet been proven, due to the convenient fact that for a long time Disini didn't issue receipts for his sale of domains. Further, as of this writing DotPH still doesn't maintain a working WHOIS server, in direct violation of RFC 954 and RFC 1591, fueling these allegations.
All this and more led to the creation of an independent consortium, the Philippine Domain Authority Convenors or PhilDAC, which would attempt to redress these grievances by dialogue with Mr. Disini, or failing that, by sending a petition for redelegation of the ccTLD to ICANN, revoking Disini's status as ccTLD administrator. Among the founders of PhilDAC were Jim Ayson, moderator of the ph-cyberview mailing list where much acrimonious discussion on the topic of the .ph domain took place, IPhil (later PSInet/Inter.Net Philippines) president Fernando Contreras Jr., and present PHnet administrator Bombim Cadiz.
Needless to say, the relationship between PhilDAC and Disini has been rocky to say the least. At one point, because of a presentation made by Contreras to PISO (the Philippine Internet Service Organization, a consortium of Philippine ISP's) in 2001 on the ownership of the .ph ccTLD, Disini sued Contreras for libel, requesting US$2 million in damages. The case was dismissed by the Department of Justice later that year, but bad blood has existed between them ever since.
Today, the dispute over the domain continues, as more parties are getting involved, most noticeably the Philippine Government. The fact that Joel Disini's brother, Atty. Jesus Disini is an influential member of the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry of the Philippine Government) Information Technology and Electronic Commerce Council (ITECC), which is supposed to oversee these matters, complicates things somewhat. This story isn't over yet.
Personal communications with some of the people involved, and archives of what they've said from the ph-cyberview and dotph-issues mailing lists, including but not limited to Migs Paraz, Fernando Contreras Jr., Bombim Cadiz, Ian Sison, Jim Ayson, and Manny Amador.
Jim Ayson's series on the beginnings of the Philippine Internet on the Philippine Daily Inquirer last year: http://www.inq7.net/inf/2001/mar/26/inf_1-1.htm and
Inquirer articles on Disini v. Contreras libel case: http://www.inq7.net/inf/2001/jun/08/inf_1-1.htm, http://www.inq7.net/inf/2001/aug/27/inf_1-1.htm, and
ITnetcentral special report on the .PH domain controversy:
ICANNWatch article on .PH domain controversy
I've had to do some research into the obscure subject of the history of the Philippine Internet to make this writeup. If anyone has any information they'd wish to add or any corrections to make, please contact me.