In memory of Jim Higgins
Jim’s involvement with the Internet dates back to 1992 when he was information systems director with the New Zealand Audit Department, and a long-time member of the New Zealand Computer Society (NZCS).
In that year, Jim got a call from Neil James at Otago University who wanted to know if he would chair a group to establish the foundations for a national research and education data network. This work would lay the technical foundations for what later would become the Internet.
Jim sensed there was something else he needed to know before committing. He called Neil back asking, ‘Is there something you’re not telling me here?’. He learned from Neil about the conflict, hidden agendas, and vested interests of the parties involved.
By 1994 the number of registrations of academic sites was overtaken by non-academic sites, and Waikato university, who’d been running the whole thing largely for academic users, felt that things had gotten away from them, and were looking to offload the work.
In May 1995 Jim was elected to the interim Council that established the Internet Society of New Zealand, the body that would take over that work.
At a time when many people his age were being left behind by technology, Jim joined a group that was to oversee a technological innovation that would eventually have a huge impact on society. He, and the others around him at the time, saw the potential, and the need for New Zealand to be at the forefront of this technology.
He served as the second Chair of the Society from 1997 to 1999. At the meeting where Jim was elected, the following is noted in the minutes:
Jim Higgins advised Council that he would be asking people to take responsibility in specific areas. Jim read a quote, which he had obtained for the preparation of a PR strategy for the Society, and also suggested that the question of legislative support for the Domain Name System needed to be examined.
At this time, Jim was faced with trying to develop the management of the NZ domain name space when registrations were growing rapidly. A lot more people were using the Internet, and there were inevitable problems caused by the unpredictable external pressures of this growth. Jim's tremendous drive and energy served the Society well through this difficult period.
Jim established a strong relationship with ISOC – The Internet Society – a US non-profit founded in 1992 to promote the use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world.
He vigorously represented NZ internationally at a time of significant restructuring of Internet governance. The organisation that was set up to coordinate things internationally – ICANN – was certainly a more useful body than it would have been, as a result of his involvement.
Jim was the person who got the role of chair renamed to President. The logic was to use the lofty title President as a way to get the participants in international forums to take us more seriously. That worked really well over the years, and while he was certainly not the only Internet-NZer engaging with ICANN he was one of the first.
He also used his standing in the IT world to help the NZ Society raise its profile domestically.
Over this time Jim was a weekly guest on Radio New Zealand, speaking about computers and the Internet. On one occasion he confessed to the host, Kim Hill, that he had a hangover that morning. She replied, as only Kim can, to say that that was nothing, she was pregnant, which I think was a surprise to him and many listeners too. He took this in his stride and continued on with the broadcast.
By February 1997 he was chair of the Registry Company Working Group.
Things got even busier after that, and the minutes from the meeting of 14 May 1998, just over 25 years ago, have this to say:
Jim presented a paper noting that sufficient progress is not being made towards achieving the objectives of the society. Although some good progress has been made, volunteer effort was simply no longer enough. The Council committees need support for their activities, and there is also a need to facilitate better communication. He proposed that an Executive Director be appointed.
That change, and the appointment of Sue Leader as the first Director shortly afterwards, gave the society the momentum it desperately needed.
Jim will be remembered for his drive and determination, his push to professionalise the society, and for leading the creation of the systems needed to make it financially sustainable. His legacy still shapes how the society operates today, to the benefit of all New Zealand Internet users.
Jim Higgins passed away on 11 May 2023.
This tribute was read at Jim's funeral by Richard Hulse, on behalf of the InternetNZ President and Council.