No see, this is how it works:
Remember how you type in an IP to join a game in JK/MotS? Well it should work the same way here, except you'd go to JK2.net say and you'd see a list of dedicated servers, and so you'd enter one of those and join. You could meet people there to play, etc.
But if you wanted to setup a private game, you would still be able to do that, etc. Because you wouldn't HAVE to use the dedicated servers. Each DS is just another game to join, but one that's maintained and up all the time on a super fast connection.
You could play with Wilhuf or Gonk or whomever in their games just as easily. A built-in server browser would just show you a list of active games, and could includ dedicated servers (see the one in UT or Q3A for reference).
I agree, DS are a must for this game, and the Zone is a definate "no no." I hated the Zone and only used it out of necessity (when I couldn't find games anywhere else). The software was primitive and buggy, the interface sucked, the help pages were out of date, the sysops were often incompetent, and lame-ness was widespread, though there were lots of players there (good and bad).