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Unbelievably, .africa will be contested

The .africa top-level domain may well be unique — the only geographic gTLD to be contested.

DotConnectAfrica, which has been campaigning for .africa for years, has confirmed that it has applied for the string, despite the fact that another bidder has support of the African Union.

DCA chief Sophia Bekele blogged:

because of the history of the DotAfrica gTLD and our experience during the ‘Yes2DotAfrica’ promotional campaign, we anticipate a prolonged process

The AU in February announced that it was providing its support to a .africa application from UniForum, the South African ccTLD registry.

DCA had previously secured what appeared to be a letter of support from an AU official, but it has since been withdrawn.

According to ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook, if you want to run a geographic gTLD representing multiple countries, you need the express support or non-objection of 60% of those countries.

I’m pretty certain DCA doesn’t have this support, but the AU’s membership does include more than 60% of the nations in Africa.

Is DCA applying in order to get a pay-off from the Uniforum bid? It’s possible, but without the required government support its negotiating position appears to be pretty weak.

Expect objections.

Sedari working on .africa gTLD bid

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2012, Domain Registries

Sedari has been contracted to support the controversial African Union-backed .africa top-level domain application.

The new gTLD specialist will supply UniForum with its usual suite of financial, technical and policy support services, Sedari said today.

South Africa-based UniForum was given approval for its .africa bid by the AU last week, raising questions over a longstanding rival application by DotConnectAfrica.

UniForum is already responsible for South Africa’s .za country-code top-level domain.

UniForum selected for .africa gTLD app

Kevin Murphy, February 23, 2012, Domain Registries

UniForum, the South African .za domain name registry operator, has reportedly been selected to run the proposed .africa generic top-level domain.

The African Union announced the appointment today, following a December tender, according to a report on MyBroadband.co.za.

In a sane world, the deal would sound the death-knell for DotConnectAfrica’s long-running campaign to run .africa, but DCA recently has been making noises about applying with or without AU support.

The ICANN Applicant Guidebook is pretty clear when it comes to .africa – it’s a protected geographic term that will require the support of 60% of the affected nations to be approved.

It’s less clear whether AU backing can proxy for individual letters of support from all of those nations, but it’s certainly better than no government support at all.

However, if DCA can get two African governments to object to the AU-backed bid, it might stand a chance at getting a piece of the .africa action.

DCA had a letter of support from the AU dated August 2009, but it was retracted last year. The company has spent the last several months alleging cronyism as a result.

UniForum doesn’t have the best technical reputation in the world. It has managed the .za registry since 1995 but it only switched to an automated, EPP-based shared registry system last year.

Before August 2011, .co.za registrations apparently had to be carried out via email. Let’s hope its new EPP system is up to ICANN’s exacting standards for new gTLDs.

African Union yanks .africa bid support, seeks registries

Kevin Murphy, May 18, 2011, Domain Policy

The African Union has called for registry operators to express their interest in managing the proposed .africa top-level domain.

It has also confirmed that it is not currently backing DotConnectAfrica’s longstanding bid to apply to ICANN to operate .africa.

DCA has for some time been touting its support from a number of African governments, including the AU, which is required for a geographic TLD bid to be approved by ICANN.

But the AU said in a statement last week:

The AU Commission was at some point approached by an organization now known as DCA seeking endorsement and support for in its bid to use of the domain name.

The AU Commission would like to hereby categorically state that it is not supporting any one individual or organization in this bid.

The statement glosses over the August 2009 letter from AU Commission chairman Jean Ping, which offers to aid DCA with its efforts to gain government support for .africa.

With its support for DCA no longer applicable, the AU yesterday issued its official call for Expressions of Interest from experienced registry operators:

DotAfrica will serve a community which spans over a large portion of region, therefore providing registrants with accrued possibilities for establishing their Internet presence. It is expected that the Africa small and medium size enterprises will greatly benefit from DotAfrica, as they thrive beyond their local markets to invade the regional and continental marketplace.

The EOI does not set out any guidance on what the AU expects to see in a proposal – it doesn’t even specify whether it’s looking for a sponsor or a back-end operator – it merely asks for audited financial statements and a potted corporate bio.

The deadline for the EOI is June 3.

The .africa bid has become fiercely political recently, with DCA throwing around accusations of corruption and back-room dealing.

Its outrage has been centered largely on an AU task force on .africa that was created last November, and its chairman, Nii Quaynor.

He is the registrant of dotafrica.org, which was previously used in a .africa bid that competed with DCA’s.

Other task force members are involved with AfTLD, the African ccTLD association that has also announced it is preparing a .africa bid.

In a blog post this week, DCA calls for the task force to be abandoned.

“Corruption” claims as .africa fight heats up

Kevin Murphy, May 9, 2011, Domain Policy

The fight for the right to run .africa as a top-level domain has been heating up in recent weeks, culminating today in claims of “corruption” and “large-scale illegality”.

A organization called DotConnectAfrica has been mustering support for .africa for a few years, but since March it has faced a rival bid from AfTLD, an association of African country-code TLDs.

The contest has already degenerated into quite a fierce war of words, with allegations of corruption coming from one side and counter-claims of FUD coming from the other.

DCA claims the AfTLD initiative is using “double-dealing” to “unfairly” win the endorsement of the African Union, while AfTLD says DCA is using “intimidation” to get its way.

Under ICANN’s proposed rules, any entity that wants to apply for a TLD purporting to represent a large geographic region must secure the support of 60% of the nations in that region.

It’s not explicit, but it’s quite possible that African Union support may cover this requirement. Backing from the AU therefore could be the deal-breaker for .africa bidders.

DCA has a letter, signed by AU Commission chair Jean Ping, dated August 2009, which offers to support the DCA application.

But there’s good reason to believe that this support may have been revoked last year, and that the AU Commission has opened up its options once more.

The Commission last November annnounced (pdf) a new Task Force, charged with finding an entity to act as the official applicant for .africa when the ICANN new gTLD program opens.

DCA seems to believe that this Task Force has been captured by supporters of the rival AfTLD bid. In a press release today, it says:

there is a dangerous nexus between a certain cabal within the AU Task Force on Dot Africa and the AfTLD – and this nexus has been established in order to disingenuously facilitate ‘insider’ help for AfTLD’s Expression of Interest to the AU and prospective bid to ICANN.

The release goes on to make a number of allegations, such as:

AU Task Force members on DotAfrica are also advisors and confederates of AfTLD. DCA believes that such affiliations are unwholesome and foster corruption, nepotism, abuse of office, and large-scale illegality.

DCA appears to be concerned (to put it lightly), that some of the members of the AU Commission Task Force appear to have conflicts of interest.

The Task Force’s chair, Pierre Dandjinou, and its vice-chair, Nii Quaynor (a former ICANN director) have both previously put their names to a different and now apparently defunct .africa project that also intended to compete with DCA for .africa.

Another member of the Task Force, Abibu Ntahigiye, manager of Tanzania’s .tz domain, also appears to sit on the executive committee of AfTLD as its treasurer.

I’m not sure if any of this cross-pollination meets the definition of “corruption” or “illegality”, but I can understand why DCA is worried.

The DCA press release follows an AfTLD meeting in Ghana last month at which attendees were urged to “don’t believe what others claim” and “entertain no intimidation” when it comes to the .africa contest.

A presentation (pdf) delivered by AfTLD general manager Vika Mpisane says: “AfTLD, just like the AU, recognizes no any alleged pre-endorsements of any alleged bidder by the AU.”

Mpisane has been quoted recently heavily implying that DCA plans to put its commercial interests before the good of Africans, saying:

On one side is the self-serving commercial interest that some entities are already championing; these are entities that are in it purely for the money; on the other side is a community-serving commercial interest that most of the African internet community prefers.

AfTLD says it recently closed an RFP for a back-end registry provider to join its bid for .africa (and .afrique, which it also plans to apply for) and will announce the winner soon.

The AU Commission is expected to launch an RFP for a registry manager to endorse.

Competition for .africa heats up

Kevin Murphy, March 10, 2011, Domain Registries

AfTLD, an organization of African country-code top-level domain operators, has announced its intention to apply to ICANN for the .africa TLD.

The initiative appears to be different to and competitive with the best-known .africa applicant to date, Sophia Bekele’s DotConnectAfrica.

AfTLD said that it plans to seek a mandate for .africa from the Commission of the African Union. It also expects to discuss forming a company to manage the bid at a meeting in Ghana next month.

Vika Mpisane, AfTLD’s chairman and general manager of South Africa’s .za ccTLD, said in a press release:

We are not just interested in .africa only, but we want to also take on .afrique, which is the French version of .africa. It’s only natural for us to do this because at least 50% of Africa speaks French. We also intend to have an internationalised version of .africa as well because we have significant Arabic Africa population, but we will start definitely with .africa first.

AfTLD shortly intends to announce a “leading registry services provider” to run its back-end, but indicated that in future it would expect to run the registry from within Africa.

The current version of ICANN’s new TLDs Applicant Guidebook sets the bar for a .africa bid very high, in practice possibly requiring near-universal governmental support.

A bidder for this kind of protected geographic term would require letters of support from 60% of the nations concerned. For Africa, as the Guidebook defines it, that’s about 34 countries.

However, crucially, if more than one African government were to object in writing to any given .africa application, that bid could be killed off.

AfTLD has 24 ccTLD registry members. They’re not all government-run TLDs, of course, so it doesn’t necessarily follow that it already has 24 countries on board.

A key question is whether endorsement of a bid by the African Union could be interpreted as blanket approval from all of its 53 member governments. I don’t think that’s a given, under the letter of the Guidebook.

But if it is, DotConnectAfrica may already be there. It has a signed letter from AU Commission chairman Jean Ping, dated August 2009, that endorses its specific bid.

Dot Africa needs a registry

Kevin Murphy, February 13, 2011, Domain Registries

DotConnectAfrica, one of the organizations planning to apply to ICANN to run .africa as a new top-level domain, has put out its feelers for a technical back-end partner.

In a press release, DCA today solicited expressions of interest from registry services providers. “Presence and/or experience in developing markets” is said to be “preferred but not a must”.

I expect there will be quite a few EOIs winging their way to the company in the next few days.

The whole of Africa only has about 110 million internet users currently. But with only 11% penetration, there’s pretty good growth potential. And chances are there’s not a great deal of ccTLD lock-in yet.

The nearest equivalent existing TLD is .asia, which has about 185,000 active registrations.

That’s less than half as many as .asia had post-landrush, but still represents a nice chunk of change for a back-end provider that does not have to pony up the cash for marketing.

DCA is one of two organizations known to be pursuing a .africa bid, and easily the highest-profile of the two. The other is called Dot Africa.

As a geographical name protected by ICANN’s new TLDs Applicant Guidebook, .africa will only be awarded to an applicant with proven governmental support.

That likely means that it will be the African Union, not ICANN, that ultimately decides the winner. In this slide deck, DCA says it has support from the AU and from 20% of African governments.

Is this the domain name industry’s first music video?

Kevin Murphy, November 30, 2010, Domain Registries

DotAfricaConnect is pretty serious about its plan for .africa.

The company yesterday released this music video to promote its top-level domain bid. Unlike most corporate anthems, this one is actually not terrible, despite the dodgy editing.

The singer, Patricia Kihoro, appears to be the former winner of an African TV talent show. It mystifies me how few people in the room seem to be paying her, and her dancers, any attention.

New TLD firms to ICANN: “Get on with it”

Kevin Murphy, November 8, 2010, Domain Registries

A number of prospective domain name registries have called on ICANN to shorten the window for its first round of new top-level domain applications.

While we now know that ICANN is working towards a May 30, 2011 opening date for applications, its recently published timeline does not specify how long the application period will last.

However, last month’s draft document “Delegation Rate Scenarios For New gTLDs” (pdf) states that the window of opportunity for TLD applicants will last 90 days.

Now, many of the companies and organizations that have been waiting the longest to apply have asked ICANN to narrow that period to 30 days.

Jon Nevett, president of Domain Dimensions, in a comment on the delegation rate report, wrote:

In prior presentations and discussions with ICANN staff, a 30-day application window had been discussed. I’m not sure how the 30 days turned into a 90-day window in this report. Tacking a 90-day window on after a four-month communications period does not make sense and is extremely unfair to applicants.

After the publication of the final Applicant Guidebook (AGB), ICANN plans to conduct a four-month outreach and marketing effort before accepting applications. The current draft AGB predicts an eight-month processing period for the very simplest applications.

Nevett, and others that subsequently echoed his views, believe that the longer window punishes companies that have invested resources in new TLD applications over the last few years.

There have already been a number of delays to the program’s launch, which was originally scheduled to kick off in 2009, and then mid-2010.

Nevett wrote:

Let’s stop punishing applicants by sucking them dry of all of their working capital by creating a seven-month communications/application period followed by a minimum eight-month review period piled on the years that they already have been waiting. We could do better.

His views were supported in separate comments by commercial operators including of Minds + Machines and .MUSIC, along with geo-TLD efforts including dotBERLIN and dotAfrica.

While the comment period has seen no opposing views, one criticism previously offered by opponents of the new TLD program is that it will unfairly benefit “insiders” – those people who participate regularly in ICANN for their own business purposes.

Africa gets its third ICANN registrar

It’s been over eight years since ICANN held its public meeting in Accra, but only now has Ghana got its first accredited domain name registrar.

Ghana Dot Com becomes Africa’s third ICANN-approved registrar, the first new accreditation on the continent since 2007.

The first African registrar was Burundi’s AfriRegister, the second Kheweul.com of Senegal.

Ghana Dot Com appears to be the dba of Network Computer Systems Ltd, the ISP that already manages Ghana’s .gh ccTLD.

Its chairman, Nii Quaynor, is a former member of the ICANN board of directors, elected in 2000 and serving until 2003.

Ghana has about 23 million citizens and almost one million internet users, according to InternetWorldStats.com.