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Mali’s domain could change hands next week

Kevin Murphy, February 22, 2013, Domain Registries

ICANN’s board of directors will next week vote on whether to redelegate .ml, the country-code top-level domain for the war-torn nation of Mali, to a new registry operator.

The ccTLD is currently delegated to Societe des Telecommunications du Mali (Sotelma), a publicly traded telecommunications provider, but it’s not currently possible to register a .ml domain.

The reasons for a redelegation are never publicized by ICANN until after they are approved, when IANA publishes a redelegation report, so it’s not yet clear what’s going on this case.

Mali has been hitting headlines in Europe recently due to the French involvement in government efforts to retake the northern parts of the country from Islamist rebels.

Following the outbreak of hostilities a year ago, in March 2012 the Malian government was overthrown in a coup d’état that was widely condemned by the international community.

Following sanctions the military quickly ceded power to an interim president, who continues in the role today ahead of elections to find a more permanent successor, scheduled for July.

France, supported by allies including the UK, moved in to help Mali retake the north last month.

Sotelma is based in the capital, Bamako, which is not held by rebels.

The redelegation of .ml is on the main agenda — rather than the consent agenda, which is usually the case for redelegations — for ICANN’s board meeting next Thursday.

Who really uses IDNs? [Guest Post]

Stéphane Van Gelder, November 19, 2012, Domain Tech

Are Internationalised Domain Names really useful, or just a way for an ASCII-focused internet governance community to feel better about itself?

Beyond all the hoopla about ICANN’s 2009 program to enable countries to operate their own non-Latin script internet suffixes (aka the “IDN ccTLD Fast Track”), what should really matter is the Internet user.

Yes, those sitting in ICANN meeting rooms at the time, listening to the hyperbole about how the internet was now going truly global probably felt like they were feeding the hungry and bringing peace to the world. But do people actually use IDNs?

I will admit that at the time, I was dubious. Of course, saying so in ICANN circles would have been akin to wearing a “Camembert is bad” t-shirt in the streets of Paris: poor form! But still, I couldn’t help ask myself if having a single one-language system unite the world was actually such a bad thing?

“How would you like it if the Internet had been invented in China and you had to use their alphabet,” was the usual rebuke I got if I ever dared to doubt out loud. And there really is no arguing with that. If the internet was Chinese, I’d want the Mandarin version of ICANN to roll out IDNs pretty sharpish.

Nonetheless, can the usefulness of IDNs still be questioned?

Facebook in Latin

Talking to a local internet expert whilst attending last week’s excellent Domain Forum in Sofia, Bulgaria, the answer would seem to be a surprising yes.

“Why would kids in this country use IDNs,” I was told when I suggested that, surely, Bulgaria must be excited about the prospect of natural language web addresses. “What worries the authorities here is the fact that kids are using Latin scripts so much on social media sites that they don’t even know how to write in Cyrillic anymore! So even if they could use IDN web and email addresses, why would they? They want to communicate like everyone else does on Facebook.”

In truth, Bulgaria’s view may be skewed by the horrible experience it’s had with ICANN’s IDN Fast Track. The country was refused its own IDN country code due to a perceived similarity with another TLD that no-one in Bulgaria really feels is warranted. But not all potential IDN users feel they are useless. Neighbors in Russia tell of a different IDN experience.

The Russian registry saw stunning initial take-up when it opened the IDN .РФ (.RF for Russian Federation) to general consumption on November 11, 2010. Registration volumes were explosive, with almost 600,000 names registered in the first month. Strong growth continued for a year, hitting a peak of 937,913 registered names in December 2011.

No profit

But the following month, that number fell off a cliff. Total registrations dropped to 844,153 in January 2012. “Initial registrations were driven in part by speculators,” explains ccTLD .RU’s Leonid Todorov. “But when people saw they couldn’t make huge profits on the domains, they started letting them go.”

Even so, .РФ remains a real success. Although November 2012 figures show a year on year decline of 8.63%, the TLD still sports a whopping 845,037 names.

At 66%, .РФ has a slightly lower renewal rate than ASCII Russian equivalent .ru (73%), probably because of those day-one speculators, but it remains widely used. Current delegation figures (i.e. the number of domain names that are actually used for email or websites) stand at a commendable 70% and have not stopped rising since .РФ opened in 2010 with a 45% delegation rate.

The Cyrillic Russian domain sees a vast predominance of personal use, with 77% percent of domains being registered by individuals. “Russians care deeply about their national identity,” says my Bulgarian friend when I suggest that IDNs do seem to matter in some Cyrillic-using countries. “To them, Dot RF is a matter of national pride.”

National pride

So IDNs may not really be all that different from ASCII domain names, with take-up depending on perceived use or value. Europe’s IDN experience seems to confirm this, as European registry EURid’s Giovanni Seppia explained in Sofia.

He revealed that since EURid introduced IDNs on December 11, 2009, registrations reached a peak of around 70,000 (a mere fraction of the 3.7 million names currently registered in the .eu space) before dropping off quite sharply.

Why? Well .eu IDNs may not hold much potential for real use or investment value for Europeans. Although web use is possible with IDNs, software primarily designed for an ASCII-only world does not always make it easy.

Email capability would be a real boost, but so far only the Chinese seem to have enabled it for their local script domains. The Chinese registry recently announced this, without giving details on how the use of all-Chinese character email addresses has been implemented or which email clients support IDNs.

Whatever the technology, countries which combine national pride and a character set far removed from our own probably see more desire for IDNs. With two years of hindsight, Russia obviously loves its IDN. And as other countries like China bring more elaborate IDN capabilities online, demand should grow and force even this IDN skeptic to recognize the new character(s) of the internet.

This is a guest post written by Stéphane Van Gelder, strategy director for NetNames. He has served as chair of the GNSO Council and is currently a member of ICANN’s Nominating Committee.

“Sexy” .sx hits general availability today

Kevin Murphy, November 15, 2012, Domain Registries

The newest ccTLD to go live, .sx for Sint Maarten, starts its general availability phase today at 1500 UTC.

The registry’s web site currently lists 47 registrars that are carrying the TLD, though none of the top five registrars in the gTLD space appear to be participating.

And .sx domains will not be cheap, judging by registrar list prices, averaging out at about $50 per year.

SX Registry, which won the right to run .sx from last year, has been marketing the TLD with sex, as you may be able to tell from the lovely lady in DI’s sidebar, and some registrars are following suit.

GA is of course the final phase of the launch. The usual sunrise and landrush periods were also preceded by special priority periods for companies and individuals based in Sint Maarten.

But the ccTLD will be open to registrants from anywhere in the world.

Sint Maarten was created in 2010 by the break-up of the Netherlands Antilles. The old .an ccTLD is expected to be gracefully decommissioned over the next few years.

Chinese IDN sunrise starts Sunday for ASCII domains

Kevin Murphy, September 13, 2012, Domain Registries

CNNIC, the .cn registry, is going to open up its .中國 internationalized domain name to Latin-script strings next month, and sunrise kicks off this weekend.

Registered trademark owners will be able to apply for domains matching their marks from Sunday, according to registrars. The deadline to apply is October 11.

A second week-long sunrise, starting October 16, will enable owners of ASCII .cn or .com.cn domains to apply for the same string under .中國.

The .中國 IDN ccTLD means “.china” in Simplified Chinese. Previously only Chinese-script domain names could be registered.

CNNIC’s announcement is here, and Melbourne IT has more details here.

Malaysia to get new Arabic ccTLD

Kevin Murphy, August 23, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors is set to approve مليسيا., the Arabic name for Malaysia, at a meeting next week.

Delegation of the internationalized country-code top-level domain is listed on the board’s consent agenda for next week’s meeting, meaning it’s likely to be a case of simply rubber-stamping the decision.

It will be the 40th IDN ccTLD to enter the root, not including test zones, under ICANN’s Fast Track program.

With the notable exception of Russia’s .РФ, IDN ccTLDs have been commercially underwhelming.

The redelegation of Rwanda’s .rw, currently delegated to NIC Congo/Interpoint SARL, is also on ICANN’s board consent agenda for the August 28 meeting.

There are no issues related to the new gTLD program on the agenda.