The battle for dotAfrica; who will get the crown jewels?

Students in an ICT class. FILE | AFRICA REVIEW 

Early in June in Singapore, the International Centre for Assigned Names and Numbers ( ICANN) board of directors announced that they will allow more gTLD (generic Top Level Domains).

Currently, there are only 22 registered gTLDs like .com and .org.

The President and Chief Executive Officer of ICANN, Mr Rod Beckstrom, had this to say about this radical change to the internet domain system: "ICANN has opened the Internet's naming system to unleash the global human imagination. Today's decision respects the rights of groups to create new Top Level Domains in any language or script. We hope this allows the domain name system to better serve all of mankind."

Therefore, this means that you could register .kampala as a gTLD, if you can demonstrate capacity to run it!

This change means big African companies like Safaricom, MTN and Orange can have domain names ending in .safaricom, .mtn or .orange respectively.

What a change!

This sounds good to the ears of marketers and will greatly help to find information online – if you want African companies (or companies operating in Africa) you might need just to search (Google) companies whose web addresses are ending in .africa! Just that!

The expanded gTLD space means that Africa can too have its own gTLD like .africa. But is this news?

Create diversity

No! An organisation going by the name DotConnectAfrica (DAC) (http://www.dotconnectafrica.org/) has been spearheading this venture for a while now. DAC has even been on social media, communicating their agenda and advocating for the .africa gTLD long before the ICANN announcement. It can be followed on Twitter.com @dot_africa and on Facebook.com – on dotafrica fan page.

This expanded gTLD space also means that even ccTLD (Country Code Top Level Domains) like .ke for Kenya and .ug for Uganda, will dramatically increase. This will not create confusion as some have indicated in some other forums, but will create diversity.

For example, if I’m searching for a hotel in Uganda, I just need to search for .ug.africa and then I can narrow down to hotels. Search engines, such as Google, will have to re-tweak their search algorithms to make all this a reality – so that searches can bring up more meaningful results.

Any confusion?

The expansion from 22 to an unimaginable number of gTLDs, increasing ccTLDs from the current 250 to an unknown number, can be a source of confusion. Currently, there are a number of companies which have reserved a number of domain names, without necessarily using them, to avoid ‘cybersquatting’.

Cybersquatting is registering or using a domain name with the intent to profit from the trademark belonging to someone else. The cybersquatter then offers to sell the domain to the person or company who owns a trademark contained within the name at an inflated price, according to the US’s Anti‐cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act.

Cybersquatters usually ask for prices far greater than that at which they purchased it. To avoid a situation of cybersquatting is a challenge. It is the company’s onus to widely communicate and market its web address appropriately. Therefore, the expected many gTLDs will prove indeed a challenge to the markers.

Hullabaloo

What then is this hullabaloo now about who is supposed to be the registrar for the .africa domain name? 

DotConnectAfrica has been mustering support for .africa for a few years, but since March 2011, it has faced a rival bid from AfTLD. There has been a great deal of public squabble with DCA claiming the AfTLD initiative was using “double-dealing” to “unfairly” win the endorsement of the African Union, while AfTLD says DCA was using “intimidation” to get its way.

The AU has released a statement in retaliation clarifying that “it is not supporting any one individual or organisation in this bid”.

Where is the money?

According to ICANN, the cost of registering a domain name like .africa is in the range of $185,000.

African countries and other international conglomerates, like Cocacola, who will be keen to market their African operations with .africa in their web addresses, this will mean that whoever is the registered owner of .africa gTLD will receive payment for its use. Therefore, those who are ready to finance the registration of .africa gTLD will not only get, potentially, large sums of money, but will also elevate the African brand.

It would be a disappointment for Africa if a foreign investor financed this registration.

Applications for new gTLDs will be starting from  January 12, 2012 to April 12, 2012. Africa need not be left behind.

The link for the ICANN announcement for this shift:

http://www.icann.org/en/announcements/announcement‐20jun11‐en.htm

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