African domain-name registrars have mixed reaction to ICANN push

While the imitative is badly needed, increasing the number of registrars isn't a cure-all, one says

African domain-name registrars responded with mixed reactions to details of ICANN's initiative on the continent, saying that while they should now have increased access to the Internet governance organization, increasing the number of registrars isn't all that needs to be done.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) will immediately go ahead with plans to have six new representatives on the African continent as part of its Africa strategy, it announced during a meeting in Addis Ababa last week. ICANN also plans to increase the current five domain-name registrars to 25 in the next 18 months, ICANN's CEO and President Fadi Chehadé said during the conference.

A lack of registrars is one of Africa's major challenges regarding the Internet, with many businesses and people there depending on international companies and services for their domain names. That needs to change, ICANN said.

"It's a good move," said Nii Quaynor, chair of the board of trustees of the Internet Society (ISOC) Ghana Chapter, a nonprofit organization that promotes Internet use and access. "ICANN is investing in proving better service and presence in the region where it's not been active," he added, in an email Tuesday commenting on ICANN's initiative.

Increased access to ICANN would be one of the best things to come out of this initiative, said Quaynor, a former board member at ICANN and chairman of the National Information Technology Agency (NITA) of Ghana. "With more involvement [from] both sides, African context and interests become included in ICANN."

ICANN's initiative in Africa is badly needed, said Hamza Aboulfeth, CEO of the Moroccan ICANN accredited registrar Genious Communications. "Africa is the left-alone country, and this has to change," he said in an email on Tuesday.

However, ICANN's focus on the increase of accredited registrars is not the only way to go, he said. "I'll tell you exactly what I told Mr. Chehadé regarding increasing the number of ICANN Accredited Registrars in Africa: Domain names are not drugs, it's not by increasing the number of dealers that we'll have more domain names in the region," Aboulfeth wrote.

ICANN needs to look into ways to develop the DNS industry to create a system so registrars can provide users with the domain names they want, Aboulfeth said. It shouldn't matter if they want a country code top-level domain (ccTLD) like the Moroccan .ma, or a generic top-level domain (gTLD) like .org, .com or .net, he added.

In December 2012, there were about 246 million domain name registrations across all TLDs worldwide, according to Versign's domain name industry brief. At the same time, there were 104.9 million ccTLD domain names, Verisign reported. But Africa has only a small number of those, Aboulfeth said.

There are about 983,000 ccTLDs in Africa, including South Africa which alone has almost 860,000 ccTLDs, Aboulfeth said. Otherwise, Africa has about 877,000 gTLDs, with about 275,000 registered in South Africa.

"And here we are talking about a whole continent with 54 countries! We definitely need to grow that number because it is [becoming] ridiculous at some point," Aboulfeth said.

Cost is another issue that hampers the domain-name business. Moroccan hosting companies for example often choose to host outside of the country due to the high costs of bandwidth in the country, Aboulfeth said. "We are talking about more than $200 per Mbit and $2 per Mbit in Canada, for instance," he said.

"This way, even if we host local websites they are still considered an outside content website. So we need to be able to use our local infrastructure for our hosting needs," Aboulfeth said, adding that this is something local ISPs need to deal with.

Loek is Amsterdam Correspondent and covers online privacy, intellectual property, open-source and online payment issues for the IDG News Service. Follow him on Twitter at @loekessers or email tips and comments to loek_essers@idg.com

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