Expansion of gTLDs by ICANN draws mixed reactions from Africa’s domain community

The decision by the body in charge of global internet, ICANN, to  increase the number of internet address endings (or suffixes) from the current 22 to cover all suffixes with less than 64 characters, is receiving mixed reactions from Africa’s internet domain name community.

The approval, made by ICANN’s board during its Singapore meeting mid this month, is meant to increase the number of suffixes or generic top level domains (gTLDs) and further “change the way people find information on the internet and how businesses plan and structure their online presence,” according to a media release issued on June 20.

“Internet address names will be able to end with almost any word in any language, offering organizations around the world the opportunity to market their brand, products, community or cause in new and innovative ways,” stated the ICANN release.

The 22 existing gTLDs are “.com,” “.int,” “.edu,” “.mil,” “.net,” “.org,” “.arpa,” “.info,” “.museum,” “.name,” “.pro,” “.asia,” “.cat,” “.jobs,” “.mobi,” “.post,” “.biz,” “.tel,” “.coop,” “.travel,” “.tel,” and “.gov.”

“Today’s decision will usher in a new Internet age,” said Peter Dengate Thrush, Chairman of ICANN’s Board of Directors. “We have provided a platform for the next generation of creativity and inspiration.”

According to ICANN, the decision to approve the expanded gTLD program follows many years of discussion, debate and deliberation with the internet community, business groups and governments.

“Strong efforts were made to address the concerns of all interested parties, and to ensure that the security, stability and resiliency of the internet are not compromised. ICANN will soon begin a global communications program to tell the world about this dramatic change in Internet names and to raise awareness of the opportunities afforded by new gTLDs,” according to the release.

The application process for the new gTLDs will commence in January 12 2012, with US $ 185,000 being the application fees. The application fees is among the issues of concern for the region’s domain community, with some arguing that it might lock out people from putting forward their applications.

While commenting on the issue via Kictanet, an online ICT-policy discussion forum in Kenya, Alice Munyua, vice-chair of            ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee (GAC), noted that the fee is “a price that rich global organizations will be willing to pay to maximize their presence on the internet but is too expensive particularly for developing countries with the same needs to not only increase our presence on the internet but for some to protect against trademark infringement.”

“During the ICANN meeting in Nairobi (in 2010), GAC had advised the ICANN board to initiate a process that would see provisions made to support needy applicants and applications from developing countries,” wrote Ms Munyua, who is also chair of the Kenya Internet governance steering committee which coordinates Kenya’s input into national regional and global internet governance policy processes, on Kictanet.

In consideration of the high application key concerns, the ICANN new gTLD resolution included a program to ensure support for applicants from developing countries, with a form, structure and processes to be determined by the board in consultation with stakeholders including consideration of the GAC recommendation for a fee waiver corresponding to 76 per cent of the US $ 185,000 fee and designation of a budget of up to US $ 2 million for seed funding.

“There were previously 22 gTLDs none of them operated or owned in Africa. For example, we may have maybe 200 to 500 new ones, how many of these will be African applicants,” wrote Ms Munyua.

Apart from the high application fees being charged for the new internet domains, reservations are also being expressed about the positive impact the ICANN approval is set to have on the adoption and increased use of country code top level domains, an example being Kenya’s “.ke” domain which though launched in early 1993 has only attracted about 16,000 registrations or users.

While stating that the responsibility of enabling increased access (or penetration) to the internet is not the responsibility of ICANN, Ms Munyua wrote that “new gTLDs were launched and will crowd the domain name space and if most of our developing countries are not involved we shall continue to experience the digital divide.”

However, Makane Faye, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) e-Applications coordinator said that “if the necessary sensitization is carried out by ICANN, AfriNic and the relevant bodies, there will be increase in gTLDs.”

“Up to now, the sensitization is minimal and most stakeholders who would be interested if educated do not know what a ‘gTLD’ is and what it would bring to their corporation. Africa may be invaded in the beginning by registrars from the North because of lack of interest from our stakeholders and little internet education on the stakes of gTLDs,” stated Faye in an email interview.

Commenting on application fees, he said that “for the developed world, a gTLD does not have a price because, whatever the amount of expenses incurred, the stakeholders of the North believe they could recover it.”

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