Africa: Internet – Region in the Threshhold of New Domain Names

The age of the Internet is here with us as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the regulator of the internet, opened the floodgate that would allow for hundreds to thousands of new domain names to be registered thereby empowering emerging economies from Africa to Asia and Latin America to have their own domain names.

At exactly a minute past midnight on Thursday, 12 January, 2012, ICANN, began accepting applications for new generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) suffixes from registrars, marking one of the biggest changes in the Internet’s evolution. ICANN’s new gTLDprogramme will greatly expand the current number of 22 Top-Level Domains (i.e., .com, .gov, .net, etc.) to include almost any word or name.

It also allows, for the first time, non-Latin language scripts, such as Arabic, Chinese and Cyrillic to be used in a gTLD. It is set to flood Africa and other emerging economies with thousands of new generic top level domain names (gTLDs) that would allow more countries and organisations choose their own address system on the internet.

The process will see ICANN use the Google ad network to display information in its new gTLDprogramme for Internet users in specific countries. Targeted countries include all 35 that the World Bank categorised as “low income,” ranging from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

ICANN representatives have raised awareness in such diverse places as Fiji, India, Kenya, Mauritania, Senegal, and many others. ICANN board has already set aside $2 million to assist needy applicants, a seed fund to which other organisations could donate.

The new gTLDs will include t applicants’ support and financial assistance programme. The first application window for new gTLDswill close on April 12 and soon afterwards ICANN will post on its web site what domain names have been applied for, and by whom.

New Dawn of Opportunities

Mr. Rod Beckstrom, President and CEO of ICANN said qualified organisations have the opportunity to apply for financial aid and their own top-level domain. The registration of the new gTLDs would open a process that could trigger a dramatic expansion of the Internet and launch a new era of online innovation.

The world is already familiar with .com, .org, .net, among the roughly two dozen generic top-level domains currently occupying the Internet’s addressing system. Hundreds, possibly thousands of new gTLDs, could be moving in within a year.

The financial assistance will allow a limited number of qualifying applicants to pay $47,000 evaluation fee instead of the full $185,000. This fee reduction has been made possible because ICANN’s board of directors has dedicated $2 million to the programme, a seed fund to which other organisations could donate.

Managing Director of Pinet Informatics and a former president, Nigerian Internet Group,Mr. Lanre Ajayi, said the new internet address suffixes would represent industry sectors, hobbies, ethnic groups, corporate brand names and more.Up to 1000 domain name suffixes could be added each year in the most sweeping change to the domain name system since its creation in the 1980s.

Suggested new domains may include “.lagos”, “.abuja”, “.sport”, .sydney”, “.melbourne”, “.cameras”, etc.

Ajayi who currently works with an ICANN committee said ICANN’s radical move was designed to foster competition and innovation allowing the new domain owners to build new communities, strengthen ties with customers and give consumers more power.The new system will also make Chinese, Japanese and Swahili versions of “.com” possible.

Non-Executive Director of Afilias, Jonathan Robinson, which is helping with applications and already provides key infrastructure for .org, .info and .mobi, said it was a fascinating new chapter in the Internet’s history.”It’s opening up new fronts of Internet real estate and that brings opportunity and threat,” he enthused.

Why Expand Domains?

To reach another person on the Internet, you have to type an address into your computer – a name or a number. That address has to be unique so computers know where to find each other. ICANN coordinates these unique identifiers across the world. Without that coordination, we wouldn’t have one global Internet.

Expanding the number of suffixes has been one of ICANN’s missions since its creation in 1998 to oversee domain names. ICANN had two test rounds, in 2000 and 2004, and is now ready to expand the domain name system more broadly.

Peter Dengate Thrush, a former chairman of ICANN’s board of directors, said the change was necessary. “It’s badly in need of overhaul. No one would design a domain name system now for several billion users just using a couple of names that we started the system with in 1985.”

Avoiding Cyber Squatters

Dengate Thrush, currently chairman of Top Level Domains Holdings, a company developing registry services for top level domains said at a cost of $185,000 (£120,000) just to apply, obtaining one of the new names was a serious financial commitment which was likely aimed at keeping cyber squatters away.

“Probably you are closer to half a million dollars to get it off the ground,” said Jonathan Robinson, a non-executive director of Afilias, a registry operator which manages extensions like .mobi and .info. The cost has led to concern among some non-profit organisations that they would have to spend considerable sums defending themselves from cyber squatters.

Last month, the United Nations(UN), the International Monetary Fund(IMF) and 26 other international organisations wrote to ICANN asking it to protect suffixes like .imf from cyber squatters. Skeptics worry that an expansion would mean more addresses available to scams that use similar-sounding names such as “Amazom” rather than “Amazon” to trick people into giving passwords and credit card information.

Others worry that new suffixes could create additional platforms for hate groups or lead to addresses ending in obscenities. Critics say ICANN is rushing to expand the naming system without putting enough safeguards in place. However ICANN reacted by saying that apart from $185,000 application fees, an applicant would need to demonstrate how it would run the new domain as a registrar.

Beckstrom said many businesses and groups in Africa and emerging economies have been clamouring for more choices, and ICANN didn’t want them to wait longer.”This is a change, and whenever there’s a change, there is anxiety.

“We’re doing our best to administer a fair and equitable system that the global community has designed,” he said.

The new names won’t appear in general use until at least the northern spring of 2013. Applicants facing challenges may have to wait until 2014.

Source: All Africa.Com – Chima Akwaja – 17 Jan 2012