When the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) released the list of the potential new generic top level domains (gTLDs), it seemed that .app was the one to watch: no less than 13 organisations applied to manage the domain. But .africa is also causing some trouble, as the two organisations that applied for the domain battle it out.
The group that manages South Africa’s .co.za domain, UniForum SA, which trades as the ZA Central Registry (ZACR), was the only original applicant for .africa when ICANN released its initial list. But the DotConnectAfrica Trust became a competitor after ICANN allowed it to change its request, as it had mistakenly applied for .dotafrica when it really wanted .africa. But the regulations stipulate that geographic domains need to have the support of at least 60% of local governments — and the African Union Commission (AUC) selected ZACR as its official registry operator after an earlier bidding process earlier this year. Its application had the support of 39 of the 45 national governments on the continent.
The AUC has now submitted an early warning report to ICANN, objecting to DotConnectAfrica’s bid for the domain. In the letter, it calls the additional application an “unwarranted intrusion” on its mandate from African governments, and that its “persistent interference in this process is likely to have substantive political, economic and social repercussions in Africa.” In addition to this, fifteen individual countries — including Kenya, Senegal, Cameroon, the DRC, Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, Uganda and South Africa — have also submitted early warning reports with ICANN.
Mohamed El Bashir, Chairperson of the ZACR .africa steering committee, confirmed that “no objections have been lodged against the ZACR bid”.
The process to decide who can manage hundreds of new domains is a lengthy one though, and the first domains are only likely to be awarded in the new year. The early warnings system is designed to allow governments to lodge initial objections which will then be considered by ICANN. Although the early warning reports could eventually lead to a more formal complaint, it doesn’t definitely mean that DotConnectAfrica’s application will be rejected simply because it has been objected to at this stage.
DotConnectAfrica said previously that its application “contains robust financial, technical, operational and legal measures for forward-preparedness that have been included to provide ample protections against risk for users and registrants” and guarantees to guard against any possible financial failure. It also says that it should it be awarded the domain, it would prove a cost-effective operator, as the proposed pricing has been set at a “very affordable rate to ensure superb cost-benefits for all prospective users of the .Africa new gTLD”.
A number of other domains have been contested by African governments — including .delta (Nigeria), .health (Benin, Cameroon and Mali) and .zulu, which South Africa is objecting to on the grounds that the word has “cultural and historical significance” in the country, and that the applicant does not have the elected government’s support, just that of the current Zulu king. With 129 reports, the country which submitted the most early warnings was Australia — which objected to domains like .accountant, .fail, .sucks and .wtf (which it says has an “overtly negative or critical connotation”).