The $185,000 dotafrica internet domain name ‘misunderstanding’?
- Published on 17 August 2012
In what could be a costly misunderstanding, the executive director of Kenya’s non-profit DotConnectAfrica (DCA), Sophia Bekele, says her organisation has applied for the .africa internet domain name instead of .dotafrica as indicated by an official Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) list.
ICANN opened up applications for new generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) names this year with the likes of Nike applying for .nike and mobile operator MTN applying for .mtn
An application for a new internet domain name alone costs $185,000. And ICANN; subsequently, published a list of all applied-for domain names and their applicants in June this year.
The list, which is publicly available online, says that the administrator for South Africa's .co.za domain UniForum SA (NPC), trading as Registry.Africa, applied for the .africa internet domain name, while DotConnectAfrica Trust applied for .dotafrica.
Moreover, ICANN has published individual domain name application forms online, in which it is clearly indicated that DotConnectAfrica applied for .dotafrica with Sophia Bekele’s name appearing on the form.
But DotConnectAfrica has made it clear to the public that it is lobbying for the .africa internet domain name on the continent, and Bekele says that there has been a “misunderstanding” regarding her organisation’s ICANN application.
“The ICANN (Top Level Domain Application System) TAS application does not accept certain special characters, including the ‘.’, a problem that was generally faced by all applicants who had to work the TAS, so it did not accept .AFRICA, and it was input as DotAfrica - as it is pronounced,” Bekele told ITWeb Africa.
She further says that it is indicated on the Dot Connect Africa’s application form that they applied for a 6-string ASCII domain name and not a 9-string domain ASCII name.
“DCA Trust applied for the same name string that references the geographic string name 'AFRICA', a six-character ASCII string,” Bekele told ITWeb Africa.
“The exact details are contained in our application that has been submitted to ICANN. 'DotAfrica' is simply how .AFRICA is pronounced, and this is how it was indicated in the list of applied-for strings during the ICANN reveal, but there is no doubt that DCA applied for .AFRICA (DotAfrica) gTLD, and not .DotAfrica,” she added.
Bekele further told ITWeb Africa that the “issue has already been brought to the attention of ICANN, and it will be straightened out shortly to avoid any further misunderstanding.”
However, when ITWeb Africa contacted ICANN to gain clarification on this matter, the organisation refused to comment on the matter.
Instead, ICANN issued the following statement: “The new generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) program has now entered a phase of comment, objection and evaluation and, during this phase, ICANN will not comment on any specific application. It is important to note that ICANN maintains an open line of communication with all applicants through our Customer Service Center.”
Apart from the application form, ICANN also requires those applying for a geographic domain name such as .africa to have the endorsement of 60% of African governments.
DotConnectAfrica says it has this support, as it has published a document signed by the previous head of the African Union (AU) Jean Ping, a letter from the United Nations (UN) Economic Commission for Africa, and the Internationalized Domain Resolution Union.
Yet the African Union, shortly after Jean Ping is said to have signed that document, released a public document online dated 12 May 2011 saying that DotConnectAfrica did not have support from the AU and that “Union ministers in charge of Communications and Information Technologies decided to allow competition from any African organisation or entity that would be interested in bidding for the domain name on behalf of and for the use of the African organizations and citizens at large.”
Neil Dundas, the executive director of UniForum SA, says regarding DotConnectAfrica’s AU endorsement, “It didn’t go through the correct channel; it wasn’t being dealt with by the proper division within the African Union Commission, which is the commission of information technology and communications,”.
South Africa’s UniForum, together with a number of internet pioneers across the continent, then won the right from the AU to apply for the .africa domain name through the Union’s bidding process, as they received over 40 countries’ governments support.
Bekele, meanwhile, says the AU never officially came out with a statement discarding Dot Connect Africa’s application. She also says the AU process did not conduct the process in a transparent way.
“A communication that we received from the AU in April 2010 indicated clearly that the AU will coordinate with the member states and ‘with relevant international organizations such as ICANN to set-up a process that will certainly involve the private sector’.
“However, what we saw instead was the AU requesting ICANN to give it special treatment and reserve the .AFRICA name(s) for itself, so that it will delegate it to the structure that it will identify and select.
“In our estimation, this lacked transparency, and was clearly against the stipulations of the new gTLD programme processes, and the specifications enshrined in the applicant's guidebook, and we really could not see the relevance of the extraordinary processes being introduced by the AU to the ICANN new gTLD programme,” Bekele says.
Bekele has even gone as far as to say that there was an “attempt to withdraw” DotConnectAfrica’s endorsement “using a forged letter which was unstamped”.
She says that “this second letter was the work of sabotage to stop DCA Trust from applying to ICANN, and our organisation therefore insists that its original endorsement remains valid.”
Nevertheless, Neil Dundas says that regardless of Bekele’s claims, ICANN’s published list is official.
“All I can say, and all we can do, is refer people to the authoritative database and that is the ICANN database. It is clearly indicated on that database that they applied for dotAfrica,” he says.
Dundas adds that even if Dot Connect Africa manages to convince ICANN that it has applied for .africa, the organisation could face an uphill battle in being successful in obtaining the name as they first have to prove they have 60% of Africa’s government support.
Dundas says that a number of African governments have told ZACR that they will be objecting to any application made by Dot Connect Africa.
On top of that, objections can be made about confusingly similar strings to .africa such as .dotAfrica.