Africa demands rights to '.africa' Internet suffix
COTONOU (IPS)—African Internet
professionals and users alike are loudly decrying attempts by a
multinational corporation to obtain rights to the Internet
top-level domain name (TLD) ".africa".
Rathbawn Computers, Ltd., with branches both in
the United States and Australia, may soon receive permission from
the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to
operate the ".Africa" TLD.
At their annual meeting held in Marina del Rey,
Calif., ICANN will rule on 47 applications to operate new TLDs,
including that of Rathbawn. Only 10 new top level domains out of
the 47 applied will be approved.
The application cost to operate a new TLD is
$50,000. Such a sum may seem a fortune for certain companies in
the developing world, especially those in Africa.
ICANN is an international non-profit
organization formed in 1998 to manage and monitor the Internet’s
technical operations, which previously had been controlled by the
United States government.
ICANN has assumed responsibility for
coordinating the domain name system (DNS), assigning Internet
protocol (IP) addresses, determining protocol parameters, and
managing the root server system.
As such, it is the sole organization authorized
to accredit individuals, countries, and companies all over the
world who wish to operate or sponsor TLDs or sell domain name
The seven currently existing top level domain
names are ".com", ".net", ".org",
".gov", ".mil", ".int", and ".edu".
There are also 243 domain name country codes,
such as ".us" for the United States or ".bj"
The ".africa" TLD issue has stirred
great controversy among African Internet users.
"The question is whether someone not from
a particular country should allowed to be the operator of that
country’s domain name. For example, should an African be allowed
to own ".fr", France’s domain name?" asked Pierre
Dandjinou, the African coordinator of the UN’s Sustainable
Development Networking Program (SDNP).
Makane Faye, the main regional councilor on the
politics of information technology and communications for the
Economic Commission for Africa has no doubts.
"It’s not right to give the ‘.africa’
TLD to a non-African. We want ‘.africa’ to be managed by a
respected African institution which will be cognizant of the
Internet’s special problems in Africa," declared Mr. Faye.
Some observers say that appropriation of the
".africa" suffix by a multinational corporation is
nothing less than a financial question. It will have economic
consequences for Africans who want to use this TLD for their web
The rights to domain names accredited by ICANN
can be a great financial venture. For example, a web address
ending with the domain name ".com", costs $70 dollars
every two years.
Mr. Faye states that Africa is going to
mobilize to prevent awarding of the ".africa" suffix to
a non-African firm. According to him, Internet professionals from
Africa planned to protest at ICANN’s annual meeting.
Faye indicated that they might even go to the
World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) to let them decide
if the TLD can be awarded to a non-African firm. WIPO has been
willing to hear cases regarding the protection of domain names
since the beginning of this year.
"WIPO can strip the company of its TLD if
the arguments we present are sound,’’ Mr. Faye explained.
"We want everything that rightfully belongs to us and we want
to operate it ourselves,’’ he added.