City Internet domains coming to SA

In addition to the new .africa domain set to launch next year, SA can look forward to .joburg, .durban and .capetown domain names, too. By Craig Wilson.

Neil Dundas

The ZA Central Registry has applied to administer three new top-level domains, one for each of SA’s three biggest cities. This comes in addition to the .africa domain that the registry expects it will be given the job of looking after.

Each of the four domain names — .africa, .capetown, .durban and .joburg — has incurred an application fee of US$185 000 and will then cost in the region of $25 000/year to maintain.

The ZA Central Registry (also known as UniForum) will administer the .africa domain on behalf of the African community as a whole. Its bid to run the .africa domain system is backed by the .za Domain Name Authority and the Department of Communications. It also has the support of the African Union (AU) and 40 African countries.

Although there might be other applicants, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers (Icann) requires that geographic names require 60% of the states within the region support the bid. The application process for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) closes at the end of May. A list of applications and applicants will be made public in early July.

“Sometime between February 2013 and April 2013, people will hopefully be able to start registering .africa domain names,” says UniForum SA director Neil Dundas. They should also be able to register specific city domains at the same time, assuming these are processed in the same batch of applications as .africa.

A .africa domain will cost $18/year. Dundas says city domain pricing has yet to be decided.

Icann is expecting in the region of 2 000 applications for new generic top-level domains. Each application is followed by a lengthy evaluation process, which includes technical and financial assessment, the cost of which is covered by the application fee. “We think our bid will be successful and that we’ve covered all of our bases.”

The decision to apply for city domains for Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg was motivated by interest the registry has seen from various SA entities and because of the international trend of cities branding themselves and competing with each other for attention online.

“If this is the way the Internet is going to move, it’s important as the registry, and nationally, to be participating.”

The ZA Central Registry expects .africa to pay its own way and recoup the application fee shortly after launch. “It should be very commercially successful.”

Asked whether the registry will have the necessary capacity to run what could prove a popular domain in high demand, Dundas says it has recently upgraded its EPP (Extensional Provisioning Protocol) systems — the manner in which registries interface with registrars. “We will be technically ready.”

“It’s difficult to tell what the impact on the domain will be. It will be affected but it’s difficult to predict the extent,” says Dundas. “But it’s a well-established domain and .africa or .city domain names might well be seen as complementary, at least at first, rather than directly competitive.”

The registry will position .africa to appeal to international businesses. “Brand owners will be protected through ‘sunrise processes’ where they will have to show evidence of use or trademark certificates in support of their bids. Africa-based trademarks will likely get first preference, then international ones.”

Applications for premium names may include auctions and other means of making them available and that process could take three to six months.

Vika Mpisane, MD at the .za Domain Name Authority, says as part of the application process, a .africa foundation has been established. “This was an AU requirement,” he says. “There will be surplus [money] from commercial uptake and this is expected to be used to build a domain-name community. We’ve set up a steering committee, with the chairman based in Qatar.

“The model is simple: extra money goes into building an African registrar community. There are more than 1 000 accredited registrars worldwide, but only four in Africa. We need to grow this number because registrars provide the marketing channel for domains.”  — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media

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