ZACR plans no objection to .africa changes, surprised by ICANN silence

The ZA Central Registry (ZACR) was today informed by the media that ICANN has allowed DotConnectAfricaTrust (DCA) to change its TLD string application from “dotafrica” to “africa”.

This amendment means that there are now two bidders, ZACR and DCA, for the proposed new .africa generic top level domain (gTLD). ZACR was not consulted about the proposed changes, nor was any formal communication received from ICANN.

ICANN’s proposed changes are subject to a public comment process which expires on or before 17 November 2012. ZACR does not plan to object as the additional bidder does not represent a significant challenge.

It is ZACR’s view that the conduct by the new second bidder since this process started has been noted by the global Internet industry and it speaks volumes of their ability to properly manage Africa’s home on the Internet.

It appears two changes have been made to the DCA application. The one change relates to Question 13, which changes the applied for string from “dotafrica” to “africa”, and the other change relates to Question 6. ZACR has not been able to identify the exact details of the latter change.

The DotConnectAfrica Trust Changes:

Although ZACR would not have opposed the proposed string change request by DCA, there is some context required here:

When the original TLD applications were first disclosed by ICANN on 13 June 2012, ZACR was surprised to learn of the “dotafrica” application by DCA. What reasonable Registry Operator would make such a basic error on their own application?

As time went by, it became clear through DCA’s numerous media statements that the string application was indeed an embarrassing mistake and that it originally intended to apply for the “africa” TLD string.

Interestingly, the bungled DCA application had exposed a loophole in the ICANN application process.

As the ZACR application has the official support of the African Union Commission (AUC) and the majority of African governments, our strategy has been to ensure that any conflicting string applications would be weeded out through the Initial Evaluation process of the Geographic Names Panel and/or through opposition by African governments.

ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook is very clear on what level of government support you require to pass initial evaluation for a Geographic Name application and what level of government opposition is required to halt such an application.

The qualifying issue for any of the above is that the applied for TLD string must be classified as a Geographic Name. The question we therefore faced, in wanting to rely on government support and opposition of any conflicting string applications, was whether DCA’s application for the “dotafrica” TLD string would constitute a Geographic Name as outlined in the Applicant’s Guidebook?

According the Applicant’s Guidebook (section 2-17) “Strings that include but do not match a Geographic Name will not be considered geographic names as defined in section and therefore will not require documentation of government support in the evaluation process.”

Our reading of the above section was that DotConnectAfrica Trust’s “dotafrica” string application would probably not be considered a Geographic Name application as the string did not technically match (or was not identical to) a Geographic Name. This created a potential problem for us in that the applied for string is confusingly similar to our Geographic Name application yet it would escape the stringent rules and procedures governing Geographic Names (IE government support and government opposition).

Thankfully, ICANN has now resolved this problem and it is now quite clear that the DotConnectAfrica string application will fall within the parameters of a Geographic Name and as such will, quite rightly, be subject to an evaluation of its government support claims as well as being subjected to government opposition processes.

The end result is that African governments are now in a position to exercise their rights against potentially infringing, or unauthorised applications for the “africa” TLD string.

In conclusion, the ICANN Geographic Name process should run its course and in doing so it will afford African governments an opportunity to decide who should administer the “africa” TLD.

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ZACR plans no objection to .africa changes, surprised by ICANN silence