The global Web policy organization Internet Society, domain registry and Domain Name System service provider Afilias, and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) have joined efforts to support and improve the DNS business in Africa.
ICANN and the Internet Society have been involved in technical training at various levels, but that has not necessarily resulted in more DNS-based business. The growth of DNS business involves registry activities, hosting and other Web services.
"We have been involved in various technology initiatives like the Africa Peering and Interconnection Forum, Africa Internet Summit and Africa Network Operators Group, and we noticed that this has not translated to more DNS business," said Dawit Bekele, Africa regional manager for the Internet Society. "We decided to have a specific meeting for businesses."
The Africa DNS Forum was held three days before this week's ICANN meeting in Durban and the overriding theme was on how to increase the number of technology businesses in the region. For instance, there are only six ICANN accredited registrars in the whole continent, meaning that most domain name business is transacted through registrars based outside the continent.
"I am tired of hearing that the continent has five registrars, this is not right," said Fadi Chehade, ICANN president and CEO. "As we grow the new generic TLDS and grow the country level TLDs, we also need to grow the number registrars in the region."
One of the reasons there are few registrars in the region is because of stringent requirements imposed by ICANN. Any company applying for accreditation has to have a $70,000 bank guarantee and insurance, which is hard to obtain for many companies given that Internet business is not well understood in the region.
"Yes, the requirements are very stringent but if any company makes it, then the rewards are high; for instance, in Senegal, most generic domain name registrations are channeled through our company; we could be the next Godaddy," said Mouhamet Diop, chairman and CEO of Kheweul.com, the first ICANN accredited registrar to be operational in Africa.
Diop said that the best way to expand a DNS business in Africa is not to lower requirements but to explore ways for businesses to get letters of credit from banks and insurance companies.
"ICANN is in talks with the Africa Development Bank to support and enable issuance of letters of credit that help in the accreditation process of registrars who are not able to meet ICAAN requirements; this will be announced once it's done," Chehade added.
Afilias will work with the African TLD registrars in training, technical expertise and offering a secondary location for their registries. Afilias is hoping that this will spur growth and lead to some registries giving other business to Afilias.
Some of the participants in the ICANN meeting said that the DNS business was likely to create 100,000 jobs in technical, legal and other support services. Others said that expanding the DNS business was the best way for ICANN and the Internet Society to engage with Africa.