Freedom Registry has taken up operating the TLDs (Top Level Domains) for Mali, Gabon and Central African Republic, aiming at creating international interest in them by providing free domains.
The Amsterdam-based registrar has signed agreements with operators in Mali (.ml), Gabon (.ga) and Central African Republic (.cf). The registrations for .ml opened on Monday, and those for .cf will start from Aug. 1, followed by .ga on Sept. 1, according to Joost Zuurbier, CEO and founder of Freedom Registry .
"We got a deal with Mali, Gabon and Central Africa Republic and hopefully we can get other countries to sign with us. Our thinking is that we should offer domains free then make money from other services," Zuurbier said.
Freedom Registry says it has found success through the operation of .tk, the country code for the Pacific island of Tokelau, which has 18 million domains (according to www.nic.tk). The island of Tokelau has a population of 1,500.
The three African countries have TLDs assigned, but few entities have sought to register domains within them, mainly because of technical and operational challenges. The new model will aim to encourage people to take up the free domains, the way .tk has been taken up.
Freedom will handle just the international business of providing domain names, not the local, Zuurbier said. The company says on its website that it can provide "all the standard global DNS services a TLD needs."
Freedom has 15 server locations worldwide and each country will have servers hosted locally; the domains will be available worldwide.
"We give the countries infrastructure and training to help them know how they can run the domain name themselves; we empower them and eventually they can run the TLD," Zuurbier added.
The move has received mixed reactions from other African TLDs, but the majority said that it is too early to say whether the model will work or if it is good for Africa.
"One of the challenges for Africa is the lack of information on what model of running a TLD works and what does not; this makes it hard to predict whether Freedom Registry's work with the three countries will work or not," said Pierre Dandjinou, ICANN VP for Africa.
The contracts run for 10 years and are governed by French law. The three countries are former French colonies and were most comfortable with France as a neutral country.
Zuurbier said that Freedom Registry has adopted the same model with .tk, where domains are provided free, without any advertising. But if the domain registration is not renewed after expiring, then the page is packed with advertising related to the topic that the previous domain owner dealt with, providing an advertising revenue stream for Freedom Registry.
"For instance, the 18 million .TK domains attract 200 million visitors a day, 5 million of which come to domains that have been expired. It's these 5 million hits a day that get advertising revenue from Google and Yahoo," Zuurbier said.