Kenya's telecommunications regulator is set to look for a new registrar for the country's .ke Top Level Domain, essentially decommissioning the Kenya Network Information Center (KENIC).
A law passed in 2009 gives Kenya's Communications Commission (CCK) wide-ranging powers to oversee performance and pricing for domain registration, and to issue licenses for registrars. As a result, the CCK has been reviewing options for domain registration.
As a board member of KENIC, however, the CCK is not in a position to issue a new license to the registry, the regulator said. KENIC is a multi-stakeholder body with representatives from groups including the Telecommunications Service Provider Association,
"Section 83F of the Kenya Information and Communications Act mandates the CCK to issue a license for the operator of the TLD; under the current setting, we can not issue the license because CCK sits on the board," said Michael Katundu, IT director at CCK.
In a letter dated June 24, the CCK wrote to KENIC, asking for information regarding contracts, litigation, personnel, intellectual property rights, assets and licences.
A seven-person committee set up within CCK, comprising internal personnel and chaired by Katundu, determined that the role of managing the .ke TLD is the commission's regulatory function and that fragmenting .ke domain name registration would not make business sense. The committee agreed to conduct due diligence on winding down KENIC, finalize a licensing framework and develop registry guidelines.
For the last 10 years, KENIC has been the second biggest registry in Africa in terms of domain names, with 28,000. South Africa's .za leads with over a million domains. One co.ke domain sells at $35, while others, like sc.ke for schools, are sold for $10.
"The CCK is taking the TLD as a critical national resource compared to telephone resources; we will put in place a body that can provide competitive and affordable services similar to what happens in the mobile services and spectrum based businesses," Katundu said.
The move is seen as retaliation by the CCK. In December, CCK members attending an ITU conference were challenged by business people to make progressive decisions to, for example, support Arab and Iranian groups on human rights issues and insist that big Internet service owners such as Google pay for using national networks. From then, the move to kick civil society and businesses out of any Internet regulatory affair gained momentum.
From 2009 when the regulatory law was passed, KENIC got into negotiations with CCK to explore ways to maintain the current structure, with for example the CCK exiting the board in order to pave the way for licensing and other measures to be put in place.
"We decided on a new structure where there will be targets and demands for technical performance; currently we can not compare the domain numbers with a population of over 40 million, we need to have better numbers," Katundu said.
Industry insiders want to see any new registry regime put in place via a transparent process.
"The public are the real owners of .ke and must be fully involved in any decision making process that will affect the fundamental operations of the registry," said Barrack Otieno, chairperson of the Kenya chapter of the Internet Society.
Aly Hussein, a former KENIC board member representing the domain registrars association, said that the process must be transparent and involve businesses in the domain name industry because they will be the most affected.