Africa looks set to get its own generic top-level domain, .africa, in 2013 if the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) gives the go-ahead, which looks likely. The creation of the new domain could set off a gold rush and create headaches for businesses wanting to protect their brands.
South African Mike Silber, head of legal and commercial affairs at fibre operator Liquid Telecom, is a board member at Icann. He says .africa presents a “really interesting opportunity for people on the continent to express their identity through something that is uniquely African”.
Getting a .africa domain will by no means be essential for doing business in Africa, but many businesses will want to secure one because of the perceived prestige associated with having a distinctly African domain, Silber says.
But the creation of the new top-level domain will give companies pause for thought. Do they need to register .africa domains? What about cyber squatters purchasing their brands preemptively and holding them to ransom?
In the early days of the Web, in particular, cybersquatting — where individuals or companies bought domains with the express purpose of reselling them and “parking” advertising on the websites — infuriated countless organisations. But Silber says Icann has introduced measures to “prevent the scourge of cybersquatting” and these will apply to .africa, too.
He says Icann will consider “issues of entitlement”, but that there is a chance that two or more parties could make a legitimate application for the same domain name — for example, both SA and Kenya have companies called Telkom, meaning the two could find themselves competing for the telkom.africa domain.
In the event of a conflict, the first company to register the domain will probably be the one that gets it. Alternatively, they may find themselves bidding for it in an auction. The details of the actual process will be outlined by Icann once the approval of .africa nears.
Nevertheless, Silber suggests companies that hold a trade mark “should speak to their advisors, PR people and agencies and think about how getting, or not getting, their company’s name as a .africa domain would affect their businesses”.
He says it is important companies don’t fall for the domain-registration scam where a fraudster sends an unsolicited e-mail or makes an unsolicited phone call claiming to work for a domain registrar. Typically, these fraudsters claim there has been a request to register the company’s name and they then offer to register it for the existing company instead — for a fee, of course.
Some companies opt to register every possible permutation of their name, but this is often excessive and an unnecessary cost, says Silber. “You need to build an internal domain strategy and consider what names are important and what names are unimportant. For example, if you are an IT company and it eventually becomes possible to have a .food domain, is it really important to have your company name with that extension?”
Similarly, attempts to register generic domain names such as “yellow” or “chocolate” or “business” will generally be rejected. Silber says a “value judgement on what you’re trying to register” will be made and generic names will only be granted where an entity can show a legitimate reason for wanting it, such as a product bearing the name.
Should .africa be approved by Icann, registration will be preceded by a process where entities with a vested interest in securing a specific name can lodge a preemptive application stating why a specific domain name should be reserved for their use.
Once this process has been completed, public registrations will open. All of this information be made public in due course, so there is no need to panic, Silber says. However, the message is clear: companies with a vested interest would be well advised to consider their strategy in advance, carefully considering which domain names are most worth pursuing, and keeping an ear to the ground.
— Last week, the African Union announced that it had selected UniForum SA, the operator for the .za domain, as the preferred registry operator the .africa domain, should it be approved as new generic top-level domain next year. — Craig Wilson, TechCentral
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