Is .EAC domain needed?

23 August, 2010, Esther Nakkazi

After integration of five countries under the East African Community (EAC) with a common market, the next issue is to promote businesses through the Internet jointly with .eac domain name.

After integration of five countries under the East African Community (EAC) with a common market, the next issue is to promote businesses through the Internet jointly with .eac domain name.

Domains, or country code top-level domains (ccTLD) ccTLDs, are critical resources of national information infrastructure and they are the identifiers denoting a country or territory on the Internet. They are a country or institution’s virtual location and brand.[frax09alpha]

The ccTLDs are usually two letters long, with two Cyrillic letters. In accordance, all the EAC countries have ccTLDs; .ke, .ug, .tz, .bi and .rw for Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda respectively.

Ideally, the EAC domain would be .ea but this is no longer available. The only choice left is .eac and can be established under the new generic gTLD at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

The World Customs Organization for the free ports of Ceuta and Melilla, which are Spanish territories, already reserved the .ea an ISO 3166-1 ‘reserved code element’. It will not be easy to release as the EAC secretariat tested this in 2004 when it wanted to establish .ea.

Internet Governance gurus meeting in Kampala last week under the East Africa Internet Governance Forum (EAIGF) agreed on establishment of .eac under gTLD but also set up a working group to probe its business case.

On top of the discussions at the EAIGF was the question, does the EA Community need .eac when the national ccTLDs are not strong enough?

Before .eac, some participants thought the five countries should first strengthen their national ccTLDs and come up with criteria that should define a strong domain.

“Who wants .eac and where shall we end up. Next will be .comesa when we already have .africa. Why don’t we just strengthen what we have?” wondered Vincent Mugaba from Uganda Christian University.

But the participants agreed that EAC needed .eac for branding, identification and promotion of Community on the Internet.

Sofia Beleke of dot connect Africa Initiative said the .africa would offer cross marketing for both the national ccTLDs and the .eac. For instance the domain would be

“Do we understand its requirements and expectations? Who is the sponsoring authority? Should we look for uniformity or each country should have a unique system for the national ccTLDs even though we are in the EAC,” asked Alice Munyau the EAIGF convener.

If we know what the five ccTLD’s are then we would say let us establish a top-level domain, but first, let us strengthen the national ccTLDs and then look at the regional gTLD, commented one participant.

At the national level, the EAC countries’ ccTLDs are at different stages. Joe Kiragu, the administrative manager .ke (Kenya) described a country’s ccTLD as a country’s virtual real estate, therefore, ‘it should be developed for the benefit of all and governance issues are paramount’.

The Kenya .KE is a multi-stakeholder model adopted by KENIC and its efficiency has ensured increased domain names registration. Kenya also has local nodes for TLD’s root server .com and .net.

The Tanzania .tz ccTLD, a not for profit, was described as a young organization by Sunday Richard of the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA).

Only re-delegated from a private owner last year, the .tz has only 6,000 domain names and is struggling to convert Tanzanian businesses, most of them registered under .con, org.

“How can we shift to the .eac when very few businesses are registered under .tz? To change to .eac will surely be a problem,” said Mr. Sunday the principal IT officer TCRA at the EAIGF.

Charles Musisi the executive director Computer Frontiers International (CFI), also the custodian of the .ug, wondered “if it is not broken, why even attempt to fix it?”.

He described the .ug ccTLD as ‘sound and stable’ with over 1,000 domain names registered now under a proven competent and knowledgeable team for over 10 years now.

But in Uganda, the government after dropping deregulation of the .ug domain wants to come up with a management policy that will make government part of the administration.

Ambrose Ruyooka commissioner at the ministry of ICT said a working group has already been put in place to come up with a management policy for the .ug but the government is not interested in taking it away from Mr. Musisi.

“We do not get involved in domain name disputes, that could be a role for local arbitrators,” said Musisi of the possibility to involve other stakeholders in the management of .ug ccTLD. However, the Uganda national IGF agreed that the government should be involved.

Rwanda is in the final stages of deregulation of .rw ccTLD. It was originally hosted in Sweden but the government has managed to contact the private owner and take over administration.

It will have a multi-sectoral model of management and a bottom up process, but the legal fraternity will be courted to join it more because of intellectual property rights involved, said Geoffrey Kayonga the CEO Rwanda Information and Communication Technology Association (RICTA).

The same private owner hosted Burundi .bi ccTLD in Sweden;  and like Rwanda they are now considering restructuring of the organization for management.

“It will not be a re-delegation but a restructuring of the organization,” said Victor Ciza from AfriRegister.

The third EAIGF ended with the over 100 participants from the region agreeing to set up a working group constituting all the ccTLDs from the five East African countries.

The theme of the three-day conference was ‘strengthening East Africa’s Critical Internet Resources’ and identified the ICT problems and recommendations of the five countries, which would be presented to the fifth annual IGF in Vilnius, Lithuania next month.

Lillian Nalwoga, from CIPESA, the organizer of the third EAIGF will represent the EAIGF as a block at the meeting. The next EAIGF will be held in Kigali, Rwanda next year.

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