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Ruling brings dotAfrica domain closer

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Africa’s own home on the worldwide Web is a significant step closer to becoming a reality after the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers (ICANN) received the final Declaration from the Independent Review Process (IRP) that was instituted in 2013.

The IRP panel recommended that ICANN allow DotConnectAfrica (DCA) Trust’s competing application for .AFRICA to continue through the new gTLD evaluation process. This is in spite of the fact that ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee (GAC) specifically advised the ICANN board to reject the DCA application on the grounds that it did not have the required government support in order to be successful. This was also clearly spelt out to DCA in more than 16 early warning notices issued by separate African governments to DCA during late 2012.

The IRP panel also recommended that the current “hold” on the delegation of the .AFRICA gTLD to the ZACR, following its successful application and appointment by ICANN, should be kept in place until the DCA application could be evaluated. The delegation and launch of the .AFRICA gTLD has been suspended ever since the IRP panel declared interim measures of protection for the DCA application in May 2014. The frustrations resulting from these unwarranted delays is palpable within the African Internet community.

“ZACR is somewhat relieved that a final declaration has been issued by the IRP,” says Lucky Masilela, CEO of the ZACR.
“The process has been a law unto itself with very little regard for the ICANN bylaws governing the independent review process or for parties materially affected by the process,” he adds. “The primary focus of this IRP panel has been ensuring fairness to DCA, but ironically it has shown very little fairness to the other parties affected by this fiasco, namely the African Internet community.”

The IRP overran its deadline by nearly 20 months and cost ICANN more than $410 000 in administration and panellist fees – and then only recommended that DCA’s application should continue with evaluation. According to the ICANN bylaws, “The IRP Panel should strive to issue its written declaration no later than six months after the filing of the request for independent review”. The fact that the IRP was filed in October 2013 and the final declaration was only issued in July 2015 makes a mockery of the whole process, ZACR believes.

“Now that the IRP is behind us, DCA will have to face up to the stark reality of what is required from a successful applicant for .AFRICA,” says Masilela. “There will be no more hiding, or side-stepping, for DCA. They must now deliver the goods, namely to provide evidence that they have the necessary support of over 60% of the governments in Africa and no more than one objection. They cannot simply rely on the revoked African Union letter of support anymore as they have all but burnt that bridge.

“We now have greater clarity regarding the way forward for the .AFRICA TLD. We were hoping that the IRP would be the final coup de grâce to DCA’s ill-fated application, but unfortunately that is not to be. We now have to work through an excruciatingly predicable process of proving DCA’s application is a non-starter. And all this at the expense of the African community who are patiently waiting for the launch of their continents’ TLD.
“It’s been a great pity that the launch of .AFRICA has been held up for nearly two years because of a process, where Africa has done everything right, but remains the hapless victim of external bureaucratic and egotistical meddling,” Masilela says.

He adds that, looking on the bright side, the postponement of the launch of .AFRICA has had its benefits. It has allowed ZACR to further test and refine its systems and processes, including rights protection mechanisms that will accompany the launch of the .AFRICA gTLD.

“I would like to assure the African community that the ZACR still remains the only contracted party for the registry operations for .AFRICA and that this contract is unconditional and legally-binding,” Masilela says. This legally-binding and enforceable contract was signed by ICANN and ZACR in Singapore in March 2014.

“We look forward to the speedy evaluation of the DCA application and its inevitable outcome. Parallel to this we also expect the lifting of the suspension to the pre-delegation testing (PDT) Once this has been resolved, which could take anywhere between three to six months, we will welcome the ICANN board decision to proceed with the delegation of the .AFRICA gTLD to the ZACR and its subsequent launch to the African and global Internet community,” Masilela says.