The domain name business in Africa is being stymied by a lack of policies to spell out the role of registrars and other potential players, according to industry insiders.
Top Level Domain registries are held by private entities with no guidelines on how to involve registrars in selling domains locally or on marketing models they can employ.
The private-public partnership model involving governments, private sector, academia and civil society in management of TLD registries has been viewed as an appropriate model, but a lack of clear guidelines has stunted growth.
The lack of clear policies was demonstrated in Kenya earlier this month during the Annual General Meeting of the Kenya Network Information Center (Kenic), which remains the .ke domain administrator. In accordance with this year's Kenya Communications Amendment Act, Kenic wants to incorporate a subsidiary to manage that domain.
The Act also requires Kenic to apply for a license in order to continue operating the .co.ke, .sc.ke, .go.ke and other domains. To do all this, Kenic needs approval from the Communications Commission of Kenya. However, the CCK holds a seat on Kenic's board.
Given possible conflict of interest, the participants at the Kenic general meeting were at a loss about how to proceed.
Participants also questioned the technical ability of the CCK and why that body should license registry operators, since it was a function that used to be undertaken by Kenic.
"Clear policies is not only a need for Africa -- even some governments in other regions still need to locate their ccTLDs within their broader national ICT agenda," said Vika Mpisane, general manager of the .za domain authority in South Africa.
The case of Kenya attracted heated debate in online forums as TLD managers in other African countries wondered whether introduction of licenses is a way for CCK to take over management responsibilities.
"I know of a successful ccTLD in Europe that was almost taken over by local radicals and the ccTLD's main weakness was that it is not protected by national policy or legislation," added Mpisane.
"We fought a long battle since the days of telecom monopoly for Kenic to have the role it has today; there is no way we can change if it will result in CCK taking back the responsibility of Kenic," said Richard Bell, managing partner of East Africa Capital Partners.
Previously Kenic was tasked with licensing other registries, but the law opens the door for the government to appoint its own registry for the .go.ke namespace, which hosts government-related domains.