.africa domain held up again

Paula Gilbert
By Paula Gilbert, ITWeb telecoms editor.
Johannesburg, 09 Mar 2016

Just when it looked like the .africa generic top-level domain (gTLD) could soon get off the ground, a court case has frozen the process.

Two-and-a-half years down the line, ZACR and DCA continue to fight over who should run the generic top-level domain.
Two-and-a-half years down the line, ZACR and DCA continue to fight over who should run the generic top-level domain.

After a two-and-a-half year battle, South Africa's ZA Central Registry (ZACR) was last week officially given the go-ahead to begin operating as the domain's official registry. However, rival company, Mauritius-based DotConnectAfrica Trust (DCA), has taken its case to an American court and managed to freeze the process for at least another month.

On 3 March, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) board passed a resolution confirming the DCA application for .africa did not have sufficient government support as required by the body's applicant guidebook. As a result, the DCA application was rendered ineligible for further review or evaluation.

The ICANN board then authorised the CEO and president to proceed with the delegation of .africa to be operated by ZACR following a registry agreement signed in March 2014.

"This resolution constitutes an important milestone in the progress of the .africa project and vindicates the longstanding position of the ZACR and the AUC that the application submitted by DCA was unwarranted and illegitimate," a joint media statement from ZACR, the dotAfrica Steering Committee and the African Union Commission (AUC) reads.

However, DCA had already approached a US district court in California to try fight the resolution. On 4 March, DCA was granted a temporary restraining order (TRO) against ICANN, preventing any delegation of .africa until a court hearing on 4 April, where DCA will seek a preliminary injunction to stop the delegating of .africa domain names by ZACR.

The court found the TRO was needed as DCA had demonstrated that once the gTLD is issued, it will be unable to obtain those rights elsewhere and that "the injury it will suffer cannot be compensated through monetary damages".

The joint statement from ZACR, the AUC and the dotAfrica Steering Committee maintains the DCA court bid is an "unlawful legal challenge against ICANN, including a desperate attempt to include ZACR in the US-based proceedings".

"We would like to assure all concerned parties that we are doing everything within our ability to ensure that .africa is launched for the benefit of the African and global Internet communities as soon as possible," says the group.

"We will provide all reasonable assistance to ICANN, if required, to overcome these vexatious legal delays and challenges. We do not regard this matter as a challenge against any one individual organisation, but rather a challenge against the entire African community."

Gloves off

The battle for who gets to be the official registry operator for .africa has been raging since 2013. DCA's application to be the official registry for .africa was originally rejected in June 2013. ZACR then signed a registry operator agreement with ICANN in March 2014.

In May 2014, an independent review process (IRP) suspended any further processing of any application for .africa, pending a review. In July 2015, the IRP ruled ICANN violated its bylaws during its handling of DCA's bid for .africa. This effectively 'unrejected' DCA's application and forced ICANN to put the DotConnectAfrica application back into the evaluation process.

ICANN's Geographic Names Panel then resumed its evaluation of DCA's application to operate .africa and this month ultimately found through its extended evaluation that DCA did not satisfy the necessary criteria to pass the review and its application was "ineligible for any further review".