The regulator, CCK, has published draft framework and regulations that would shake up the internet domain market in Kenya. Whereas it has been its good practice to invite public comments on draft regulations, it is rare that CCK will change too much from what it has already drafted.
Given that it is impossible to do justice to the set of published documents in one blog, we shall for now only look at the broad principles for the anticipated market shape-up.
The current market structure is very simple in that all internet names registered in Kenya are managed under KENIC – a multi-stakeholder institution that has representation from the regulator, government, academia and private sector. In technical terms, KENIC is the administrator of the country code, top-level domain (ccTLD) known as “.KE” and pronounced as “dot KE”
Under this dot.KE top-level domain, one would find a second-level of domains such as “.co.ke” for company internet registrations, “.ac.ke” for registered internet names for academic institutions, “.go.ke” for registering internet names for government institutions amongst others.
Dr. Shem Odhuodho used to manage the Kenyan ccTLD before it was re-delegated to KENIC in 2002 after some lengthy process that involved the ICANN – the body that globally coordinates internet names and numbers.
Since, then KENIC has managed to register only 30,000 internet names and pressure has been mounting to see if competition in the market would spur internet name registration to match say, South Africa and Egypt –both of whom have over 200,000 internet name registrations.
The regulator intends to invite applicants from the commercial sector to bid for the administration and management of both the Kenyan ccTLD (dot.KE) and its corresponding second-level domains such as the “co.ke”, “.ac.ke”, “or.ke” amongst others.
The intentions seem good – as always in Kenya – but the details or lack of them always raise eyebrows. For example, it is not yet clear how the winning bidder or applicant for the administration of the top level and second-level domain names will be selected.
From the published documents, it is not clear if the traditional auction approach or the beauty pageant approach will be employed. In the auction approach, the highest bidder for a service is expected to be selected while in the beauty pageant approach, the one with the best contextual fit is expected to win.
There is some mention of first-come first served but this would be disastrous if it becomes the method of determining who finally walks away with the rights to run the dot.KE top-level and the second-level domains.
To understand why the process is important, one can do some simple arithmetic by considering that for each of the 30,000 registered domains, the registrant is charged on average 2,000Ksh per year. This translates to a cool 60Million Kenya shilling per year – a tidy sum considering the growth potential and annually renewable fees.
It is easy to concede that “one must know right people” in order to win such type of government tenders or business in Kenya. Nevertheless, the regulator should explicitly let the public and the applicants know how such a winner will be arrived at.
I am currently in consultation with the administrator of one the largest internet domains in Africa and promise to bring you more insights next week.
Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at the Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Twitter : @jwalu