Reflecting Africa’s expanding role in the internet, the International Corporation for the Assignment of Names and Numbers (Icann) is planning to establish an African presence, probably in South Africa.
The move comes ahead of the expected the approval of the proposed African Internet regional registry, AfriNIC, which is currently in the application process.
Icann’s president and chief executive, Paul Twomey, who visited South Africa recently, said the organisation is committed to achieving independence from the US within the next three years.
“This means it expects to establish further relationships outside the US, and Africa is the first priority,” he says.
The US-incorporated organisation was set up with help from Washington, DC. Concerns have been raised that it might be used by the US in an attempt to govern the internet.
Debates are rife about whether its responsibilities should be shifted to the United Nation’s International Telecommunications Union. Icann’s current expansion is an attempt to calm international fears, and to establish itself as a mature, independent entity.
“Icann has been working to foster greater global participation, and a presence in Africa will support improved communications and understanding of local issues. This is part of Icann’s commitment to preserving the operational stability and security of the internet, promoting choice and competition for registrants, and achieving broad representation of the global internet community,” said Twomey.
This will be Icann’s first regional presence in the developing world, and the second outside of the US after Brussels, where offices were established this January.
Icann has also created an advisory group to engage the global internet community in the use of internationalised domain names and to further internet growth in new languages and various regions of the world.
“A regional presence will also allow Icann to hand off operational issues across time zones to expedite processing and responsiveness.
"There is a growing involvement of Africa in core internet structures, and we are seeking input from the African community to identify appropriate modes and locations for our presence in the African continent.
"We also need to know how a local presence can assist with Icann’s operational issues,” he said.
Responsibilities of an African regional presence will include supporting and engaging local internet community members, including the technical community and Country Code Top Level Domains, on specific issues of concern to the region.
Icann will also interact with regional governments to identify outreach efforts, provide support for the establishment of AfricNIC, and facilitate local input and liaison for its supporting organisations and advisory committees.
“These will form an essential component of Icann’s bottom-up, consensus-based policy development process,” added Twomey.
He says Icann is also looking at the potential for the donation of infrastructure, office space and staffing.
“It is important that the African region is involved in the core structures and technical policy making for the internet’s system of unique identifiers.
"Africa has an opportunity, and indeed a responsibility, to support one global interoperable internet, which facilitates technology and economic growth worldwide,” says Mouhamet Diop, Icann board member and president of the Senegalese IT Association.
“With increased interaction between civil society, business, and governments across the African continents, we are seeking to ensure that Africa’s IT will be aligned with, and integral to, internet growth and development,” said Twomey.
Icann is due to hold its fifth annual meeting in Cape Town in December, where it will give an update on the development of the application.
Nano Mothibi writes for Computing South Africa