Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Case of Somalia's .SO ccTLD Redelegation: Business Trumps National Interest

There is hardly any African ccTLD that has not experienced re-delegation nightmares but Somalia's request for the re-delegation of .SO in 2009 was smooth sailing. Somalia's .SO domain is managed by GMO Registry which was appointed a Technical Operator by The Transitional Federal Government of Somalia's Ministry of Ports of Telecommunications, which is the "Sponsoring Organization". This high level, backroom deal was cut in a Nairobi Hotel just before the ICANN meeting in Nairobi in 2010 which must have been a fruitful meeting for GMO because the organization also organized a hugely successful luncheon attended by the local internet community where its dotSHOP new gTLDs was introduced to Kenya.

There have been huge complaints from Somalia's internet professionals that they were not involved in the decision making; and the decision was taken without involving various stakeholders. Many feel that the TFG took advantage of the chaos in Somalia to misappropriate Somalia's internet resources without "consulting" Somalis. Now, consulting Somalis is another thing since most of Somalia is at war and the parties have never "consulted" each other much in the last 20 years on how to bring peace to the nation but the re-delegation and subsequent dealings should have been done in a more transparent manner.

There is no doubt that Japan's GMO Registry is a reputable player and a world class registry services provider and so there is no doubt that the dotSO registy will be managed according to industry best practices, technically. GMO has promised to reinvest dotSO's surplus income in helping Somali's children. The question mark is in the delegation procedure and whether the domain will serve national interest given the dirty deals that were involved in re-delegation. There is no doubt in this case that "money changed hands".

The dotSO registry is unrestricted, so anyone anywhere in the world can register .SO domains. "SO" is a popular English word, one of those domainers call "nifty". Somalia's ccTLD has therefore been a great success in the world wide web. But people in the know in the conservative nation are complaining the dotSO registry brings no benefits to the war torn nation apart from lining the pockets of a few greedy politicians. Disputes in the .SO namespace will be governed according to the laws of Japan, in other words, Somalis have "leased" their ccTLD to Japan for some fee.

Not a single African registrar is a dotSO accredited registrar. All dotSO accredited registrars are based in the US, Europe and Japan. I wonder how much GMO Registry is reinvesting in terms of building the capacity amongst Somali's so that they can take over the management of their nation's ccTLD in the future(if the country ever stabilizes). Currently, it seems all TFG does is sit in Mogadishu or Nairobi and wait for its cheques from Tokyo as the "Sponsor Organization" given the popularity of the ccTLD in the industry. This was a dirty business deal. Let's call a spade a spade. And it's curious how fast ICANN re-delegated dotSO to Somalia's Ministry of Posts and Telecommunication given that countries like Rwanda have been struggling for over six years for the re-delegation of their ccTLD from DNSAfrica with little success, even after putting in place policies and sound internet infrastructure.

Writes Eng Ismail D. Osman "Somalia (.so) got back their domains within a year of the application. With no communication infrastructure, no telecommunication policy in place; how did Somalia delegation convince ICANN and passed(fulfilled) the entire requirement to release the country top-level domain .so. Countries like Rwanda (.rw) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (.cd) have been complaining about delays in getting their domains for the last three years and re-delegation is yet to be done, even though they've communication infrastructure, legislation put in place and resources to manage their own domain at a respectable level"

Some in the conservative Islamic nation have also complained bitterly that their namespace is being managed contrary to their national values by allowing registration of porn or sex domains. Complaints which have proved true as many .so domains now host porn or adult websites.: www.redtube.so www.adultfinder.so www.xxxx.so www.sexcams.so www.sexual.so  plus thousands more.

The .SO case shows  that business often trumps national interest in the management of internet resources, especially in cases where weak state institutions exist. A friend of mine calls it "domain colonialism". If Somalia ever manages to create a functional state, it will take the country many years to get full control of their ccTLD resources given the experience of other African nations.