Africa is increasingly becoming a key player in global business and essential resources like the internet will definitely be forming a critical part of this growth. At the end of 2012, Africa’s internet penetration rate was quoted as heading to 16%. While this is quite low compared to global rates, the continent has witnessed a sharp rise in internet usage in recent years and analysts say the increase is now poised to rise at tremendous rates as thousands of Africans come online by the day. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) recently announced a plan to open its first hub office in Istanbul, Turkey. The office will also cover Africa in addition to Europe and the Middle East. Bizrika conducted an interview with ICANN’s Director of Global Media Affairs, Mr. Brad White and put the following questions to him with regard to the role of the hub offices, ICANN’s approach to Africa and the overall outlook of Africa’s internet market.
ICANN has just announced plans to open its first hub office in Istanbul. What exactly do we mean by a hub office and which role does it play on behalf of ICANN?
Our President and Chief Executive Officer Fadi Chehadé has announced that we will have 3 “hub” offices, which will effectively be headquarters type offices. They will be located in Los Angeles (our current headquarters), Istanbul and Singapore.
These locations were selected primarily because of their respective time zones… so our stakeholders can get assistance or information from ICANN at any time regardless of where in the world they are located.
Each hub or headquarters office will also have “Engagement Centers” in various countries, which will also help make ICANN more accessible to people around the globe.
The Istanbul office will also cover Africa besides Europe and Middle East. What is ICANN’s view of the overall African internet market even as you prepare to hold ICANN 47 in Durban South Africa come July this year?
ICANN’s view of the African Internet market was best summed up by our President Fadi Chehadé after he attended the March meeting of the Africa Multi-stakeholder Internet Governance meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. At the meeting Chehadé said he wants to see a five-fold increase in the number of accredited Domain Name Registrars on the African continent within a year. Currently there are only five accredited Registrars in Africa, among more than one thousand worldwide. In other words, we want to see a dramatic expansion of the Domain Name Industry on the African continent in the hopes of promoting competition in the marketplace.
At this point in time when almost every part of the world is experiencing increased connectivity, don’t you think perhaps ICANN should have an office in every continent instead of just a single one that stretches from Europe through the Middle East to Africa, for instance?
Yes. We absolutely believe that ICANN needs to expand its global presence and that is precisely what we are doing. We are not waiting for people to come to ICANN, we are coming to them. As we announced a couple of months ago we are planning to have ICANN staff, at least one, in each of the 6 regions of Africa. North, South, East, West, Central and the Indian Ocean. Our Vice President for Africa, Pierre Dandjinou will be the point person on our expansion in Africa.
ICANN is currently undertaking the implementation of over 1000 generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs). What are some of the changes we are likely to see as a result of this implementation?
Actually, the number of applications received for new gTLDs, prior to the closure of the first application window, was more than 1800.
This will mark one of the biggest changes to the Internet in its history. We have been planning this expansion of the new Domain space for more than seven years. It may well mark a turning point in the way people view and use Internet address names.
Until now, there have only been 22 Top Level Domains (TLDs), such as .com, .net, .info and so on. But with this expansion, the number of TLDs will grow to hundreds and eventually perhaps thousands. And the most exciting part of this program is that for the first time people who use non-Latin script in their languages will start to see TLDs in their native language. This holds the possibility of making the Domain Name System (DNS) far more user-friendly for people who speak languages such as Arabic, Chinese or Russian and that could in turn dramatically increase Internet usage in those regions where the languages are used.
Let’s wrap up by revisiting Africa. In 2012, ICANN announced plans for what it termed a “NEW Approach to Africa” with the support of AFRINIC. How is the progress so far towards this end?
Make no mistake; Africa is front and center on ICANN’s radar. The expansion of our presence in Africa, which I mentioned earlier in this interview, is a demonstration of our commitment to the African continent. The whole reason we helped organize the Africa Multi-stakeholder Internet Governance meeting in Addis Ababa in March is so we could work in concert with other Internet organizations to increase Internet accessibility and promote competition in the Domain Name industry. Our President Fadi Chehadé summed it up perfectly at that meeting, when he said – “This is about us moving the needle forward, Africa will not wait.”
Thank you so much for talking to Bizrika.