The Egyptian registry highlights specific challenges facing growth of IDNs in the region:
Some countries with higher IDN adoption (eg Russian Federation, China) had been starting from a baseline of large numbers of ASCII registrations, and local registrar networks. In Egypt – and across the Arab States – there are low numbers and low growth rates of ASCII domain names. Recent years have seen the re-launch of a number of ccTLD in the region following reorganisations. This means that the populations may not be accustomed to seeing local domain names (we have called this “registry brand” in our IDN Readiness analysis).
Registries across the region highlight the lack of local registrars, and many have been working to recruit registrars (eg Qatar, UAE, Oman). At the moment, with the exception of the UAE, current rates of demand are insufficient to sustain a local, profitable industry until critical mass is reached. Registries report that local populations tend to use Facebook pages and search as substitutes for domain names. The Egyptian registry suggests that new market offerings are needed, which provide turnkey solutions for different market segments (doctors, lawyers, individuals), where registration of domain names is coupled with creating websites and developing online services.
Not only is the domain name industry in the region lacking in maturity, but so are related industries, according to the Egyptian registry. Examples include the relatively high cost of creating Arabic content, lack of appropriate mechanisms to protect intellectual property rights online, and low penetration and support for providing online payments or e-services.
Because of the immaturity of the market, the Egyptian registry points out that retail prices tend to be high, as economies of scale are not yet possible. Complex registration policies in the region, while often reflecting cultural and religious norms, tend to depress registration volumes. Examples of such policies include a requirement that applications for a domain name are backed by a letter (sent by mail or fax) on company letterhead, signed by a manager to support the application, residency requirements, requirements for domain names to reflect existing trademarks, and prohibitions on registrations of certain categories of name (eg geographical terms, tribal names, obscene or immoral words, names of apostles or prophets).
Not only do registration policies tend to be conservative, but management of character variants adds complexity. Key challenges, such as what language (or script) should be used to record the contact details of domain name holders, have not yet been resolved.
It has been observed already that lack of universal acceptance itself inhibits mass uptake (the IDN negative cycle).
The Egyptian registry points out a need for capacity building to develop local expertise, and develop the necessary technical, policy and business skills to build out the ecosystem of Internet industries at the local level. In the registry’s view, exchanging best practices through forums such as APTLD, ICANN’s Middle East DNS Forum can help, as can involving other relevant sectors in such knowledge-sharing.
Emily Taylor is the CEO of Oxford Information Labs. She is an Associate Fellow of Chatham House and is the Editor of the Journal of Cyber Policy and co-founder of ICANN accredited registrar, Oxford Information Labs.
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