Rwanda takes over management of '.rw'

Rwanda

It was no easy task, but the East African country Rwanda has finally obtained from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) the right to manage its own country-code top-level domain (ccTLD), ‘.rw’, which was previously in the hands of a foreign individual.

‘.rw’ had initially been delegated to a Switzerland-based company, NIC Congo - Interpoint SARL, behind which was an individual named Frédéric Grégoire. Grégoire had obtained the ‘.rw’ ccTLD back in 1996 when the internet was still in its early stages and had not really reached the African continent - and Rwanda was still recovering from the 1994 genocide. Around the same time, he also obtained various other African ccTLDs such as ‘.bi’ (Burundi). For such ccTLDs, Grégoire was listed as technical contact, and as such he had the responsibility to operate them. Interpoint also operated ‘.zr’, the ccTLD for Zaire, and when the country became the Democratic Republic of the Congo after the first Congo War, Interpoint approached ICANN and obtained the redelegation of the newly created ‘.cd’ ccTLD which was to replace ‘.zr’. However, since then the ‘.bi’ and ‘.cd’ ccTLDs have both been redelegated by ICANN to local organisations (in 2002 and 2011, respectively), and Rwanda is now the latest African country to have obtained the same.

It has however been a long and difficult road. It all started in 2002 when the Rwanda Information Technology Authority sent a formal letter to ICANN to obtain the redelegation of the ‘.rw’ ccTLD. Unfortunately, this first approach did not bear any fruit, notably because of ICANN's recommendation that the ccTLD had to be managed by a private institution. This resulted in the creation in 2005 of the Rwanda Information Communication and Technology Association (RICTA), a non-profit making organisation representing the Rwandan internet community, formed with the objective of managing the ‘.rw’ ccTLD. RICTA filed a first request for redelegation to ICANN in 2006, but this was finally closed because the discussions with NIC Congo - Interpoint SARL and the finalisation of the proposed action plan were not progressing. In January 2012 RICTA, supported by the Rwandan government and a number of private bodies, applied again for the redelegation of the ‘.rw’ ccTLD, and ICANN approved it in September.

Geoffrey Kayonga, CEO of RICTA, said that Rwanda was very proud to finally manage its national identity on the internet. This is indeed a victory for the Rwandan government which, in the past few years, has been giving increased importance to information and communications technology (ICT) innovations and development, and has been working on making the country a technological hub for the entire East African region. However, Rwanda's vision of becoming an ICT-led economy was clearly not compatible with not controlling its own ccTLD.

With regard to registration requirements, ‘.rw’ domain names were and will continue to be unrestricted, thus open for registration to everyone. Price is a different matter. Until now, domain name registrations under ‘.rw’ were free for local entities and quite expensive (the equivalent of $300 registry fees per domain name) for foreign entities. The rationale behind this is explained on the former registry's website, where it is stated that "the principle of free domains is for serving the disadvantaged communities of our country" - hence a high price for foreign entities "to compensate free registration for local citizens".

RICTA has however chosen not to maintain this price structure and to abandon the principle of free domain names for local entities. Registry fees are now much cheaper and the same for all, regardless of where the applicant is based. Thus, existing ‘.rw’ domain name holders living in Rwanda will now have to pay annual renewal fees in order to keep their domain names, which may lead to some registrants dropping their domain names. To minimise this risk and raise awareness of the advantages of using the national ccTLD (as opposed to more popular TLDs such as ‘.com’), RICTA has announced that it is planning on running a campaign to promote ‘.rw’.

In 2009 Mauritius (‘.mu’) had become, at the time, one of only a few African countries to have gained control of its ccTLD, the first one being South Africa. This new example will possibly inspire other African countries that do not manage their own ccTLDs to gain control of them.

David Taylor and Laetitia Arrault, Hogan Lovells LLP, Paris

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