Despite the .ZA Domain Name Authority (ZADNA) holding two meetings to get feedback on its proposed regulations for the .ZA namespace, South African registrars fear their feedback is falling on deaf ears.
Registrars are companies that help customers buy and configure their Internet domains.
On 22 April, ZADNA proposed controversial regulatory changes to South Africa’s .ZA namespace, including:
- Registrars must collect the ID documents of people registering .ZA domains.
- Registrars must apply for a license and pay licensing and registrar fees.
- Registrars must provide ZADNA with access to their environments upon request for audits.
Absolute Hosting managing director Jade Benson told MyBroadband that ZADNA held two online meetings during May with the relevant parties to get feedback on the regulations.
During the first meeting, Benson questioned the necessity of license fees, collection of identifiable documents, and the registry’s unfettered access to registrar environments.
ZADNA did not address any of these concerns, Benson said.
On 24 May, the regulator hosted the second meeting — a registrar engagement discussion.
“During the meeting, I requested answers to my previously posed questions, but ZADNA did not provide a single answer,” Benson said.
“This indicates that they have no intention of changing their proposed regulations and are merely following procedure.”
He said ZADNA told the registrars that they should suggest solutions to the problems resulting from the draft regulations.
“When I questioned them again regarding the registrar license fee, they told me to suggest a monetary value. I suggested a R1 license fee every ten years — a response which all the registrars approved and supported.”
Register Domain SA CEO Mauritz Koekemoer said the regulations would cripple the .ZA domain industry to pre-2011 times, when the ZA Central Registry (ZACR) still used an outdated and time-consuming registration system.
“No country, anywhere on Earth, has ever tasked registrars with the duty to collect personal identification documents to allow someone to register a domain name. This will become an administrative nightmare for registrars,” Koekemoer said.
Domains.co.za managing director Wayne Diamond said it does not make sense for ZADNA to complicate the registration process when .ZA faces overwhelming competition.
There are over 1,500 top-level domains too choose from, including .com, .africa, .me, and .xyz.
“With so much competition in the domain space now, the regulator should be making purchasing a .ZA domain easier to promote growth, rather than adding cumbersome regulations.”
Diamond explained that the new regulations would require registrars to “perform numerous manual tasks which will increase the pricing of domains to the registrant”.
“With no benefit to the registrant or registrar, one could only think that the proposed regulations are there to benefit the regulator.”
“By charging additional fees, ZADNA may make more money in the short term, but this initiative will be detrimental to anyone associated with the .CO.ZA domain in the long term,” 1-Grid CEO Thomas Vollrath said.
However, ZADNA’s response to MyBroadband’s queries indicated that the regulator disagrees with the registrars’ sentiments.
“The regulations will benefit all role-players within the .ZA domain name ecosystem,” ZADNA said.
“Particularly registries and registrars will provide the industry with unified and centralised licensing and compliance processes. For registrants, they will enjoy a more secure online environment through deterrence of online activities that compromise their safe internet use.”
In response to the widespread criticism from the industry, ZADNA also released a press statement and a Q&A defending its controversial regulations.
“I am fearful that ZADNA will steamroll [registrars’ proposed] changes despite being given ample warning not to proceed, which may very well lead to the demise and decline of the ZA Namespace,” Benson stated.
Benson explained that registrants and registrars are already considering alternate namespaces with less government interference.
“We’re all pushing .africa domain names as the alternative and have sent the ZACR over 120,000 domains to be registered as free alternatives to .co.za,” he said.
“A license fee seeks to ensure that ZADNA can extort money from registrars who will need to pass this cost on to their resellers and registrants.”
“Smaller registrars have already indicated that they would need to forfeit their registrar status and purchase domains from other registrars if the license fee is excessive. This would result in an uncompetitive market.”
Another major concern is that customers would avoid South African registrars’ services entirely due to privacy concerns.
In response to a MyBroadband community member’s forum post, Benson explained that the requirement for registrars to give ZADNA unfettered access to their infrastructure poses a substantial risk.
“If ZADNA requires access into a registrar’s infrastructure, they get access to everything — there may be data in that environment that ZADNA doesn’t have jurisdiction over and shouldn’t have access to.”
Benson said that discarding the proposed regulations would ensure the domain industry’s continued growth.
“The .ZA namespace is currently a stable ecosystem thanks to the registrars and the ZACR, who have provided governance and policies that protect all parties’ interests, rather than being a cash mule for a single organisation at the expense of all South Africans,” Benson said.
Diamond said implementing the new regulatory framework would effectively destroy the .ZA brand.
“If the new regulations are put in place, there would be very little future growth in the .ZA domain space — it would essentially destroy our own .ZA brand since fewer people will register and use a .ZA domain going forward.”
“Sadly, regulations that may have good intent often harm the local industry providers, where they should be assisting it,” Diamond said.
MyBroadband asked ZADNA if it plans to incorporate the industry’s feedback into its final regulations.
“The Authority will consolidate and review the inputs and submissions made,” it stated.
“The draft regulations will then be reviewed to capture relevant and substantive considerations made through the inputs and submissions in clause format.”