Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean are big beneficiaries in the new Generic Top Level Domain selection process after the introduction of the controversial "batching" methodology by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
The batching process allows for applications to be selected first on geography, and then involves a round robin process that has been called messy and complicated. The first round will allow the first hundred applications in each geographic region to be considered. This means that even regions with few applications -- essentially, emerging markets -- will be dealt with in the first batch.
On Wednesday, ICANN revealed that there were 1,930 applications received including those covering geographic names and indigenous language scripts such as Arabic, Chinese and Cyrillic. Out of the applications, North America led with 911 applications, Europe had 675, Asia Pacific has 303, Latin America and Caribbean had 24 while Africa had 17.
This is the third time ICANN opened up the new gTLD process and it is the first time the African and Latin American and Caribbean regions are involved. This process is likely to test ICANN's awareness on politics and tech issues particular to these regions.
"We are standing at the cusp of a new era of online innovation," said ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom at a press conference. "That means new businesses, new marketing tools, new jobs, and new ways to link communities and share information."
During the press conference held in London, Beckstrom confirmed that applications from Africa and Latin America will be dealt with first.
In Africa, the 17 applications were drawn from Gambia, Egypt and South Africa, with entities in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town being the first cities to apply. Among those submitting applications, Supersport, DSTv, Mnet, GoTV, Multichoice and MTN are South African businesses with a pan-African presence.
"I think we are seeing the dawning of a new age for Africa; Internet penetration is increasing exponentially in Africa and African and international businesses are seeing this as a efficient means of reaching their respective target markets in the region," said Neil Dundas, director of UniForum, the company bidding to run .Durban, .Cape Town, .Durban and .Africa.
One of the confusing points in the names revealed by ICANN is the ".africa" gTLD requested by UniForum and the ".dotafrica" gTLD requested by Dot Connect Africa Trust. However, any criticism of potential confusion regarding the names may come out during the 60-day comment period, where governments, individuals, public and private sector institutions can register their concerns regarding the applications.
Even though the number of applications from Africa are lower compared to other regions, the debate is likely to raise more awareness of ICANN processes on the continent. South Africa seems to be the main country in Africa that recognized the opportunities.
"South Africa is currently the continent's largest and most sophisticated economy and perhaps this has a bearing on the country's attitude towards the digital space," added Dundas. "There is a growing awareness amongst South African businesses that they can be competitive internationally and as a result they have taken a strategic view to take expand their brands to an international level using the internet."
South Africa's economic superiority played a role, given that the application fee was $185,000 payable to ICANN and an organization would have to add legal and application consultancy costs. ICANN had provided financial support, but only three out of the 17 applicants indicated interest in the financial support.