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Untangling the Nigerian Top Domain Level Registration Palaver
For a number of years now, an imbroglio has been quietly brewing in the Nigerian Internet community over who or what institution (private, government or both) controls or should control Nigeria’s Country Code Top Level Domain (ng.ccTLD or ngTLD for short).
We believe that 2004 should be the year to resolve this controversy once-and-for all, so that we can get on with the important business of fully deploying Nigeria’s Information Highway to the full benefit of national development.
But first things first, so that we all can begin from the same chapter and verse, after sorting out some of the technical morass.
A CRASH COURSE ABOUT THE INTERNET AND IP ADDRESSING
Suppose you buy a computer, and its only connection to the outside world is its plug into the electrical socket in the room. We will call that isolated computer a “workstation” (let us call it Workstation 1). Now consider adding another workstation (say Workstation 2), dedicated either to another user or set of users in your family or business, or essentially to another set of created-and-stored files and executable programs. If these two workstations are linked either by wire (e.g. Ethernet cables) or wirelessly (e.g. infrared link) so that they can SHARE files back and forth, or they can LOG into each other so that working on the keyboard of Workstation 1 would appear as if you are working on the keyboard attached to Workstation 2, then what you now have is an isolated “network” of 2 workstations – that is, an isolated “local area network” (LAN) - in which these two computers “know” about each other and can share files, but in which no other computer or LAN in the world can get to any of them.
Typically, of course, an isolated LAN is more than two linked workstations. We need not bother ourselves here whether the LAN is “server-based” (one computer controls all the others) or “peer-based” (all computers are essentially equal). All we need to know is that there is need for additional hardware (e.g. network interface cards, bridges and switches) to facilitate the interconnections; network software to manage the connections; some method for the system administrator to uniquely name the various computers on the LAN, and some protocol for the network system to use these names to pass messages from one computer to the other.
A LAN, while usually physically located within a narrow geographical region, e.g. a room or a building, need not be so: we could have a WAN (wide-area network) or even a MAN (metropolitan area network). The names hint at quite large geographical distribution, although their extents here are nebulous. The essential idea is that all the computers on the LAN, WAN or MAN share the same protocol and same possibly small set of servers, switches and bridges. In management information system (MIS) lingo, each LAN, WAN or WAN may be known as a “domain” by itself, or could be a “sub-domain” (like a sub-network) or part of a larger domain. Each computer would be regarded as a “node.” The idea behind a domain or sub-domain is some centrality in its processing and/or administrative management.
Now imagine not different workstations but different LANs, WANs or MANs, all with possibly different protocols. If any two or more of these are interconnected, what you have is an “inter-net(work)” – the Inter-net with a small “i”. For a workstation in one LAN (say) to send information to another in another LAN, there is need to uniquely identify both each workstation AND each LAN. There must therefore be a host ID(entification) and a network ID. Again, that inter-networking demands its own new set of software, protocol and hardware – essentially “routers” which serve as intelligent bridges between networks.
What we have come to know as “The Internet” is therefore a world-wide connection of LANs, WANs and MANs, whose adopted “lingua franca” or networking protocol is TCP/IP (Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol), and where we think of sub-networks/networks in terms of sub-domains, domains and nodes. The TCP portion of TCP/IP receives request for transmission, establishes the connection between nodes wishing to share files or information request, packetizes the data, sequences them, sends them along, and makes sure that they are re-assembled accurately at the other end, otherwise it re-sends the data. The IP portion of TCP/IP is simpler: basically to attach assigned and globally-unique 32-bit (four 8-bit bytes) IP addresses (e.g. 18.104.22.168) to the packets to identify the sender (one address) and the intended receiver(s) (one or more addresses) of the packets. Without getting too much into subnet masks addresses (such as 255.255.0.0), the high two-bytes portion (eg“138.238”) identifies the “Network ID” (i.e. domain or sub-domain ID, in this case, Howard University), and the low two-bytes portion (e.g. “144.31”) identifies a particular host or node ID at Howard University, in this case one of its servers. This IP version 4 naming method allows about 4.3 billion unique addresses (actually 2^32). If we note that the world’s population at the moment is about 6.2 billion, we can imagine that IPv4 may run out in the not too distant future.
Now on the Internet, we are also familiar with easier-to-remember textual addresses or names: world-wide-web addresses (otherwise known as a Uniform Resource Locator URL) such as www.nigerianmuse.com (with IP addresses 22.214.171.124; see http:// 126.96.36.199) and an email addresses such as firstname.lastname@example.org . In this URL, if the .com comes last, then that tag (like the original ones .net, .org, .edu, .gov and .mil; or since November 2000, the newer ones .biz, .info, .museum, .aero, .coop, .pro, .name) denotes the Generic Top Level Domain (gTLD) of the URL, and the next name is that of a “company”, and a third name (if it exists) would refer to a device (e.g. a network printer with an IP address) within the company.
However, as need for names has significantly crossed geographical boundaries, it has become necessary to introduce ccTLDs i.e. Country Code Top Level Domains such as .ng (for Nigeria), .us (for the US), .gh (for Ghana), .uk (for the United Kingdom), etc., thereby giving users greater choice of names. Thus we have, e.g. www.skannet.com.ng with an IP address of 188.8.131.52, and an email such as email@example.com. Where used, a ccTLD becomes the Top Level Domain and the gTLD becomes the Second Level Domain and the company name becomes a Third Level Domain, etc. Translation between URLs and IP addresses are then done by Domain Name Servers (DNS), otherwise called “resolvers”, scattered around the world.
INTERNET BUREAUCRACY - AND ITS JUMBLE OF ACRONYMS AND POWER CENTERS
Who assigns all these gTLDs and ccTLDs, URLs and IP addresses and translates the names to numbers and back?
For an IP address (and its associated URL) to be globally unique on the Internet, it is clear that there should either be a globally central addressing administration and/or a globally central address registry. The neutral, centralized, but shared, database of all gTLDs is called the Shared Registry System (SRS; formerly managed by the InterNIC, Internet Network Information Center www.internic.com), and is currently operated by US-based company, Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI www.networksolutions.com ). NSI is itself a subsidiary of SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation). Actually, for a while, under contract from the Defence Department in the US, being the promoters of ARPANet (the recognized precursor of the Internet), NSI was also solely in charge of assigning IP addresses. However, during the Clinton administration, this responsibility was given to ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers www.icann.org), then a new nonprofit organization explicitly formed to “take over the responsibility for the IP address space allocation, protocol parameter assignment, domain name system management, and root server system management functions now performed under U.S. government contract.”
ICANN thus has broad authority to administer the present system of issuing Internet addresses, including adding Top Level Domains for inclusion into the SRS. It has distributed all of its services among several certified Registrars (which are private institutions or companies) around the world, albeit retaining NSI as one of its registrars for domain names. These Registrars rely on the SRS.
There are other Registrars of note, many of which predate ICANN, but have since had to shift their previously assigned responsibilities. IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority www.isi.edu/div7/iana), a subsidiary unit of the Information Sciences Institute (ISI) of the University of Southern California (USC) was originally charged by DARPA with the responsibility of assigning unique Internet parameters (specifically TCP port numbers, ARP hardware types) as well as managing domain names, and still retains some of its original functions. The responsibility of specifically of assigning IP numbers within the geographic areas of North and South America, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa was shifted (on December 22, 1997) to ARIN (American Registry for Internet Numbers, www.arin.net), but that responsibility has also since been distributed among Registrars. Recently, approval was given by ICANN for the creation of AfriNIC (www.afrinic.org) which is being hosted at the European registry (www.ripe.net).
There are actually over 220 ICANN-accredited gTLD domain-name Registrars scattered all over the world, each handling and processing certain defined functions, including domain, IP and other Internet addresses registration see:
Perhaps the most useful page to visit in this respect is http://www.newregistrars.com/.
The moral of the tale of this section is to emphasize the distributed nature of authority over the Internet, and the cooperative nature of its various agents and stakeholders.
THE NIGERIAN TOP LEVEL DOMAIN .ngTLD – THE PRESENT SITUATION
In all of the records above, however, there is not a single registrar listed in Africa for gTLD registration, a registration that would not generate any controversy since it depends on technical qualifications only!
What about ccTLD registrars? Many countries have more than one ccTLD to themselves. Virtually ALL of countries require those who would use their ccTLD tags to have physical presence WITHIN the country. While this does not mean that their registrars or their technical point of contacts must be within the countries, obviously, this would be most convenient. See http://www.ccregistrars.com/cctlds.html. Only countries like Ascension Island (.ac), Cocos (Keeling) Islands (.cc), Central African Republic (.cf), Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (.ly), Republic of Moldova (.md), Niue (.nu), St. Helena (.sh), Sao Tome/Principe (.st), Turkmenistan (.tm), Tuvalu (.tv) and Samoa (.ws) have unrestricted ccTLDs. A visit to http://www.ccregistrars.com/ will reveal that of the 53 African countries, only 17 countries [Burkina Faso (.bf), Burundi (.bi), Cameroon (.cm), Central African Republic (.cf), Congo (.cd), Egypt (.eg), Equatorial Guinea (.gq), Ghana (.gh), Kenya (.ke), Malawi (.mw), Mauritius (.mu), Rwanda (.rw), Senegal (.sn), South Africa (.za), Tunisia (.tn), and Uganda (.ug)] are listed to have such registrars. See also http://www.afridns.org/ where there is an aggregation of information about African domain names
Although Nigeria is neither on the list of unrestricted ccTLD countries, nor is any Nigeria-based institution listed in the directory of registrars, what it has is a “free registration service” with the following information:
.ng - Nigeria
Government - undecided branch
URL for registration services: http://psg.com/dns/ng
Whois server: None listed.
last updated - 06-February-2003
Thus although ngTLD’s “sponsoring organization” is a company called the “Nigerian TLD Registration Service” (NTLDRS) and the “Nigerian Government” (what ministry or agency is “undecided”), and the administrative contact is a Nigerian, the technical contact is based in the United States, and the domain servers are in South Africa, Australia, United States and Sweden, with none in Nigeria. [At least two name servers are required; three but no more than seven are recommended; see http://www.faqs.org/rfcs/rfc2182.html ] Actually, a more recent DNS report of gov.ng shows the primary name-server as the host Rip.psg.com in the United States [use http://www.dnsreport.com. ]
From 1995 until about 2000, registration service for Nigeria was hosted by CNR-Istituto CNUCE, in Pisa, Italy; the technical point of contact (POC) was Abraham Gebrehiwot; and the administrative point of contact (admin POC) was also Iyabo Odusote. It was then transferred to Randy Bush of the Network Startup Resource Center www.nsrc.org as the technical POC. Information about domain registration for the four countries handled by NSRC (Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania) can be found in www.psg.com/dns .
Now if we take a look at Ghana’s and South Africa’s information sheets, we will read as follows:
The facts shown above for Ghana and South Africa when compared with those for Nigeria are instructive and speak for themselves.
COUNTRY DOMAIN REGISTRATION – BY THE NUMBERS
How many institutions have so far actually registered their domains in Nigeria? To answer this question, we went looking and found the information for ALL countries, but show below the following information as at January 2003 for Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, United States and the United Kingdom:
Thus, Nigeria has not had a large registration demand prior to January 2003, but this is bound to grow with greater access to the Internet. [The smaller numbers for the United States compared with the United Kingdom are a reflection of the fact that gTLD registrations are overwhelmingly US based, and the use of .us ccTLD is only recently gaining in popularity – by gentle coercion of Internet authorities.]
SO HOW MIGHT THIS NIGERIAN PALAVER BE RESOLVED?
As already stated, the motivation for the latest outburst over this ngTLD has been a rebuff by ICANN and IANA for its re-delegation. It appears that the Nigerian government, being one of the listed sponsoring organizations, therefore has an obligation to bring all stakeholders to the table.
Without prejudice to whether good service is being currently offered by ngTLDs registration service provider NSRC or not, all the above information therefore indicates that the controversy currently in Nigeria is really over the following:
Thus mixed up in the controversy are issues of technology transfer, indigenization and national pride, to list a few.
It is clear that the mode of Registrars’ accreditation for country top level domains is that there should be just one such registrar per ccTLD in the country. [Note again that some countries have more than one ccTLD]. On the other hand, for gTLDs, there can be as many registrars as possible who qualify depending on their technical resources, both material and personnel. Since NO single registrar currently exists for gTLD in Nigeria, it is curious that there is such a hue and cry over managing Nigeria’s ngTLD. It would appear that a two-step process might be commended to all present “combatants”, that as many institutions and organizations as possible to first independently vie for gTLDs (that is .com, .net, .edu, .org, .gov, etc.), and then one of them or a new consortium of all of them combined can apply for registration for the ngTLD. For example, we might have as follows:
1 NITDA – as gTLD Registrar for .gov, .coop, .aero;
2 NUC – as gTLD Registrar for .edu, .museum;
3 NIG and ISPAN – as gTLD Registrars for .com, .org, .name, .pro;
4 NCS – as gTLD Registrars for .net, .biz and .info;
5 A new non-profit consortium, e.g. ngCORE or ngNIC, which will be a successor to the listed “Nigerian TLD Registration Service” company. It should now be comprised of all stakeholders in the Nigerian Council of REgistrars (let us call that ngCORE), with delegation of Second Level Domain registration to the same groups above: i.e. gov.ng to NITDA, edu.ng to NUC, com.ng etc. to NIG and ISPAN, etc.
Each of these institutions would be authorized to manage their domains for (say) two years at a time subject to review, but can choose to sub-delegate their responsibilities as they see fit. The important requirement here is that all ngTLD registration functions should be within the country.
The proposed ngNIC body could then have at least three vital organs:
with each committee having a liaison in the other committees.
In the interim, it might be appropriate to have one of the many Nigerian-owned ISPs either in Nigeria and/or in the Diaspora to be officially qualified and listed as one of the DNSs of ngTLD, even if none of them is the primary DNS. Note that this is QUITE different from having a Technical Point of Contact inside Nigeria.
Whatever be the case, there is need to come up with a Business Plan and a Transition plan from where we are to where we wish to be – which is domestic control of our country’s top level domain - in a manner similar to a process recently followed in the setting up of AfriNIC.
We would like to emphasize that rather than an avenue for contention over power, authority and the potential for money-making, the administration of a country top level domain such as ngTLD is all about service, stewardship, fairness and technical reliability. This is clearly spelt our in RFC1591 http://www/isi.edu/in-notes/rfc1591.txt.
It is incumbent upon the Nigerian government, most probably through the Communications / Science & Technology committees of the National Assembly – with invitation of expert advice from Nigerian Information Technology Professionals in the Americas (NITPA) - to convene an open forum of all stakeholders to hammer out an agreement between all of them to discuss matters and stem the ongoing public acrimony. Ultimately, the formation of a National IT Council that will be charged with much more than mere ngTLD administration is inevitable, to provide a general vision for the advancement of Information in the country – that is a comprehensive national IT policy.
This is a task that also must be done as soon as possible in this New Year 2004.
Season’s greetings to everyone!
Mobolaji E. Aluko (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Professor of Engineering at Howard University in Washington, DC, USA President/CEO of Alondex Applied Technologies, LLC, a USA-based innovative technologies company. He is also a member of the board of NITPA (Nigerian Information Technology Professionals in the Americas.). Sunday A. Folayan (email@example.com) is the Managing Director of General Data Engineering Services Ltd [SKANNET], Secretary, ISPs Association of Nigeria (ISPAN), and Member - ICANN at Large Advisory Committee (ICANN ALAC).
“Governments and Country-Code Top Level Domains – A Global Survey: Preliminary Report
- December 2003” by Michael
Domain Name System Structure and Delegation
Principles and Practices to be Followed in Delegating and Administering ccTLDs
about re-delegation requests
Randy Bush and the NSRC
December 29, 2003
Dispute rages over Nigeria's internal domain name
THE hosting of the Country's Country Code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) name locally may remain elusive for long as contenders to the hosting right are yet to resolve their dispute.
The Nigeria Internet Group (NIG), a non-profit organisation, has applied to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the global Internet administration for re-delegation of the ccTLD from its current hosts in the United States of America (USA) to the NIG.
That was in March 2003. But the original Person of Contact (POC) for Nigeria, Mrs. Ibukun Odusote, in alliance with Nigeria Computer Society (NCS), protested the composition of NIG's Board of Trustees and wrote to ICANN in that regards.
Besides asking ICANN to jettison all imputations made by NIG for alleged lack of technical competence, Odusote and the NCS disagreed with the composition of NIG's Board of Trustees, saying if NIG should have a say, it must enlarge its profile to include: Presidents of NIG, NCS and their counterparts in Computer Professional Registration Council of Nigeria (CPN), Information Technology Association of Nigeria (ITAN), Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), Broadcasting Organisation of Nigeria (BON), Internet Service Providers of Nigeria (ISPAN) and Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria (ISPON).
NCS also suggested as members the chief executive of Nigerian Universities Commission (NUC), Nigeria Communication Commission (NCC) and National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), the present POC, among others.
Odusote and NCS insisted that instead of NIG, all these persons should constitute the Nigeria Network Information Centre (ngNIC).
Based on the protests communicated to ICANN chief executive, Dr. Paul Twomey in August, the global body wrote back to insist that a stakeholders' meeting of the Internet community in Nigeria be convened to resolve the matter. ICANN's decision was equally backed by global domain name managers, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). These were communicated to contenders for the hosting rights in Nigeria.
On October 6, 2003, the first stakeholders' meeting hosted by Science and Technology Minister, Prof. Turner Isoun with officials of NIG, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) and others in attendance was said to have been deadlocked.
Principal party to the hosting, Mrs. Odusote, who should ordinarily endorse any person or group of persons so selected was conspicuously absent.
"I was actually invited, but I had an urgent presentation to make at UNESCO in Paris, France. But I sent my apologies," she told The Guardian on telephone at the weekend.
A second meeting held on November 4, had her in attendance but NCS, ISPON, ITAN among others were not there, "so I objected to the meeting because of the number of delegates at that meeting; 22 in all, 17 were from NIG, NITDA and Science and Technology Ministry and I believed these did not represent the Internet Community well enough. In spite of my protest, the director-general of NITDA, and the minister insisted that I must endorse NIG as the new hosts for the ccTLD for Nigeria. I declined on the gound that instead of NIG, we should have the Nigeria Network Information Centre (ng.NIC) with all stakeholders involved."
She added that she reported that matter to the NCS, which in turn, wrote to ICANN chief executive officer (CEO) on December 19 and another petition to President Olusegun Obasanjo to seek redress and save Nigeria from imminent embarrassment.
But NIG President, Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem alleged that Odusote was being economical with the truth. The various meetings were properly convened and invitations extended to the stakeholders suggested by Odusote and NCS.
According to Ekuwem, the meetings were exhaustive and well-attended and the protests by Odusote were an after thought.
"NIG has been endorsed by NITDA and the Science and Technology Ministry because we are empowered by our licensing instrument from the NCC, and duly registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). Our activities go beyond persons and individuals, so we are on the side of the law."
Ekuwem explained that the CCTLD is a national resource and goes beyond individual or group of persons as only government has the right to appoint anyone competent enough to manage such national resource. "We are guided by the rule of law."
The government, Ekuwem said, through the Science and Technology Minister wrote to ICANN on December 8 for forced re-delegation because discordant tunes came from the camp of Odusote and NCS.
Ekuwem, who is also CEO of Teledom International Limited, a broad band Internet Service Provider (ISP), alleged that Odusote's alliance with NCS is a year 2003 phenomenon. "She has always changed alliances from Yaba College of Technology, to NITEL, then Ministry of Information and National Orientation where she currently works and now NCS... The objective, "Ekuwem alleged, "is to delay the local hosting of this very important national resource. But we have refused to be distracted."
In the protest letter to ICANN CEO, Twomey, dated December 19, 2003, NCS President, Dr. Chris Nwanenna, said among others that NCS, the largest Internet stakeholder community in Nigeria, does not support the re-delegation of .ngccTLD to NIG on the ground that:
In a petition to President Obasanjo, the NCS president averred that opportunities for resolving the matter still exist, and he should intervene to ensure that the country is saved from embarrassment.
NCS said that there was no consensus among stakeholders and the Internet community in support of forced re-delegation, among others.