Dot-co sets example for dot-ca, says lawyer

Canada is lagging behind other countries in online commerce and the dot-ca domain is following suit, says Toronto-based lawyer Zak Muscovitch of The Muscovitch Law Firm, who hopes to secure a seat on the Board of Directors of the Canadian Internet Registry Authority (CIRA).

But dot-ca isn’t struggling, according to Byron Holland, president and CEO of CIRA, the Ottawa-based non-profit organization responsible for managing the dot-ca domain space. 

“I need a seat on CIRA’s Board to push for less red tape in dot-ca registrations and to be a champion for increasing the value and visibility of  dot-ca domain names,” states Muscovitch in a release this week announcing his intention to run in CIRA’s annual elections next month.

Muscovitch said he’s concerned that Canadians “spend more time on the Internet than almost any other country” but “only have” roughly 1.5 million registered dot-ca names. “That doesn’t even put us in the Top 10 of countries for country code domain names,” he said.

“Domain names are the cornerstone of Internet commerce,” said Muscovitch. And this should be a concern for Canadians because “if we are not developing our own brand internationally, that means we are not attracting foreign investment,” he said.

Part of the solution is to make more “substantial investments” in marketing the dot-ca brand, he said. “Believe it or not, I would look to Colombia as a shining example of what to do,” he said.

Bogotá, Colombia-based .CO Internet S.A.S., the registry operator for the South American dot-co top-level domain, announced the general worldwide availability of dot-co names following a “landrush” and auction for premium domain names last month.

Almost 410,000 dot-co domain names were registered in over 180 countries within the first three weeks of the launch, according to a .CO Internet S.A.S. release.

“They’ve already registered 500,000 dot-co’s, which is a third of what Canada has done in the last 10 years, and the way they’ve done this is by putting substantial marketing dollars behind the dot-co as a brand,” said Muscovitch.

Part of the problem in Canada is all the “red tape” involved in dot-ca registrations, he said. This includes getting and transferring the dot-ca name, which is “harder than getting your driver’s licence renewed,” he said.

“We have more regulations on the ownership and transfers of dot-ca’s than almost any other country … In order to have a dot-ca, you have to have a Canadian presence and that just scares away any kind of foreign investment. And the mechanics of transferring a domain name from one person to another has killed the secondary market,” said Muscovitch.

The dot-ca domain is “doing very well,” said Holland. “Our growth rate is very strong, particularly if you compare it to some of the generic top-level domains like dot-com,” he said.  

In Q3 2007,  dot-ca had 21 per cent market share in Canada and .com had nearly 62 per cent, according to statistics from the .CA Registry Database. In Q1 2010, Canadian market share for .CA rose to 27 per cent and followed second to the dot-com domain, which saw a decrease to 58 per cent.

And according to CIRA’s Benchmarking Research, dot-ca has seen an average annual growth rate of 18 per cent over the last five years, while the median growth rate for country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) from 2004 to 2009 is slightly lower at 16 per cent.

“Our average annual growth rate over the last five years would put us probably in the top five or six ccTLDs in the world,” said Holland.

The fundamental requirement of having a Canadian presence in order to get a dot-ca domain name make sense, according to Holland, because it is a country code and there is an assumption that there is some “Canadian-ness” behind it.

“If we were to just open it wide open like the dot-com, then in a sense, it loses all touch or relationship with its Canadian underpinning,” he said. 

And many other domains have a nationality presence requirement like Canada, said Holland. “Intuitively, I would suggest that we are in the more relaxed range, but there are certainly others who have even more relaxed requirements than us,” he said.

A major concern with opening the dot-ca domain name is its appeal to the State of California, Holland pointed out. “There are a lot of folks who’d like to see dot-ca opened up because that means there is a huge opportunity to sell to Californians,” he said.

“We feel pretty strongly that this should be the Canadian top level domain, not the Californian top level domain,” said Holland.

California has “an equal population and larger economy than our entire country,” he said. “We wouldn’t want to be overrun by Californians when we are supposed to be the Canadian top-level domain, and there are no other country codes that have that same challenge,” he said.

In its submission to Canada’s Digital Economy Strategy Consultation in July, CIRA suggested government champion the use of dot-ca by “requiring all Web sites developed by or contracted by the government use the dot-ca domain name extension.”

“Between 2007 and 2009, dot-ca registrations grew by 16 per cent, significantly higher than the annual global growth rate of generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) at six per cent,” states the document.

CIRA’s submission, which listed 19 recommendations for Industry Canada, also suggested deploying DNSSEC, forming a DNS-Community Emergency Response Team (DNS-CERT) and stimulating the adoption of IPv6. 

CIRA has undergone a lot of changes over the last couple years, including transformations to the process of getting a dot-ca domain name, Holland noted. “It is a far simpler, easier electronic process this year than it has been in the past,” he said.

Proving a tie to Canada, for example, is a former manual process that can now be performed online.

Anyone with a dot-ca domain name can vote in CIRA’s upcoming Board of Directors election, but must register to vote before August 30 in order to submit votes during the “Show of Support” phase. This year, there are four seats open for the Nomination Committee Slate and one seat available for the Member’s Slate.

Candidates running for the Member’s Slate, such as Zak Muscovitch, require 20 votes of support from CIRA members between Aug. 26 and Sept. 9. Voting for the final election will take place from Sept. 22 to 29.

CIRA is planning to launch a re-designed registry on Oct. 12. The number of registered dot-ca domain names has grown from 203,853 in March 2001 to 1,400,170 in March 2010, according to the .CA Registry Database.

Follow me on Twitter @jenniferkavur.

Correction: The registration deadline for showing support for a Member’s Slate candidate is August 30. The registration deadline to vote in the CIRA election is September 17.

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