Domain registration in Zimbabwe: Interview with ZISPA chairman

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Last week, we posted an article titled “The difficulties of registering a local domain in Zimbabwe”. In the article where we basically revealed the cost and conditions ISPs give to Zimbabweans registering .co.zw domains. One main thing that came out was that most ISPs won’t register a domain for a customer unless the customer is buying a separate internet service from them. This includes the large ISPs in Zimbabwe like ZOL, YoAfrica and iWayAfrica.

We promised to post an interview we had with current ZISPA chairman, Troy Prinsloo, on these issues. We had it a couple of weeks ago. It’s a long interview and we had to cut out parts we felt didn’t contribute much to the subject. It still remained long so if you don’t have the time to read through all of it, here are main points discussed.

  • Zimbabwe has about 36,000 registered .co.zw domains
  • ZISPA does not charge ISPs for domain registration. ZISPA is funded from the ISP membership fees, which are $30 a month.
  • ZISPA does not have an office, its run by volunteer members of the association. Currently accounts are handled by Utande and the actual domain data entry by Mango.
  • Country level TLD .co.zw are not open like .com and .net and will likely not take as fast to register as .coms because they need to be vetted first.
  • ZISPA is not a regulator but monitors the registration of domains to ensure there’s no abuse; speculation, fraud etc…
  • With all documentation  in place (IDs, proof of residence, CR14, letter of request) it currently should take not more than 24 hours to register a .co.zw domain
  • ZISPA is at an advanced stage of getting software to make domain registration faster.  It will still not be as easy as registering a .com or .net but it’ll be faster than the current 24 hours.
  • ZISPA has had to take some ISPs to task over refusing to register domains when a customer is not buying a non-domain service like bandwidth. ISPs are not supposed to do this.

Here’s the edited transcription of the interview. The Techzim questions to Troy Prinsloo are the bold text, and the responses in regular text.

So what is ZISPA?

ZISPA by definition is Zimbabwe Internet Service Providers Association. We are an association of all ISPs in the country. Not a regulatory body or anything but purely an association. The core function is the administration of the .co.zw domain space. ZISPA administers the domain service, it runs the domain servers. As an association we also lobby for ISPs, to bring out concerns for ISPs and obviously ISPs and their customers. Basically to represent internet users in Zimbabwe in terms of interfacing with the regulatory authorities, creating awareness on issues.

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It’s not for profit. There are no profits made. Charges are to essentially the servers, the bandwidth, for equipment needed to do the work.

.org.zw and .gov.zw is not administered by ZISPA?

.zw is like a national resource. The .co.zw is just a sub-domain of the .zw domain space. The commercial sub-domain. .org.zw and .gov.zw are administered by TelOne. They registered those. Although there’s only a handful out there, it’s not a widely use space. The most active one is .co.zw. Our latest count was about 36,000 registered .co.zw domains.

Registered and active?

That’s what I was about to say. No.

How many are paid up?

There are no charges for registering. ZISPA doesn’t charge ISP for registering domains. ZISPA funds itself at the moment from ISP membership fees. Monthly membership fees. All the members pay that. And that’s essentially what fund ZISPA.

How much is that?

US $30 a month. It’s purely a fee to cover the operational costs. ZISPA has low operational costs. In terms of bandwidth ISPs generally host ZISPA equipment and they don’t charge. So it doesn’t have any direct charges at that level.

ZISPA used to [charge]. In fact domain registration fees have only been suspended, it’s not like ZISPA never charged for it. But as our operating costs are so low, we suspended the registration fees, since 2008.

At the height of the madness?

Yes. It was really difficult to put a meaningful fee. An example that comes to mind is at the end of 2007, the price was ZW $5,000, which then was the equivalent of a Coca-Cola. By the end of that month, ZW $5,000 was a cigarette. So we continued reviewing but the money was worthless. ZISPA basically generates its money to invest in new equipment. But charging all these fees and then by the time you need to buy some equipment the money is worthless. And so we basically stopped charging for individual domain registration.

ZISPA doesn’t register directly with the public. All registrations are done through the ISPs.

So if someone, an individual [goes to ZISPA to register a domain]?

If you go to our website, there’s a list of all the ISPs. You have a free choice. You can now talk to whichever ISP you want. Every ISP has innovative packages. Some will not charge if you buy another service, others they charge you an admin fee. So ZISPA doesn’t stipulate a charge per domain.

See ISPs have an overhead of doing the registration; the time, checking if all the information is all there, setup of the DNS servers etc… they do have a cost for registering a domain.

So, from the ZISPA point of view domain registration is free, but there’s a cost for the registrar, which is the ISP, or whoever is registering the domain. They do charge for it. And again every ISP has different charges. It’s a free market.

So ZISPA does not interface with the end user for that reason. Otherwise it would become like a shopping center, ‘come and register you .co.zw’ It would have to become commercial. And obviously being commercial now there are tax implications, the administration has to grow and there would be a cost to it.

So the model that we have used for the last few years has worked very well. It’s working well. And we give ourselves a timeline that any request we receive [to register a domain] we will register within a certain time. We batch registrations and just register overnight all requests that we get during the day.

Where is the actual registration done? ZISPA doesn’t have an office right?

We had an office and that was one of the problems during that time. We had an office with two staff. Again we were collecting [domain registration] fees at the beginning of the month and the rent was determined at month end. So that model wasn’t sustainable at that time.

So what we decided to do was to close the offices. All the filing and paperwork we put into storage. And as ISPs we’ve been handling the day to day out of our own offices. Voluntarily basically.  I as the chairman and Russel (Utande) as Treasurer doing the accounts and bookkeeping, Mango do the actual updating of the information on the servers. We’ve shared amongst ourselves the day to day registering. It eliminated the cost of rentals.

In terms of this working well, people expect the process to be automated. To be as easy as it is to register a .co.za or a .com

.co.za is often used as an example but it works identical to the way we work. The constitution is the same. People say .co.za but it’s not automated. It works almost identical to us. In that respect, the South African equivalent of ZISPA, we adopted their constitution. The template which we use is almost identical.

What the distinction is, and this is where I think the public needs to be educated, .com, .net etc… are known as open top level domains. They are not country coded. It was initially. The United States were the first to structure the internet. And .com was companies,.org was organisations, .mil was military and so on and so on. What the US did is they later adopted .us, which is only open to US citizens. But it wasn’t really well adopted. But the US has its own TLD, and .com and .net became generic and open to everyone. Which means you can register whatever you want on .com and .net.

However, people equate a country TLD to .com and .net. They want to open a .co.zw like they do a .com. With the .co.zw we have to be sensitive to what is logical.

We’re not regulators but to our best ability we say, something inflammatory politically we obviously don’t want to register it. If one can walk into an ISP and say I want to register something-something.co.zw, and we just register it, the implication will come on to you, probably the ISP, and obviously ZISPA. But ZISPA will be seen to be affiliated to this political party, that type of thing. That’s why we have that overnight registration so that we can see the applications coming in and nothing is untoward.

So how is that determination made? Just recently there was the issue of TelOne not registering their dotmore.co.zw brand domain. How does ZISPA determine that an individual cannot register a company name or brand that’s owned by an existing company?

Again, we’re not a regulator. But if you walk into an ISP and say “I want to register microsoft.co.zw”, business we’ll say “Microsoft is an international company. Are you representing Microsoft? Have you a letter from Microsoft giving you charge to do this?”

But if you come in with a registered Zimbabwean company with a CR14, Microsoft Zimbabwe Limited, we’ll register your domain because the registrar of companies has allowed you to register that name.

And brands?

With brands, what happens in the internet space is what is known as cybersquatting. We as ZISPA don’t condone cybersquatting. But if someone comes with a legitimate claim to a name we’ll register it. If you register a company called Dotmore Private Limited and you come to ZISPA with a CR14 to register dotmore.co.zw we’ll register it. Now if TelOne comes and says Dotmore.co.zw is ours, we’ll say “how is it yours? Do you have a registered company in that name?”

So in short you operate on the basis of registered company names?

Precisely. That is the legal entity.

It’s like my surname is Prinsloo. Now if you want to go to ZISPA and register prinsloo.co.zw, for what reason? But if you want to go and register your surname.co.zw, by all means.

It’s a difficult position for ZISPA to be in. We’re not a regulator as such but we try to avoid disputes. And at the same time avoid cyber squatting. So if someone has a legal claim to a domain name, we’ll register it, international brand name or not. But if you come and want to register something.co.zw and you have no legal claim to that, what is your agenda? What is your reason? Speculation.

Normally, by challenging the application, the person will then drop it but if they pursue it then maybe they have a legitimate claim to that name, and they need to back it up with something like a company registration or official dealership for that brand. People see it as a block and the only reason they see it as a block is because they want to cybersquat, speculate or fraud. And that’s what we keep forgetting, fraud. Fraud cases have happened in Zimbabwe through domain names.

Zimbabwe however has a good reputation on the internet in that sense. We don’t allow all the things we’ve spoken about; the speculators. .co.zw is known as a fairly safe TLD. So a lot of it is to maintain Zimbabwe’s reputation on the internet. If we allowed microsoft.co.zw to be registered, Microsoft would complain and Zimbabwe would be seen as a lawless place.

So it’s not policing, it’s not regulating, basically it’s monitoring.

So what are the guidelines for all this? Net citizenship. Where is the information?

In our constitution. The guidelines are in the ZISPA constitution which is on our website. We have to stick to our constitution. At the end of the day any association has a constitution and it’s governed by it. We don’t just make rules. We won’t stop anybody registering whatever they like. We only pick up things which we know will be a problem.

In terms of documentation we just require a traceable ID, a utility bill and in if it’s a company a CR14 form. In other words we have to identify whoever is registering a domain. It’s the same as registering your cell phone that POTRAZ requires of every mobile subscriber.

So in terms of registration process, can it be made more efficient?

We are looking at putting an online registration system. It won’t be public in the sense that anybody can log in from anywhere in the world and register a .co.zw like you can with .com and .net. You can’t do that. Country level TLD will probably never be like that. But ZISPA is at an advanced stage now of getting software.

How will that work?

The central DNS servers will be interfaced directly with the registrars. So ZISPA is the registry and it’s updated by the registrars which are the ISPs and members of ZISPA. So instead of the current method where ISPs send a template to ZISPA through email and have the domains are registered overnight, this will empower the registrars to do online registration. So .co.zw will be registered in minutes.

Part of the problem now is that sometimes is takes up to 4 days to register a domain.

That’s the ISP. The 4 days means 3 days ISP and 1 day ISP. The ISP should be able to submit the information by email which you’re there. It shouldn’t take more than 24 hours to register a domain.

So in terms of cost of registering a domain?

Like I said as we speak ZISPA suspended all domain registration fees. It’s a little unfair because some ISP will register 30 domains in a month or where smaller ISPs will register only 1 or 2. So the bigger ISPs are gaining a bit, but we’re not talking millions of dollars.

We’ve had to take some of the ISPs to task, where some of them have turned people away saying we’re not registering your .co.zw unless you take our broadband service. It has been an issue in the past but we’ve discussed it. It was the old ‘if you buy a loaf of bread, you have to buy a coke’. We had cases of that long back but we directed ISPs that they are not allowed to do that. They are not allowed to decline a registration based on taking up of other services. That was an issue long back but we resolved it quite quickly.

So are registrations picking up? You’re talking about some ISPs registering 30 a month and other ISPs not too busy?

Change is following the economy. It’s been pretty steady for the past year or so. The rates rate of registration. It’s like some companies have been in business for 20 years and they have a domain so they’re not re registering. When its new companies and when there’s economic activity we’ll see new companies registering.

So how did ZISPA end up administering the .co.zw space?

The way ICANN operates is it appoints it to a government of a country. .zw is a national asset. It’s not owned by anybody but the people of Zimbabwe. The government of the country can then regulate and appoint people to administer sections of that space. As a commercial sub-domain .co.zw naurally fell under ZISPA. As TelOne is the national carrier, they were naturally given .gov.zw, .mil.zw. and .org.zw .

.co.zw being commercial is a very busy space and that’s why POTRAZ said, “you guys are ISPs, you deal with customers”

So it’s POTRAZ that gave ZISPA .co.zw?

As the regulator yes. They vetted our constitution. It was mucha a copy of .co.za. they were happy with our constitution and they delegated .co.zw to us. In terms of structure I think it’s a workable structure. We see it as a burden running .co.zw, but in the interest of it working, we do it. Or only interest in .co.zw is that it works. If our service went down, nobody in Zimbabwe would get email, except for Gmail addresses and so on. All the Zim websites would go down.

Moving on, what is ZINX?

ZINX is purely an internet exchange. It is administered by ZISPA. It’s the only one locally. It’s not owned by anybody. Essentially what is, is that TelOne were the only ones that had a gateway out of Zimbabwe. So how it worked technically is that each ISP bought bandwidth from TelOne. So, for me to reach ZOL, I had to use my TelOne bandwidth and if they email back they use their TelOne bandwidth etc… So whether the traffic is going to China, to the US or to ZOL you’re still using your international bandwidth to reach them.

So what ZINX was created for was that between the ISPs we’re connected to each other on that exchange. So that now any email that goes to a .co.zw domain, ZINX directs it. And any email that goes internationally is routed through the international bandwidth. TelOne had limited capacity. Our international bandwidth was congested. So wasting that talking to each other didn’t make sense.

Are all ISPs doing this?

Not every single one. But it’s in every ISPs interest to do it. It makes business sense. It benefits the customer and the ISP.

So besides local routing, are there any other services ZINX provides like caching international website

No. Good point. There’s no international bandwidth. ZINX doesn’t have any link to the internet. In terms of infrastructure, it’s purely a switch.



14 Comments

  1. Wonder says:

    It was really long!!!!!

  2. Master Blaster says:

    Can  I register a .zw domain? eg. mysite.zw

    1. Anonymous says:

      Not unless you’re mango.zw, you can’t 🙂 I think mango got lucky with timing (before all the pesky structures & rules where in place)

  3. Zimbo says:

    Master Blaster… read the story again.. this time, try to pay attention… lol. You can’t dude unless u can convince potraz

  4. ZISPA are doing a great job! Thanks for keeping us updated, its really easy to blow off every time – there have been a lot of rants etc but I’m sure few knew exactly how this organisation works. Thanks TechZim

  5. [email protected] says:

    Very insightful. I applaud them for responding to cyber squatting and other speculative tendencies.

    Keep it up TechZim!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I think ZIPSA is more heavy-handed/conservative than it should be. Approving a domain does not imply being partial to the applicants cause (be it political or otherwise). Limiting to company name/surname is a little too rigid: in real life, even companies have “RidenkulishusName Invesments trading as HiTec”.

    In a way, ZISPA is getting in the way of progress. These days: all you need is a good idea and a website. Having to register a company before you can act on your idea is an impediment (anecdote: Google got their first funding via a cheque signed out to ‘Google’ before they had even registered the company*. but they already had the domain, which would have been impossible if they were applying to ZISPA).

    *http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google#cite_ref-Bechtolsheim_49-0

    1. Bemused says:

      I am sure they will register it, I have a few similar, and they would then not allow someone else if you were first. BUT if someone else comes with a registered company with that name you will have a problem. So as you would secure your company name, register it, and you will secure your domain by default. Makes sense to me :|)

  7. Chokwadi says:

    truth be told, no one verifies if these companies exist. All I need is  a logo, an address (that does or does not exist) in short company “lettehead”

    1. Bemused says:

      And a fake CR14 ? – but then that’s fraud – hello muporizza !

  8. News says:

    zispa is a monopoly which is run like a boys club unit. It can take a week to register a domain coz their volunteers are away or whatever reason. Potraz needs to regulate this well 

  9. Michael Masanga says:

    this is hogwash. You can register .co.za direct from their website without proof of residence and all the rubbish mentioned. The domain becomes active in less than 2 minutes. I know i have a reseller as well as a personal account with them. ZISPA are clowns and internet bullies fullstop. you cant boast just 36000 domains in a country as big as Zimbabwe. Most Zimbabwean companies use .com specifically because ZISPA is run by clowns.

  10. Tatenda Robson Gova says:

    Zispa website needs a facelift guys. As for the information given in this interview, we hope to find it readily available to newcomers in the market.

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