Time may yet cym for Wales on the net

Jonathan Brooks-Jones says campaigners are still hopeful Wales will have its own web domain within the next two years despite delays in securing funding






The internet is growing constantly - has the time finally come for a Welsh domain?

It has not happened yet but the campaign to secure for Wales its own web domain is still active and could be rewarded some time next year. As a result by 2012 businesses, organisations and individuals in Wales may be able to register their website with a .cym Top Level Domain (TLD) rather than .com, .uk or .org, giving the Welsh linguistic, cultural and wider community official recognition on the web, and making it easier to find Welsh products and services online.

The dotCYM campaign was launched in 2006 by a group of individuals from computer programming and design, public relations, law and publishing, after a bid for a linguistic and cultural community TLD for Catalonia, .cat, was approved. Before the launch of the .cat domain around 33 per cent of .cat registrants had no previous domain, or any content in Catalan. The .cym designation will, it is hoped, have a similar effect, helping normalise and increase the use of Welsh online.

Supporters claim other benefits of a Welsh TLD will be:

  • The provision of cheap and user-friendly branding for Welsh businesses and services.
  • The help it will offer in making Welsh a default language on the internet and in increasing the usage of Welsh without the need for legislation.
  • Stimulation and branding of the Welsh IT sector, producing  both economic and cultural benefit.
  • Increase the internet’s multilingualism and encourage users to create content in Welsh.

The campaign has had the support of the Welsh Government, which has supplied secretarial support and in 2008 supplied £20,000 for a scoping study into the viability of an application to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the international body that decides on new designations.

This money was used to fund a review by Philip Cooper, managing director of Venture Wales, into dotCYM’s business strategy. His review produced a comprehensive business case examining not just the benefits that a TLD for Wales would bring, but also the problems that it would face. Further, the business case argued in favour of the campaigners at dotCYM being given the responsibility as a business for registrations to .cym. This, it was argued, would be a sustainable business, which would not require continued support from the Welsh Government.

So, why has progress to date been so slow? According to Siôn Jobbins, the managing director of dotCYM, for the last four years ICANN has been preoccupied with a number of wider-reaching, and more philosophical issues regarding new TLDs. The continued expansion of the internet requires a host of new TLDs, presenting a number of potential problems and difficult questions about the basis on which they are granted. For example, should they approve applications for commercial TLDs such as .ebay? Another request that stirred up considerable debate was for a .xxx domain to cater for pornographic websites. They have also considered and accepted the online use of non-Latin alphabets.

However, now that these and other issues have been largely put to bed, ICANN will soon be ready to accept less contentious applications, such as the bid for a TLD for Wales.

Campaigners at dotCYM are optimistic and confident that ICANN will approve the application for a .cym TLD in early 2011. It will take around six months for the application to be processed and, presuming it goes through, businesses and organisations in Wales should be able to register their website to a .cym suffix at the beginning of 2012.

The dotCYM campaign’s main advantage is that it is a not-for-profit organisation. A .cym suffix would not, on its own, bring more money for a company or an organisation, nor would dotCYM keep any of the profits raised by selling the domain. That money would instead be fed back into different ways of increasing Wales’s usage and visibility on the internet.

Funding the application is now the only obstacle for campaigners at dotCYM. The application costs $185,000 (around £119,000), a deliberately high amount prevent time-wasters applying for a personalised TLD. Unfortunately, this method of preventing time-wasters also hinders the progress of genuine applicants. Owing to the lack of money in the public purse this is made much harder than it would have been, say, 4 or 5 years ago when the campaign was initially launched.

In order to keep the campaign afloat during this time of economic cutbacks, dotCYM are joining forces with other groups that want their own TLD, such as dotSCOT, who want a TLD for the Scottish community, PuntoGal for the Galicial community, PointBZH for the Breton community and PuntuEUS for the Basque community. In 2009 these campaign groups set up ECLID (European Cultural and Linguistic Internet Domains) to help save money by raising the profile of their campaigns simultaneously. They are advised by puntCAT, who succeeded in securing a TLD for the Catalan linguistic and cultural community in 2006.

ECLID members have been attending ICANN meetings to lobby for the creation of a fast track for cultural and linguistic TLDs. In June they gave a presentation to the European Parliament to persuade MEPs, ICANN and EU staff of the value of linguistic and cultural TLDs. Campaigners at dotCYM hope that their involvement with ECLID will raise their profile significantly enough to attract sufficient membership and donations to fund the application.

Jonathan Brooks-Jones is sub-editor for ClickonWales