Who’s .IN? Two web operators vie for an India job

Thomas K Thomas Mumbai | Updated on July 30, 2018 Published on July 30, 2018

Who will man the back-office for India’s .IN internet registry? Right now, it is a battle between two global operators, and the jury’s still out on who will bag the deal.

Will it be Afilias, which has been managing the .IN registry since 2005, or Neustar, who may have emerged the lowest bidder? Afilias’ contract expires later this year.

“Neustar is the lowest bidder, but the contract is not yet finalised. There is a committee which is looking into the technical aspects of the bid,” said a senior official at the National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI), which floated the tender.

While Neustar is a global player and manages several top-level domain registries including .US, experts are wary about the cost of transition if NIXI replaces Afilias.

“Transitioning of a critical internet resource such as India’s .IN ccTLD (country code top-level domain) is a sensitive matter involving the security and stability of the country’s DNS infrastructure. Afilias has been managing the .IN registry since the beginning and they have put in place substantive local infrastructure for the same. So one needs to see if a new player meets all the requirements of having a localised but stable, highly secure and resilient infrastructure,” says Amitabh Singhal, the founder of NIXI under whose stint as CEO, .IN was liberalised and transformed into one of the most popular and successful domain names.

“The other thing to see is if they have capabilities to support the development of domain registrations in 22 regional languages. A lot of work has been initiated for domain names in various Indian languages by NIXI with support from Afilias and it needs to be ensured that that work and progress shouldn’t get effected,” he added.

Industry watchers say that while changing registry operators is not unusual, if not done well, it could disrupt services. “Transitioning from one back-end provider to another is an extremely sensitive process and I hope that there is somebody very knowledgeable at NIXI to oversee and handhold this process. This is crucial for maintaining trust in India’s Internet infrastructure and its growth,” said Singhal, who is currently Founder-Director at Telxess Consulting Services and has also helped manage the iconic .ORG top level domain name as its Board Member.

Recently, Australian authorities changed the registry operator for .AU from Neustar to Afilias. While .AU Domain Administration Ltd (auDA) did respond to queries, a statement issued earlier on its website read: “The responses (by the bidders) were first assessed on the non-financial criteria, including areas like the ability to perform to the technical specification...and their security and risk management capabilities.”

Industry watchers say India should also adopt a strategy wherein the technical criteria should be assessed before the financial bids are vetted. Emails sent to Neustar and Afilias did not elicit response. But sources close to Neustar said the company has the expertise to run .IN registry. “Neustar has been in India for a while and understands the country’s priorities. It has global experience and so this will not be a challenge to transition from the existing operator.”

Sources within NIXI said the tendering process could face uncertainty with Sanjay Kumar Rakesh stepping down as CEO. “Sanjay was leading the project as part of the committee but with him stepping down, we will have to see if the new CEO will continue with the ongoing process or call for fresh bids,” said a top government functionary. Emails sent to NIXI and Rakesh remained unanswered.

Published on July 30, 2018
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