The French country code .FR strode past the two million active registrations mark last week. Mathieu Weill, the CEO of the French registry AFNIC took some time to speak to the Goldstein Report to discuss the growth in .FR registrations, what is happening at AFNIC and the future. Looking at the future, Weill discusses how he thinks the new gTLDs will impact on the French registry and the benefits they could bring.
David Goldstein: Achieving two million registrations is quite an achievement – congratulations! To get to the two million mark, registrations of .FR domains have been growing rapidly – what do you attribute the significant increases in registrations in recent years?
Mathieu Weill: Thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about .FR and AFNIC. There are several factors which can explain this tremendous growth – nearly 30 per cent per year for the last five years.Ever since individuals were allowed to register .FR domain names, individuals have accounted for 50 per cent of new registrations and they now represent 40 per cent of all registrants.
Secondly, we have invested heavily in our registration system which is now fully EPP compliant and easy to integrate for registrars. Thirdly, the French market is less developed than other markets of similar size in terms of number of potential registrants. For instance, our estimations are that only around five million domain names have been registered by French companies or individuals across all TLDs. So we still see lots of opportunities for registrars on this market.
DG: Liberalising the eligibility requirements for .FR has achieved a significant increase in registrations – do you think the liberalisation could have occurred earlier, or was the timing appropriate?
MW: AFNIC has always been very careful in the way it dealt with liberalisations, giving special consideration to trademark and intellectual property issues. By opening up in the mid-2000s, we benefited from a more stable legal framework, which prevented a spiral of litigations.
DG: Recently AFNIC announced there will be a new legal framework for all French ccTLDs, not just .FR but also .RE, .GP, .MQ, and .GF. What impact will this have and why did it come about?
MW: The new legal framework will be in force on July 1st. The main consequences will be that AFNIC has to review all its current disputes resolution policies. The new law also impacts the other ccTLDs for French territories. We are pleased that this law finally grants us authorisation to launch registrations under these ccTLDs before the end of 2011. We are looking forward to it.
DG: The new gTLds, whenever they come about, threaten to change the domain name landscape significantly – how do you think this will affect .FR?
MW: Well, there are three ways to consider this evolution. First, all the domain name market could benefit from it. For instance, we saw .FR registration increase significantly thanks to .EU opening. That’s because people are getting more and more aware of the importance of domain names.Secondly, there is a risk that hundreds of new TLDs could also create some confusion in users minds and incite them to rally to the TLDs they know best: the main gTLDs and their national ccTLDs. .FR would also benefit from such a phenomenon.
Thirdly, we do not buy the argument telling that new TLDs will replace the current ones. They are new communication channels or opportunities, but users would better think about naming strategies combining several TLDs than relying on just one TLD.Overall, we hope that new TLD applicants will bring innovative ideas to our field, and that the outcome of the process will be additional added value services to the end user.
DG: Does AFNIC see opportunities in working with potential applicants for new gTLDs as some other registries have proposed? Or in any other situation?
MW: Absolutely. The City of Paris has already selected AFNIC to be its back-end registry and to help it to apply for .PARIS. We are also discussing with several other prospects; ICANN’s Timeline is critical in their decision process, as you know. Being a back-end registry is the core of our expertise and we have a proven track record of reliability, transfer of knowledge with our partners across the world, and, of course, unique coverage of the French speaking domain industry.
DG: What do you see happening in the next one to two years that could impact on .FR and AFNIC, both domestically and further afield?
MW: Market expansion, with more competitors on the registry side, and the necessity to achieve operational excellence. Lots of things which have been “nice to have” until now will become some “must have” and every registry will have to reach an high level of quality of service.
Security issues are also part of the drawing and we’ll increase our involvement into various initiatives related to the security and stability of the Internet infrastructure.We expect the domain name market will continue to grow, even if we do not expect this growth to as strong as in the past years. There is still a lot of potential for domain names, both in the business and individuals segments.
We will also be closely monitoring emerging trends, such as the use of DNS in the Internet of things or how proprietary identifiers such as Facebook usernames take off in terms of corporate communications. After all, things can change dramatically fast on the Internet so it’s really hard to predict.