Africans are missing an important opportunity to participate in the policy making process of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), says Glen van Oudenhove de Saint Géry.

There are no Africans, she says, on the Generic Names Supporting Organisation (GNSO) - a support organisation within ICANN, tasked with developing policy for generic domain names.

A generic top level domain name is an internet address that is not directly linked to a specific country. For example, the well known .com and .org domain names are generic names, while .ke or .za are country code top level domain (ccTLD) names.

The GNSO responds to six constituencies that represent all stakeholder groups on the internet: registrars, Generic Top Level Domain (gTLD) registries that maintain directories of domain names, the business and commercial community, non-commercial users, international service and connectivity providers, and intellectual property companies concerned with the protection of copyright and trademarks.

Lack of African input As it has no representatives on the GNSO, it is very difficult for Africa to influence policy decisions affecting the way gTLDs are managed. This absence is ironic, because African governments are campaigning to move control of the internet from ICANN to an international organisation so they can exert greater influence over the current system.

There is widespread dissatisfaction among Africans with the considerable US domination of ICANN and all its functions, but when there is an open forum, such as the GNSO, Africans do not appear to be interested in the policy making process.

Van Oudenhove de Saint Géry believes Africa is missing out by not participating in the activities of the GNSO. In turn, ICANN is also missing the opportunities to understand the requirements of African users.

High cost of participation Part of this perceived apathy could be attributed to the high cost of participating in the GNSO. Many meetings are held in North America or Europe - expensive destinations for most African businesses.

However, Van Oudenhove de Saint Géry points out that the GNSO council holds regular teleconferences and uses the internet to contain costs. While effective use of technology can certainly keep expenses down, it is also true that the costs of teleconferencing in Africa are far higher than in most other parts of the world.

In an effort to address the lack of communication between ICANN and the vast majority of African internet users and potential users, the GNSO is about to hire a liaison officer. This post will be used to forge greater links with Africa and to find out what Africans want in terms of internet policies.