Neel Hurezahan has been working as a sports anchor, television commercial model and corporate event presenter for over six years. Her dream is to broaden her horizons and go global. And to do that, she decided to create a website of her own.
"My work and projects were scattered. I thought if I had my own website, people could see my work at a single place in an organised way," Neel said over the phone recently.
Her root domain name is neelhurerzahan.me. Interestingly, the country code top-level domain—a domain generally used or reserved for a country or sovereign state—'.me' is from an obscure southeast European country, Montenegro.
Eyhost Limited, one of the leading web hosting companies in Bangladesh, recommends its clients to register from Montenegro's country-code top-level domain for the easy and hassle-free registration process.
Bangladesh has two country code top-level domain names .bd as well as .বাংলা. But people and business entities are shying away from registering in the country's domains due to delays in response and a tangle of conditions. As a result, Bangladesh has been missing out on domain revenue every year.
There is no data on how many domains are being registered from Bangladesh in foreign countries' domains every year. However, technology-based business leaders believe that the number is more or less around 5,000 each month.
Till 5 October, 2021, the number of registered root domain names using the '.bd' was 31,042 while the number of registered root domain names using the '.বাংলা' domain was 610, according to officials of the Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited (BTCL), a state-owned enterprise tasked with registering root domains.
In 2019, the number of registered root domain names was as high as 46,800 and 905 for the '.bd' and '.বাংলা' domains respectively.
Bangladesh got the country code top-level domain (ccTLD) (.bd) in 1999. However, the Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited started registering websites in 2003.
Bangladesh had to fight influential India and West African country Sierra Leone to win the '.বাংলা' domain that is written in Bangla script. These two countries wanted the domain claiming that Bangla was their language too.
After rounds of discussion and negotiation, in a broad meeting in 2016, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers handed over the '.বাংলা' domain to Bangladesh. '.বাংলা' is a second country code top-level domain. The process of assigning domain names for websites began on 1 January 2017.
Trade licence problems
One of the main problems regarding the lack of popularity of '.bd' and '.বাংলা' domains is the requirement of a trade licence for businesses to get registered under the .bd domain. Moreover, the address of the website must match the name of the business registered in the trade license.
"This is a major obstacle for entrepreneurs or companies because many companies have additional brands for which they wish to create separate websites," AKM Fahim Mashroor, the former president of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) explained.
For example, if Pran-Rfl Group wanted to create a separate website for their 'Potata' spicy biscuit brand with the domain 'potata.com.bd', they would be unable to do so as their trade license name would not match it.
He said that the government will have to relax the conditions to make the domains more popular among the business community. Large business corporations opt for foreign domains because they do not want to face hassles when it comes to creating websites for brands.
IT industry insiders said that the most popular domain is '.com' and the Bangladeshi people are buying it at a premium. The yearly subscription for .com is $12 to $15 while the domain name .net is between $14 to $16 now. But since the registration process is simple, people are willing to pay more.
Interestingly, many small entrepreneurs show little interest in creating a website because of hosting expenses. Instead, they opt for creating a Facebook page because it is easier and cheaper for them. They do not need to spend money to create a Facebook page or have extensive technical skills to run the page.
"The more the domain-registration process is streamlined, the more popular the domains will become. The delays and strict conditions have made it so unpopular," Mashroor commented.
However, the BTCL authority said that they cannot give a business entity a domain name without a trade licence or register a website name that does not match the one in the trade license.
"Otherwise, you can just take someone else's business, we have seen some examples of it already," said Dr Md. Rafiqul Matin, the managing director of Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited.
Another major problem is delays
IT industry insiders said that many people shy away from registering with Bangladesh's domain name because of delays in the registration process. Users can register a domain name in an hour from a foreign country while it takes more than one day to buy a domain from BTCL.
"After your payment is done, you will get the domain name from an overseas company instantly, in the blink of an eye. But if you buy it from BTCL, you can never know when you will get it," said Imran Hossen, the managing director of Eyhost Limited, a leading web hosting company in the country.
However, there is a reason for the delays as well. The BTCL managing director said that they have to comply with some directives from the Education Ministry regarding the domain registration of education institutions. Similarly, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has also issued certain directives for the domain registration of online media and other media outlets.
"We have to scrutinise these matters and we have to do it manually. We have to see if you are asking for any renowned names. We have to see whether someone is asking for some website we have kept reserved," Matin said.
"You cannot hold a foreign country responsible for doing anything on their domain. As a state-owned company, we cannot do that. Even Singapore registers domain names after level of scrutiny," Matin added.
However, Matin also added that the BTCL was currently framing a new policy. After the approval of the policy, they will be able to create software in line with the policy. Then, customers will be able to register their websites swiftly.
The curious case of the Shapla
The government has not given anyone the domain names which have national value; such as 'Royal Bengal Tiger,' 'Doyel' or 'Shapla' to name a few.
However, the BTCL has already registered a website called 'shapla.com.bd' to a private business company Shapla Megamall Limited. BTCL's managing director said that BTCL had mistakenly registered that domain name when the government enterprise did not know about it.
"We have made some mistakes in the past and we do not want to make the same mistake in future. We have already decided that we will not renew the tenure of shapla.com.bd," said Matin.
But what will happen to the businessman who started the popular website so many years ago? The business owners could not be reached for his comment despite several attempts.
How to make it popular
Many leading business enterprises in the country are using the '.bd' domain name already. The country's leading e-commerce company Daraz is one of them. The quality of county code top-level domain '.bd' and top-level domain '.com' is no different. What '.bd' or '.বাংলা' badly needs is publicity.
The managing director of BTCL said they have concentrated on making the service online-based in the past so that people can apply and buy it without coming to the BTCL office.
"Now we are concentrating on marketing the products and we have already employed a digital firm for that purpose. We have begun creating content that will go to marketing within three months," Matin explained.
"We will market our product to raise brand awareness. When we use a website with the '.bd' domain, it is a matter of pride for our country," he added.
Yet countries like Montenegro continue to do business in Bangladesh in partnership with Bangladeshi hosting companies like Eyhost Limited. The firm helps users register their website under a foreign country's domain because there is no scope for any third party to provide assistance in the domain registration process for '.bd' and '.বাংলা'.
Seriously, this is not a one-off payment to the overseas domain owners. Customers like Neel Hurezahan will have to pay the foreign country as long as she will run her website.