.NZ Gets the COVID-19 Pandemic Bump

New Zealand’s ccTLD got a pandemic bump in domain name registrations in the year to 31 March, with registrations up almost 2% to what was then an all-time high to 723,451, according to the Domain Name Commission’s latest annual report released last week. Since then, registrations jumped another 1,002 to the end of June.

As the domain name market matured and most businesses were online that wanted to be, or thought they were, registration growth had plateaued in many country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) around the world. But that was before the COBID-19 pandemic swept the world. But then as lockdowns in New Zealand and around the world hit in the first half of 2020, businesses that weren’t online quickly saw the only way to keep going was to go online, plus new business ideas were born, leading to a sector that for many top-level domains was seeing either a plateau in domain name registration numbers or even a decline.

Total domain name registrations for .nz had peaked in September 2018 (by end of month statistics) at 720,256. Until March 2020 registrations declined slowly until March 2020 (708,162) when registrations took off before plateauing again from September 2020 with only modest growth since.

“It’s been a continuation of consecutive years of stability and credibility during 24 months of major disruptions caused by the Christchurch terrorist attacks and COVID-19,” Domain Name Commissioner Brent Carey told me.

“It’s encouraging that the .nz domain name space has been a lifeline for many people and small businesses to survive and thrive. The record registration numbers, few compliance infringements and trust in the space is a testament to the strength of the .nz brand”

Another COVID-19 influenced growth was in domain name registrations with fake details, which totalled 1,501 in the year to the end of March, 932 of which were suspended including 103 COVID-19 related names.

Security is a big issue for registries with Domain Name Abuse being one of the bigger issues for the domain name industry. For .nz, they had 200 domain names that were investigated referred to them by CERT NZ, New Zealand’s government cybersecurity agency. There were also 149,000 domain names analysed by their fake webshop algorithm, co-designed by the DNC and InternetNZ, of which 267 were flagged for compliance action.

The top categories for which domain names were suspended after a failure to verify registration details were cannabis, footwear, gambling, cryptocurrency, postal services, government departments, IT services and banking. To keep the .nz namespace secure, the DNC spot-checks 200-300 domain name registrations daily for keywords under extra scrutiny, such as COVID-19 themed names.

Privacy of registration details (Whois) for individual registrants became an option in 2017. In late 2018 there were 20,000 domain names whose registrants had taken advantage of the privacy option. According to the latest annual report, the DNC says there were 93,365 domain names with a privacy option compared to 69,314 a year prior.

The number of “conflicted” .nz domain names continues to decline. When second level .nz registrations were introduced, a dispute mechanism was introduced to settle any conflicts when there were registrants with the same string across more than one of the existing 2LDs. The number of conflicted domains continues to decline with just 1,945 as of March 2021, down from 2,151 in April 2020 and the 14,677 when registrations were introduced at the second level in 2017/18.

Throughout the year there were numerous actions, events and milestones including work on safety messages during NZ’s COVID-19 lockdown and guidance given on how to identify fake domain name registrations and websites associated with COVID-19, and subsequent suspensions (April), an online privacy campaign and a compliance work plan (May), data released to show a 146% increase in demand for the DNC contact centre (June), a guide for liquidators released explaining how liquidators and receivers should deal with .nz domain names held by companies in liquidation (July), outreach to registrants and registrars to fix 3,065 .nz domain names at risk of operational and security problems linked to their domain name for DNS Flag Day 2020 and policy consultation on .iwi and (August), the wholesale/registry fee for .nz domain names rose from NZ$1.25 to $1.50 per month or $3.00 per year (October), second annual #ShopSafeNZ campaign (November), acquisition approvals granted for changes in the Top 10 of .nz registrar market share (December) while 45% of total domain name suspensions between September and December came from referrals from online safety agencies (December).

To kick off 2021 it was noted in January 39 domain names associated with fake webshops and invalid registration details were suspended over the Christmas period, while in February it was revealed domain name suspensions increased 55% for registration abuse in the first two months compared to the same period last year.

Looking forward to 2021/22, Domain Name Commissioner Brent Carey explains the key focus areas for the DNC will be:

  • a new DNCL strategy for 2022-2025
  • our new online disputes service
  • the .nz policy review, .nz registry replacement and content regulatory review
  • delivering our new e-learning function.

One of the biggest events for 2021/22 for the DNC and InternetNZ will be the 80th Asia Pacific Top Level Domain (APTLD) meeting, which is being held alongside the Pacific Internet Governance Forum, originally scheduled to be held in Fiji. The meetings will be held virtually from 6 to 9 September and are co-sponsored by the Pacific Chapter of the Internet Society (PICISOC). Other partners are APTLD, the UN-Internet Governance Forum Secretariat, the University of the South Pacific, Internet Society, Asia Pacific Network Information Centre (APNIC), ICANN and other key stakeholders across the Pacific.

To read the 2020-2021 Annual Report from the Domain Name Commission in full, see https://dnc.org.nz/about/about-the-commission/corporate-information/dncl-2020-2021-annual-report/

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