This APAC Space session at ICANN68 virtual Policy Forum focused on a high interest topic: the impact of COVID-19 in the APAC region. Six regional community leaders and members shared experiences and perspectives from their respective stakeholder groups. They talked about the impact, opportunities, and challenges caused by COVID-19, how they handled these, and what they expected to come or looked forward to.
Many acknowledged that it was unknown when COVID-19 would end, and how long economic uncertainty would continue for. The current situation could pose a new normal that every segment of society had to find ways to adapt to more permanently. This could be so even as webinar fatigue was becoming common and current online tools could not fully replace face-to-face interaction.
- Welcome Remarksby Jia-Rong Low (ICANN APAC)
- The Impact of COVID-19 in APAC:
- Technical/ccTLD Perspective – Hasnul Hasan (MYNIC CEO)
- Technical/Business Perspective – Dr Ajay Data (UASG Chair & Data Group MD)
- Registry – Sophia Feng (KNET International Business Manager)
- Registrar – Antonia Chu (Alibaba Cloud Policy & Compliance Advisor)
- At-Large – Satish Babu (APRALO Chair)
- Youth – Manju Chen (Youth4IG Mentorship Working Group Co-Chair)
- Community Discussion/Open Sharingfacilitated by Pam Little, APAC Space Community Facilitator
Details of Session
Technical/ccTLD Perspective: Hasnul Hasan (MYNIC CEO)
Malaysia’s ccTLD operator MYNIC saw an increase in domain name registrations. In a country with about 8 million registered businesses, the adoption of online tools was originally quite low, but COVID-19 helped to make it apparent how interconnected networks, domains, commerce and logistics were in a global digital economy. Hence, much focus for government agencies, including MYNIC, was to accelerate the local adoption of online tools. COVID-19 also allowed MYNIC to strengthen its business continuity plan, and MYNIC unexpectedly saw an increase in staff productivity.
Technical/Business Perspective: Dr Ajay Data (Universal Acceptance Steering Group Chair and Data Group Managing Director)
From a business point of view, a contact-less economy with contact-less innovation had emerged due to COVID-19. Ways of meeting, doing business, and exchanging information needed to be re-thought. In India, this also meant a larger shift toward working from home where its effect was more than anticipated, leading to downsides for commercial real estate but an upside to technology adoption at home. For a diversified company like Data Group and its staff strength of around 1,000 people, business continuity was successfully maintained with a 90% work-from-home rate. Working closely with the India government, Data Group also created many virtual solutions to help support the continuity of government functions and services during COVID-19.
Registry Perspective: Sophia Feng (KNET International Business Manager)
For China’s domain name industry, the first half of this year was expected to see short-term negative impact on registration numbers but a positive impact for the longer term. Supporting over 50 new gTLDs and 9 million domains by the end of 2019, KNET’s registrar ZDNS saw a half-million increase in domains by the end of the first quarter of 2020. However, the second quarter saw a 0.2 million decline in domains, which bucked the trend of constant growth since 2014.
COVID-19 had impacted the budgets of businesses and domain investors which accounted for the drop in domain renewals. Hence, registries like KNET were working with their registrars to formulate new marketing approaches to bolster new registrations and sustain renewals. For the longer term, however, the emerging trend would be a greater demand for online content for commerce, education, gaming and entertainment. This would encourage even more people to come online, leading to positive impact for Internet usage and domain growth.
Registrar Perspective: Antonia Chu (Alibaba Cloud Policy & Compliance Advisor)
COVID-19 caused a clear drop in total monthly revenue for Alibaba Cloud’s registrar business from late-January to March this year, with its domain growth for the first quarter also lower compared to the same period a year ago. Revenue in February fell 30% and the impact on new gTLDs appeared more significant than on legacy gTLDs.
Several measures were also taken by Alibaba Cloud in response to COVID-19 related issues. For example, COVID-19 related domains had registration restrictions to combat misuse. Illegal and abused domains that were reported were removed, and extensions were given to domains having difficulties renewing on time. Alibaba Cloud also partnered the Jack Ma Foundation to donate CNY 1 billion towards medical supplies, test kits, and research on COVID-19 in various parts of the world.
At-Large/End-user Perspective: Satish Babu (APRALO Chair)
Satish observed that the Internet was a lifeline, and so its quality and bandwidth should be preserved and infrastructure like the DNS well-maintained. DNS abuse and other security and privacy issues also needed to be addressed. Most sectors of society were adversely impacted but Internet-based services had mostly thrived. COVID-19 could provide a good opportunity to review the multistakeholder governance model to ensure that volunteers and stakeholders remained engaged and committed.
Society itself had not broken down especially when APAC had some of the poorest people in the world. With the Internet’s increased importance, both for work and individual wellbeing, the end-user role had become more articulated. Although increased Internet use could be perceived as helping to bridge the digital divide, COVID-19 also showed up other previously hidden forms of digital divides, such as sections of society which did not know what a smartphone or an app was.
Youth Perspective: Manju Chen (Youth4IG Mentorship Working Group Co-Chair)
Youth4IG, an APAC group for youth by youth interested in Internet governance, had created a dozen reports so far on how various countries in APAC were responding to COVID-19. From these, they observed that innovation in technology (e.g. contact tracing apps) was key in the COVID-19 battle. This also promoted greater collaboration between stakeholders like governments, the community, and civil society.
With greater use of online platforms, advantages for youth involvement in Internet governance came from more exposure opportunities and relative ease of outreach. Attending meetings and participating in events became easier because there was no need to travel, although time zones could still be a challenge for students with school in the day. The greatest negative impact felt was the cancellation/postponement of fellowships.
Santhosh (India GAC) was unfortunately unable to make it at the last minute to speak on the government perspective. Aisyah Shakira, who was part of the original ICANN68 Kuala Lumpur local host before the meeting was converted online, briefly welcomed everyone to ICANN68.
GNSO Council Vice Chair Pam Little facilitated the community discussion and sharing. Rubens Kuhl (GNSO Council) asked if the number of ccTLD domains under management (DUM) were increasing or decreasing in APAC as most ccTLDs in other regions were seeing higher registrations. Sophia shared that based on what she knew informally from CNNIC, ccTLD registrations in China continued to grow. Hasnul said MYNIC saw its DUM decrease but had an increase in ccTLD registrations. Atsushi Endo (JPRS) shared that there was only a slight decrease in new ccTLD registrations in Japan and growth was stable overall in the last few months. Ai-Chin Lu (TWNIC) said COVID-19 had made little impact in Taiwan and the situation was also stable there.
Kurt Pritz (Registries Stakeholder Group) asked Sophia how she thought ICANN could help the domain name industry promote domain names as a way to make businesses more successful during this period. Afiq Ammar (Malaysia GAC) was interested in how the existing domain market could be elevated with more digital transactions being made. Sophia felt ICANN could do more for Universal Acceptance, and work with registries and registrars on helping them cope with the current changes in the market. In particular, she highlighted that more effort should be placed on promoting the domain industry to the public.
Pavel Farhan (ICANN68 NextGen) wondered how Internet education could continue being promoted amongst less privileged groups. Satish felt multiple stakeholders could make a difference, e.g. governments, civil society, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), ICANN At-Large Structures (ALSes), and ISOC Chapters.
Cheryl Langdon-Orr (ALAC) was curious about the countries that Youth4IG had a presence in. Manju replied that some of these included Australia, Taiwan, Thailand, Hong Kong, India, and Indonesia. More information could be found on its website.
Edmon Chung (DotAsia) shared his observation that more businesses and NGOs had suddenly become Internet users, and so had become interested in Internet governance as well. This was an opportunity to bring in more participation, whether at ICANN or other Internet governance forums.