China drops down the domain name rankings

The Chinese registry, CNNIC, has published its latest domain name statistics.
Last year, China began a sweeping clampdown on domain names being used for illegal purposes and for Internet pornography (for further details please see "China erects barriers to '.cn' domain name ownership"). This resulted in many '.cn' domain names being deleted.
The Chinese registry, CNNIC, had not published its domain name statistics since December 2009, leading to speculation as to whether '.cn' was still the leading country-code top-level domain (ccTLD) worldwide in terms of number of domain name registrations. CNNIC has now published its latest statistics for January, February and March 2010.
Unsurprisingly, the statistics show that the number of domain names registered under '.cn' has dropped significantly in the past few months. At the end of March 2010, China counted approximately 8.8 million '.cn' domain names, against approximately 13.5 million at the end of December 2009, thus a drop of nearly 35% in three months. It will be interesting to see whether this decline continues in the coming months.
The rules governing the registration of '.cn' domain names have changed and registrations are now restricted to Chinese companies only. Therefore, it is difficult for individuals and foreign companies to secure their domain names in China.
With this new restriction in place, the number of '.cn' registrations is unlikely to increase significantly as in the past under the impetus of the Chinese government. However, the registration rules are not as strict as was first reported, as domain names applied for do not need to match the applicant's company name.
The main requirement is for the applicant to be a Chinese company. Foreign companies wishing to register domain names under '.cn' must have a branch office in China whose name matches the parent company's name and register their domain names via their office.  However, for foreign companies which do not meet this requirement, it does appear possible to register '.cn' domain names on a trustee basis.
As a result of the significant drop in '.cn' domain name registrations, Germany has regained the number one position, with the volume of '.de' domain name registrations showing steady growth. There are now nearly 13.6 million registered '.de' domain names. The ccTLD for the United Kingdom, '.uk', is hot on the heels of '.cn' with nearly 8.4 million domain names as of March 2010. Should the downward trend in the '.cn' domain name space continue, it is likely that '.uk' will become the second most popular ccTLD in terms of volume of domain name registrations.

David Taylor, Hogan Lovells (Paris) LLP, Paris

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