Independent Review Finds NZ’s Domain Name Commission “A Sound And Competent Regulator”

An independent review into the body responsible for
regulating New Zealand’s ccTLD, the Domain Name Commission, has found “there is
much for current and past DNCL staff to be proud of” and that it “is a sound
and competent regulator of the .nz space.”

It’s the first regulatory review into the Domain Name Commission and was undertaken over 2018-2019 by independent reviewer David Pickens and was published Thursday. It’s a far cry from New Zealand’s neighbours Australia where a government review published in April 2018 found “urgent reforms are necessary” and that auDA’s “current management framework is no longer fit-for-purpose and reform is necessary if the company is to perform effectively and meet the needs of Australia’s internet community.”

The independent reviewer found DNCL staff are well regarded
for their achievements, and there is much optimism with respect to where the
DNCL is heading.

One of the findings of the report is “against the theory of
regulatory standards and enforcement theory, the evidence available to the
review and from the interviews, the DNCL is a sound and competent regulator of
the .nz space. It is highly regarded internationally and operates absent many
of the handicaps other TLDs contend with. With small exceptions, the .nz
policies and the enforcement of those standards were viewed as appropriate.”

The report notes that “overwhelmingly, the response from the
DNCL’s stakeholders was positive, with one exception… The majority offered no
or minor criticism only. Favourably commented upon were the people, culture,
systems and comparative international performance.”

The one exception was criticism of how the DNC deals with
domain name abuse but even here there were diverging views with criticism not
coming from all respondents.

“All regulators and a number of other stakeholders felt the
DNCL needed to more actively reduce opportunities for domain name abuse. Harm
was being perpetrated that the DNCL was uniquely positioned to stop, New
Zealand was now out of step with international developments, there was a
growing risk to integrity and confidence in the .nz space and legal and
political risks to the DNCL was growing. Nearly all, however, acknowledged the
DNCL appeared more open to debating and moving towards a more proactive role,
and its recent efforts were supported.”

With this though there were “a significant number of people
who supported the status quo, arguing policing this activity was not the DNCL’s
responsibility and that comparatively New Zealand performed well. It was also
argued greater policing efforts would be costly and generate little benefit.”

One key weakness identified during interviews was “the
absence of well-developed indicators allowing comparison of the DNCL’s
performances with comparable entities overseas.”

“This has been a huge amount of work for Mr Pickens, and we
thank him for the thought-provoking report,” said DNCL Chair Jordan Carter.

“Since the Domain Name Commission was established in 2002 to
regulate the .nz online space, the .nz space has evolved. In today’s online
era, the .nz domain is at the heart of New Zealand’s distinctive online world.”

The Domain Name Commissioner Brent Carey welcomed the review
findings saying “Mr Pickens’ recommendations will help to ensure we are keeping
pace with modern self-regulatory challenges”.

“The Commission and InternetNZ will be looking to work with
others to equip us with the right relationships and tools to help us keep .nz
fair and safe for everyone.”

There were a number of recommendations made by Pickens including
that “the DNCL should view itself more as a competitor against other TLD
administrators and regulators,” “to explore the utility of a comprehensive
information disclosure regime to drive better performance across registrars in
the .nz space”, to collect and disseminate performance data, “seek
international co-operation”, “rescinding the current market concentration
policies” and to collect market concentration information “with respect to the
abuse of market power by registrars”.

In responding to the report, the DNCL have “already
commenced the implementation of some of the recommendations and will continue
to incorporate the report’s findings and recommendations in its priorities.”

Additionally, the DNCL “have identified several improvement
areas including, process improvement, delivery capability, emerging policy
considerations, stakeholder relationship management and enforcement and
compliance.”

Of the 15 recommendations in the report, the DNCL note they
either fully support or support in principle every one of them.

The Commission has published the full final review along with its response to the recommendations. For the report, Pickens conducted 23 interviews with DNC stakeholders, current and past staff, Board members, staff of the other two main players in the .nz space (InternetNZ and the Registry), Government and self-regulators and registrars. Specialists from overseas and those delivering the Disputes Resolution Service were also interviewed. Registrants were sought out, although many interviewed were .nz registrants.

The Independent Review can be downloaded here [pdf] and the Domain Name Commission’s response is available here [pdf].

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