The consultation period set by the Government for comments on the regulation on domain names in Hong Kong draws to a close at the end of this week.

Currently, ".hk" domain names are assigned by the [Joint Universities Computer Centre] (JUCC) through the Hong Kong NIC. The JUCC's involvement in the allocation of domain names is historical since, back in the early days of the internet, its use in Hong Kong was largely confined to the academic sector.

However, with the rapid expansion of the internet, and the consequent demand for domain names, the JUCC has come under heavy criticism, particularly in relation to its policy of restricting .hk domain names to businesses registered in Hong Kong and of only allowing one domain name per business.

Although these restrictions have been designed to minimise cybersquatting, they have also added a significant amount of red-tape to legitimate businesses seeking to register bona fide domain names. Consider, for example, a multi-national business that offers a wide range of branded products or services which would have to set up a separate local business in order to obtain a .hk domain name for each of its products or services. The cost of undertaking such an exercise would be many times more than the current HK$200 registration fee charged by the JUCC.

In addition to inviting public opinion on the well-publicised restrictions mentioned above, the Government's consultation paper also addresses many other issues, including the following:

  • replacing the JUCC with a statutory body to manage domain names in Hong Kong
  • setting up a reserved list for well-known names, country names and trade marks
  • requiring domain names to correspond to the business nature of the applicant
  • allowing domain names to be transferred (this is not possible under the current regime)
  • making domain names subject to renewal requirements, so that registrations which lapse become available for others to use
  • introducing a domain name dispute procedure handled by the JUCC or any new domain name registry which is set up

Preliminary indications are that respondents to the consultation are in favour of the majority of these changes. Particularly welcome would be the abolition of the one domain name per business rule and the removal of restriction on individuals and overseas businesses registering domain names. It would also be good to see a domain name disputes mechanism introduced in line with the procedure adopted by ICANN recently which is proving to be an efficient means to settle domain name disputes without the need for expensive litigation.

First published in SCMP Technology Post on 11 July 2000