China's government-linked domain name registry agency confirmed today that registration of Chinese domain names is on the decline.
The news comes amid efforts by the registry agency to make it more difficult to set up domains unless they are a business. This has turned people off of .cn, and encouraged them to register under .com instead.
The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) released statistics today showing the number of .cn registrations had dropped to 11.21 million. This is a drop from 80% to 64.7% of all domestically registered domain names. At the same time, .com registrations increased from 16.6% to 29.6%.
The drop is somewhat ironic given that more Chinese are going online. On Thursday, the CNNIC said China's online population reached 420 million by the end of June. That's 36 million more than last December, the group said.
Meanwhile, international agencies are trying to make it easier for Chinese to surf the web. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which runs the Internet's naming system, said earlier this week that it will allow the use of Chinese characters in web addresses, hoping this will make it easier to remember Chinese-language sites.
Registries in the mainland, Taiwan, and Hong Kong will soon officially start issuing domain names in Chinese characters, following the announcement by ICANN.
China's stricter registration regime has caused it to fall from second to fourth on the list of total domain name registrations, according to a recent report by Verisign. It now trails Germany's .de as the second most popular country code top-level domain.
The rules required new .cn domain name holders to show their business licenses and photo ID to Chinese authorities when registering. The government then said it wanted to see the same information from pre-existing holders. Most domain authorities require just a name, an address, and a phone number.
CNNIC said it was instituting the new rules to crack down on pornography. But most analysts consider it a pretext for Beijing's efforts to ramp up censorship. The change led millions of .cn domain names to drop off, according to media reports.
Since the new rules were put into place, many Web users in China have avoided the new regulations by registering domain names abroad. But doing so does little against China's censorship authorities; they simply block overseas sites they find objectionable.