Life as we know it has changed in unprecedented ways in the space of a few weeks. At Nominet, we are incredibly conscious of the many communities we work with which may be struggling during the current lockdown. We are also aware that we are in a fortunate position of being able to help some of those to cope.
As business continues as usual for the registry, we have immediately turbocharged our Public Benefit activity to support the digitally excluded. The consequences of the ‘digital divide’ are plain to see now that everyone is reliant on the internet for their daily needs – and, crucially, official advice. Through quick work with the wider digital exclusion community and Snook – in collaboration with the Government and with fantastic support from the major mobile networks – we secured zero-rate access to key websites, such as NHS.uk, from all smartphones. This means that even those with limited data or financial difficulties can still view the websites they need to remain safe.
The second burst of activity for our Public Benefit team was to drive a new initiative through FutureDotNow called DevicesDotNow. This is a call for support from businesses to help us gather devices – such as tablets – and connectivity, via sims or dongles, to allow the million people across the UK without access to the internet at home to finally get online. Too often, these are the people who need particular care and support during this pandemic, such as the elderly or other vulnerable groups. We must make sure they can access their GP, source prescriptions and arrange a food delivery from their homes to avoid placing themselves at risk by stepping outside.
Existing partnerships are also being taken advantage of during this time. As the Scouts respond to the suspension of all their meetings, we have supported their swift work to roll out a new scheme called The Great Indoors. This is a set of online resources, activities and engagement opportunities to keep their thousands of Scouts active and in touch while stuck at home – and to engage their parents and families too. Finally, via our ongoing relationship with Business in the Community, we have been instrumental in helping to create a new brokerage site to match organisations, charities or communities with urgent needs to the businesses with the capacity to help them.
As I mentioned above, the registry continues to run ‘business as usual’, albeit with additional workload for the teams who monitor the namespace. We have been closely tracking new domain registrations since the outbreak of the virus to identify and disrupt those seeking to spread misinformation, launch phishing attacks or in some way take advantage of anxious people during this pandemic.
Using our existing tool, Domain Watch, we suspend any domains we identify as suspicious – via a combination of manual and automated checks – at the point of registration before seeking assurances from the registrant. While this may slow down the process of registering a domain for some, we have greatly appreciated the patience and understanding with which the registrar and wider registrant community has greeted this, recognising the importance of stopping criminal activity in its tracks.
Last but not least, we are conscious that the lockdown has placed many small businesses in a precarious position. In response, we have launched a Nominet Support Fund (NSF), working with registrars to contribute to their efforts to help registrants afford to retain their online presence for another year.
I hope this run down of Nominet’s response to the pandemic is not yet exhaustive. Over the coming weeks or months, we may be able to identify further ways to support those communities which our existing work touches. It goes without saying that maintaining our health, safety and well-being are crucial as we ride out these turbulent weeks; Nominet hopes to help make that easier to achieve, in whatever small way we can.