What's in a name? $$$ if you're called Tuvalu

Collectors of the British Commonwealth will undoubtedly be familiar with the little South-Pacific island group, the Gilbert & Ellice Islands. Following the road to independence as most colonies did, this group split up in 1976 to become the Gilbert Islands and Tuvalu (formerly the Ellice Islands). On October 1, 1978 Tuvalu gained its independence.

Tuvalu is a Polynesian island group situated NE of Australia, nearly halfway between Australia and Hawaii in the Pacific Ocean. It consists of 9 little islands making up about 25 square kilometers of land, but scattered over 1 million square kilometers of Pacific Ocean. It has just over 10,000 inhabitants and an annual budget of $14 million per year. A tiny and unknown speck in a big ocean.


All countries receive a top-level domain name on the internet which features as a suffix to that country's internet addresses, for example, .za for South Africa, .be for Belgium, .uk for the United Kingdom, .hk for Hong Kong, etc. Some of these domain names have even featured on stamps.

Tuvalu hit the jackpot when it received the .tv domain name, although initially the Tuvalu people didn't realize they owned the most recognizable suffix of all, .tv


Then, in 1999, a Canadian businessman, Jason Chapnik, walked into a Tuvalu parliament meeting and announced his intention to buy their .tv domain name.

Following negotiations, in 2000 Tuvalu decided to sign up with Chapnik and form a new company DotTV based in Pasadena, California. The island has a 20% stake in DotTV and received $50 million for the lucrative deal, payable in quarterly payments of $1 million dollar each over a 10-year period. It recently received its first payment of $18 million, thereby doubling its GDP.

This unexpected source of income enabled Tuvalu to become economically independent. Where in the past it could not become a member of the United Nations as it could not afford its $20,000 membership fee, it has now joined the UN and on 5 September 2000 became its 189th member. It also enabled the islands to upgrade their infrastructure with roads being laid, the installation of electricity on outlying islands and a school being built on the main island. The runway on Tuvalu's airport has also been extended to accommodate the larger planes. This will enable Tuvalu to export food for the first time in its history. Tuvalu is booming.

In the meantime DotTV has already sold three of its .tv internet addresses for $100,000 each: www.Free.tv, www.China.tv and www.Net.tv have signed 2-year contracts for their use of the .tv suffix. But not all .tv buyers pay these high prices. The .tv suffix is obviously highly desirable for companies in the world of television and DotTV auctions off the rights to use the .tv names on their own web site for an annual registration fee, which may vary from $1,000 to $100,000. Names like Billabong.tv (a skateboarding and surfing site), Emmys.tv (for the annual Emmys awards) and Baseball.tv have already been sold. MGM has bought nine addresses like MGM.tv, JamesBond.tv, 007.tv, PinkPanther.tv, UnitedArtists.tv, etc. and India's well-known broadcast company, Zee TV, has acquired its own .tv domain name. All together DotTV has already sold 170,000 of its .tv addresses, with nearly half of the organizations' registrants from outside the United States.

Tuvalu is not the only country cashing in on this dotcom windfall. Countries like Turkmenistan (.tm), Tonga (.to), Moldavia (.md) and the Federated States of Micronesia (.fm) all have a country code that resembles a well-known phrase, although none as desirable as Tuvalu's .tv suffix.

The South Pacific island of Niue with domain name .nu, has already sold more than 70,000 addresses with the .nu suffix for $45 per year, mainly to European organizations, as "nu" means "now" in Dutch, Danish, Swedish and Norwegian. The economy in Niue has been thriving since the export of their two little letters started in 1997.

Obviously there's money to be made in cyber world if you have the right name.

Wobbe Vegter, March 2004

[ Published in: ThemNews, March 2004, Vol. 5, no.1]

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