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Island at the center of the domain-name storm
(IDG) -- Tuvalu may be an island nation in a remote corner of the Pacific, but it's at the center of the latest debate over Internet domains.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is questioning whether the lucrative sale of Tuvalu's catchy country-level domain -- .tv -- comports with ICANN rules: Unlike generic top-level domains like .org and .com, country-level domains such as .md (Moldova) and .fm (Federated States of Micronesia) are supposed to be maintained for the public good of the country's inhabitants. And in Tuvalu, one of the world's poorest countries, profits from the sale of .tv could make a difference to the Pacific island's 10,000 residents.
Tuvalu first contracted with a Canadian organization to hand out the .tv domains, but when that firm defaulted on payments, the country found a new partner in Idealab, a Pasadena, Calif., capital group and incubator. Idealab-incubated DotTV has agreed to pay Tuvalu up to $50 million over 12 years, and not less than $1 million per quarter, for the right to register .tv Internet addresses.
But just as the Tuvalu government prepares to rake it in, ICANN and other members of the Internet community are looking into the matter. "Some people have raised questions as to whether all of this is on the up-and-up," says Mike Roberts, president and CEO of ICANN. "If there are commercial licensing arrangements, some attention must be paid to using those funds for the benefit [of the residents]."
Meanwhile Internet entrepreneurs are up in arms over the exorbitant rates DotTV plans to charge. It is auctioning the .tv names with minimum bids starting at $1,000, and minimum increases of $1,000. The typical .com domain name costs $70 to register. Entrepreneurs question DotTV's right to charge so much for these country-specific domains when ICANN could potentially reclaim the registry at any time.
If ICANN gets a whiff that the country-level domain is being sold to line the pockets of Idealab rather than to help Tuvalu, it could unilaterally revoke the registration rights of the .tv domain registrars. Any company that had spent a fortune on branding itself as a "dot-tv" could find itself adrift in the South Pacific.
There is precedent for ICANN overturning a registrar it believed was not acting in the public interest. In February, ICANN redelegated administration of the .pn domain for the Pitcairn Islands after islanders argued that it was not being administered in their interest.
DotTV says it is making sure Tuvalu residents profit from the sale of .tv. The Tuvalu government "is a substantial equity shareholder in the company," asserts John Momtazee, VP of business development for DotTV. "What we're doing is very, very beneficial for Tuvalu. We have a very, very strong relationship with them. It is certainly in our interest to give back as much as we can. We've given them a computer so they can communicate with us. We've made visits to them. We're making them very involved in the ongoing operation of the company."
Momtazee says his clients shouldn't worry about an ICANN intervention, because DotTV is on its best behavior, both with the naming authority and with the Tuvalu islanders.
"Most of the problems with the various country codes have been rogue administrators who had control of the top-level domain without the consent of the government," says Momtazee. "This is very much unlike the situation with .tv. Our success is really their success."
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