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Country Codes
Simplicity, once again, has a price
By ERIC ELLIS

January 27, 2000
Web posted at 6 a.m. Hong Kong time, 5 p.m. EST


Chalk up another point for prescience. Seoul's NASDAQ-listed broadband Internet provider Thrunet is preparing to pay $5 million to a Korean-American student who registered the domain name Korea.com way back in 1995, when the Internet was mostly a glint in an investment banker's greedy eye. Thrunet aims to develop Korea.com as its main portal into its e-network, and in Seoul, Korea.com (which the student had developed into a Korean culture site) speaks a bit louder than Thrunet.com.

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At $5 million, Korea.com has set a record for an Asian domain name--if you discount the $3 billion that China.com is worth in NASDAQ market capitalization.

But what about some other country names? Tap in Indonesia.com, Malaysia.com or Vietnam.com and you'll end up in the server of Vancouver company Communicate.com touting the domains for sale. It doesn't list a price but Korea.com's is a fair indication.

The same goes for India.com, Europe.com and Asia.com. All undeveloped as sites, they have been locked up by the equally expansively named Mail.com of the U.S. Same goes for Japan.com, also under the Mail.com umbrella.

The U.S. company Great Domains is asking over $10 million for America.com. That's a rare example of a country domain being owned by someone from that country. But if Kim Jong Il came along with $20 million, I'm sure Great Domains could be persuaded to sell it to North Korea. Then it could do what it does anyway: use old media (er, propaganda) to diss the imperialist U.S. so everyone with a Net connection can read its take on the world. That's a bit like poor old Philippines Long Distance Telephone, who gets hosed every time someone logs onto Pldt.com, which turns out to be Notquitepldt.com. The Manila-based carrier is embroiled in legal action for Pldt.com's wacky architects to cease and desist. So far, it's not going well, and the results are there, online, for anyone to see.

Indeed, it's pretty rare for a domain name to be owned by someone within the country it signifies. That might be galling to one's nationalism but there's little governments or the law can do about it. It must really irritate the Taiwanese that Taiwan.com is controlled by the China.com crowd, a company that is part-owned by Beijing's state-run news agency, Xinhua.

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