TUVALU GETS PAID FOR COVETED .TV
FUNAFUTI, Tuvalu (April 7, 2000 * The Honolulu Advertiser/Los Angeles Times)---The Pacific Islands nation of Tuvalu, population 10,600, for years has survived by selling stamps, fishing licenses and collecting foreign aid. Now, thanks to an alphabetic quirk, the country has been the target of an Internet bidding war as companies vie for the right to sell Internet names and electronic mail addresses ending in Tuvalu's country code, ".tv."
The deal ultimately went to a company backed by Idealab, a Pasadena, Calif., Internet business incubator responsible for online retailer EToys and free Internet service provider NetZero.
Idealab's new start-up, called DotTV, recently agreed to pay Tuvalu (pronounced too-VAH-loo) $50 million in royalties -- or about three times the country's gross domestic product -- over the next decade so it can sell electronic mail and Web addresses ending in ".tv" instead of the ubiquitous ".com."
Idealab figures DotTV can make hundreds of millions, and perhaps billions, by selling Web sites such as " www.Law&Order.tv " and www.ABC.tv. Networks and TV programs are primary targets, but DotTV expects .tv to appeal to all sorts of companies, organizations and individuals.
The company thinks most of its .tv names will sell for several thousand dollars apiece, but some could go much higher. The current record price for an Internet address is held by Business.com, which was sold by a Texas company last year for $7.5 million.
DotTV's minimum payment of $1 million each quarter to Tuvalu makes this the nation's single largest source of income. The country expects to spend its windfall on health, education and transportation.
"We were very, very, very poor, but now we are getting some money from the marketing of assets like .tv," said Koloa Talake, a 60-year-old member of Tuvalu's parliament, who helped negotiate the Idealab deal and holds a seat on DotTV's board of directors. Like most of his countrymen, he has never seen a Web site.
Tuvalu is a collection of nine atolls halfway between Hawai'i and Australia that together are a little larger than Los Angeles International Airport. The Polynesian country, which gained its independence from Britain in 1978, has no natural resources except fish, poor infrastructure and attracts fewer than 1,000 visitors each year. The Lonely Planet travel guide hails Tuvalu as a place to "sit under a palm tree and never be bothered by anyone."
Each of Tuvalu's islands has a hospital, but the government couldn't afford to staff all of them with doctors until the .tv deal came through, Talake said. The ".tv" money will also pay for more classrooms, more training for teachers, new roads and more frequent ferry service to Tuvalu's outlying islands, which can take two days to reach, Talake said.
This isn't the first time Tuvalu has tried to profit from its technological resources. In the 1990s, it struck a deal to let a Hong Kong company use some of its phone numbers for a 900 number business. But officials in the Christian nation moved to cancel the $1.2 million-a-year contract after they discovered that the numbers were being used for phone-sex lines.
ABC News Tuvalu .TV Story and Video Clip
Tuvalu Online Home