Niue struggles against ‘digital colonialism’

A fierce legal battle is now raging between Niue and the US businessman who has the rights to sell domains on .nu

Niue is wrestling with a US businessman for control of the .nu internet top domain.

Toke Talagi, the traveling ambassador of Niue, does not mince words: “This is digital colonialism. The domain is not used by our nation, and it hasn’t given us anything, except for an internet connection. Also, Niue gets the blame for all the bad things done from .nu domains.”

Last week, Computerworld reported that the .nu domain was one of several island domains identified by security company McAfee as risky, hosting sites that threaten internet security. Tokelau’s .tk domain was named the world’s riskiest with 10% of sites hosted considered dangerous.

Talagi made his comments visiting Sweden, a country with more than 100,000 registered .nu domains.

The first to realise the potential of the .nu domain was US businessman William Semich in 1997. He applied to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and since he was the first to do so, he got the rights to operate the .nu domain and sell domains on .nu.

At that time, neither Semich nor the government of Niue anticipated a million-dollar business.

“Our advisor told us that the internet was nothing to bother about,” Talagi says.

But because “nu” means “now” in Swedish, the domains sold like hotcakes in Sweden.

A fierce legal battle is now raging between Niue and Semich for control of the domain. The government of Niue believes the revenue for hundreds of thousands of domains would be a welcome contribution to the island economy. With 2,000 inhabitants, the country exports coconuts and fruit, but is largely dependent on foreign aid.

Asked what it would mean to Niue to control the domain, Talagi says: “Better schools, better health care, better infrastructure and improvements in tourism. That’s what it would bring — economic independence. To us, this is a huge issue.”

The government of Niue says that Semich has agreed to pay 25% of the revenue to Niue, but Semich denies that. Instead, he has provided Niue with a free internet connection. But Talagi says that the cost of that is only a fraction of Semich’s profits from domain sales. He compares the situation to the era when colonial powers bought vast tracts of valuable territory for a pittance.

“This is a struggle for justice and for the end of digital colonialism.”

His mission is to make the world aware of the matter: “I am certain that if Swedes knew that Niue doesn’t get its fair share of the money, they would want that to change.

“Any decent person and any decent company would want that.”

‘They’re only after the money’: NU Sweden

Eeven if the .NU domain refers to the tiny island nation between New Zealand and South America, there is no reason why its internet domain shouldn’t be controlled by the corporation NU Domain, based in Boston. So says Per Darnell, managing director of NU Domain in Sweden, commenting on Niue ambassador Toke Talagi’s criticism of his company.

“Domains aren’t geographical,” Darnell explains.

“They could have picked any set of abbreviations, they just happened to choose a list of country codes.”

He denies that there was ever an agreement that the government of Niue should be paid 25% of the revenue. “That would be a totally unrealistic level,” he says. “That would be insane. We never agreed to do that.”

NU Domain provides Niue with a free internet connection, and that’s more than most nations get, Darnell says.

“When the system was created, nobody expected the countries to have control of their respective domains.

But those who acquired a country code domain were expected to do something for the internet users of that country. We did even more.”

The annual turnover, according to NU Domain, is approximately US$4 million (NZ$5.6 million).

“They’re only interested in the money and don’t care if it works well. You don’t want to involve people who aren’t serious, who only want money.”

That might be why ICANN hasn’t re-delegated the domain, Darnell says.

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