« People living on a tiny group of islands in the South Pacific are using the internet revolution to transform their lives.
Tokelau – comprised of three coral atolls that lie about 500 miles north of Western Samoa, halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii – has licensed the website domain extension assigned to the island, and is using the money it earns from the project to pay for computers and internet access.
Just as the United Kindgom was given the .uk suffix for use in website addresses, Tokelau was granted the .tk suffix for its website addresses.
In 2001, the island’s government was approached by Joost Zuurbier, an internet entrepreneur, with a view to his company licensing the rights to the website extension and sharing some of the revenue generated from these sites with the Tokelau government and its people.
The Dot TK website (www.dot.tk) allows anyone, anywhere in the world to generate a short, snappy address with the .tk suffix for their existing blog or website, or to shorten a web address to make it easier to remember and more user-friendly for people browsing the internet on handheld devices, similar to the services provided by TinyURL (tinyurl.com) and SnipURL (snipirl.com).
All people need to do is copy and paste the long address into the box on the Dot TK website, and a shortened web address will be generated.
Since the service launched in 2005, more than 1.6 million domain names with the .tk suffix have been created worldwide, and around 10,000 new sites are registered on a daily basis.
The revenue Tokelau has earned from the venture contributes towards more than 10 per cent of the island’s GDP , and has been spent on a high-speed satellite internet connection to all three atolls and more than 100 communal computers for use by the 1,500 islanders and government departments.
More than 8,000 Tokelauans live overseas, mainly in Australia and New Zealand, and Aukusitino Vitale, head of the island’s telecomms company, says the arrival of the internet has revolutionised the way people communicate with one another, allowing them to keep in touch with family members who live elsewhere.
« It’s great being able to communicate freely. We noticed that our revenue for telephone use on the island had come down by about 40 per cent [since the arrival of the internet], because people were using Skype and other VOIP services to allow them to call other people free.
« Now the islanders are wanting extra bandwidth. People are wanting to download music and put things on YouTube. Everyone wants to do those things. »
Vitale also said that an increasing number of users were creating MySpace accounts and using social-networking sites as well.
Although largely self-governing, Tokelau relies on a combination of subsidies and grants provided by the New Zealand government and other organisations, and a small amount of income from exported handicrafts.
Dot TK earns money from targeted advertising embedded on all web pages with the .tk suffix, and a percentage of that is then given to the Tokelauan government in royalty fees.
The plan almost never made it off the drawing board, however: it took four years for Zuurbier to convince ICANN, the governing body for domain name registration, that his contract with the pacific islanders was real.
It was only after one ICANN member mentioned he had visited Tokelau some thirty years previously, and a delegation of islanders were bought before an ICANN meeting in New Zealand, that Zuurbier got the green light.
The project has echoes of another pacific island’s decision to cash in on their domain name suffix.
Tuvalu, which was granted the « .tv » suffix, signed a deal with an American company several years ago to provide licensing of the hugely popular domain name extension, with bids usually starting at around $1,000.
« We didn’t want to go the same way as .tv, » says Zuurbier, who says that safeguards have been put in place to ensure islanders and essential services get first pick of guaranteed permanent .tk web addresses.
All other users of the .tk suffix will need to ensure their website gets at least 25 hits every 90 days in order to keep their new domain name.
Dot TV has also made its application programming interface – the website’s « building blocks » – available to the web developer community in the hope of raising the profile of the service.
Things have moved on so much since the project was launched that Tokelau now even has wireless internet.
« It’s very exciting, » says Vitale. And it means islanders can surf the net on their laptops from the beach.
-Tokelau is comprised of three coral atolls: Atafu, Nukunonu and Fakaofo. It has no capital city
-The islands cover a total area of 10 sq km
– Tokelau has a population of just 1,500
– There is no harbour or airport
– Islanders speak Tokelauan, English and Samoan
– It’s difficult to grow fruit and vegetables on the island, although pumpkins are easy to cultivate »