How a Tiny Island Country Cashed in By Using Its Internet Domain Name

January 12, 2023

The Pacific island country of Tuvalu
The Pacific island country of Tuvalu

In 1995, the tiny Pacific island country of Tuvalu received news that it had been assigned “.tv” by the Internet Telecommunication Union as its top-level domain country code. But at the time, the country’s officials didn’t know why that was a good and prosperous thing.

A top-level domain is a series of characters at the end of a URL address like .com, .org, or .edu, but countries also have their own such as .uk (United Kingdom), .au (Australia), .ca (Canada), and .us (United States). With Tuvalu receiving the .tv code, they now had their own code, which also happened to be the abbreviation for “television.” The significance of that abbreviation in internet terms was not immediately known to people on the island of approximately 12,000 people, but it would become one of the country’s chief resources.

Tuvalu is located halfway between Hawaii and Australia and is a chain of reef islands and atolls. On the capital island of Funafuti, there is one hospital, one bank, one airport, and only one road. The island is so skinny that water can be seen on either side. Tuvalu has to import most of its goods, as it cannot sustain itself from its fishing industry and agriculture, but its adult literacy rate is almost 99 percent. Due to the island’s remoteness, it does not have a significant tourism industry.

Map of the south Pacific with Tuvalu highlighted

After receiving the domain code, it took a few years for the country to figure out what to do with it. But by 1998, they had learned it could be licensed and began making money off .tv by leasing it to service providers. When Tuvalu made its first $1 million, it paid to cover its fees to join the United Nations. Then the country made a big deal in 2001 when they entered into an agreement with VeriSign, an American company based in Virginia with a network that operated the top-level domains .com, .net, and .org.

In 2011, the contract with VeriSign was renegotiated, and they agreed to pay Tuvalu $5 million per year for the right to administer the .tv domain. In 2014, the .tv domain was bolstered when Amazon bought Twitch.tv, a live streaming service focused on live video game streaming, for $970 million. Twitch is one of the largest websites using .tv.

Tuvalu map and Flag

The deal with VeriSign ended in 2021, opening up the possibility of negotiating a new contract again for something earning the country 1/12th of its annual gross national income, which was $67 million in 2020. But even with this amount, the growing number of sites signing up to use .tv and the millions of people already using twitch.tv meant that Tuvalu should be earning substantially more.

VeriSign didn’t participate in a new deal with Tuvalu when the contract ended in 2021, but the country had no trouble finding a replacement to service their .tv domain. They inked an agreement with GoDaddy, a large Internet domain registrar and web hosting company. Under the new deal, Tuvalu was set to make an estimated $10 million per year from leasing its .tv domain due to the increased demand.

The money Tuvalu makes from licensing its .tv domain goes back into serving the tiny country. The number of websites currently using .tv stands at approximately 466,597, and that number is expected to climb as streaming services continue to grow.

Sources: The Washington Post, The World, Tuvalu Foreign Affairs, TurnOn.tv, Domain Tools

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Daniel Ganninger - The writer, editor, and chief lackey of Knowledge Stew, the author of the Knowledge Stew line of trivia books, and editor of Fact World and the Knowledge Stew sister site on Medium, our ad-free subscription sites (you can find out how to join below). I hope you find things here to annoy those around you with your new found knowledge.

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