TUVALU GOES FROM PHONE SEX TO INTERNET RICHES

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By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (October 20, 1998 - Agence France-Presse)---After making millions from telephone sex lines the tiny low-lying nation of Tuvalu is confidently waiting for a US$ 50 million Christmas present , the first installment from the sale of their Internet domain name, ".TV".

They expect to earn up to US$ 65 million a year from the joint operation with a Canadian firm, remarkable money for a country of 9,500 people and an annual government budget of just 12 million Australian dollars (US$ 8.7 million).

Last week a Toronto company, The .TV Corporation, began marketing the .TV domain name.

"We launched a week ago and it has been an absolute whirlwind of interest. . . Registrations are pouring in from around the world, because worldwide it makes sense to people what Dot TV means," company head Jason Chapnik, 28, told Radio New Zealand Tuesday.

He would not disclose any of the financial arrangements nor whether any money has yet been paid to Tuvalu.

The latest issue of the Suva-based Islands Business magazine reports that before December 31 Tuvalu will receive a payment of US$ 50 million and after that earnings will be split, 65 percent to Tuvalu, 35 percent to Chapnik's company. The article says annual earnings will be between US$ 60 and 100 million from the operation.

Chapnik said they were being bombarded with interest and expected Tuvalu to do very well, especially as the next Internet wave involved an increased television flow on the Internet.

"We think this one is the pearl of the internet marketing world."

The registration process is on the Internet at "Internet.tv".

It costs US$ 1,000 to register a domain name and US$ 500 every year to renew.

It warns that it is not a first come, first served registry and if requests are lodged for the same name it will go to a computer operated auction. The first auction will be in February.

"Premium prices are intended to attract high-quality content providers and eliminate domain name speculation," Internet.tv says.

They say the .TV is a powerful brand: "Ask a child which Internet site they would rather visit, KIDS.COM or KIDS.TV?"

They say they will not register "providers of hatred, pornography and gambling content."

The ban on porn is curious given that until recently 10 percent of Tuvalu's national budget came from leasing out unused telephone numbers to international providers of sex telephone lines.

Tuvalu's Prime Minister Bikenibeu Paeniu admitted the sex lines posed "a really big moral issue," not least because the national motto is "Tuvalu for God."

At first blush Tuvalu looks like paradise, but it is a hard subsistence lifestyle, and national revenue comes from offshore fishing licenses and workers on the phosphate mining in Nauru.

Paeniu has tramped the world's stages preaching on the dangers of global warming, saying his people were the "the world's first victims of climate change."

Tuvalu has a comic opera quality about it at times. It was the Polynesian part of the British colony of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands but they broke apart with the Gilberts becoming Micronesia's Kiribati.

Before the Ellice Islands became independent a deal had to be done with Washington because the U.S. claimed the main atoll, Funafuti, was American. Senator Jessie Helms held it up for several years, claiming it was a strategic territory.

The U.S. caused severe environmental problems there after building a runway during World War II. The large pits they dug for material have damaged the fresh water lens.

Tuvalu -- which means "eight together" -- should not have that name, as it is made up of nine atolls (thus "Tuiva").

The country became independent on October 1, 1978.

Queen Elizabeth II's sister, Princess Margaret, was sent to grant independence but on the day she claimed to be ill and would not go ashore. She stayed in her bunk on the New Zealand frigate Otago. One of her aids had to do the honors.

A previous prime minister banished the Union Jack from the country's flag, but Paeniu has restored the old ensign.

Michael J Field Agence France-Presse Auckland, New Zealand TEL: (64 21) 688-438 FAX: (64 21) 694-035 E-Mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz WWW: http://www.afp.com/english/

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