TUVALU'S DREAM OF INTERNET MILLIONS FROM DOMAIN NAME ".TV" NOT

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DELIVERING THE CASH

By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (January 6, 1999 - Agence France-Presse)---Tiny Tuvalu has been forced to rethink its extravagant dreams after a Canadian company failed to deliver an Internet Christmas present of 50 million US dollars, Communications Minister Otinielu Tausi said Wednesday.

He told AFP in a telephone interview from Funafuti that the first payment had not been made but following re-negotiating was confident they were "still looking at millions."

Tuvalu's fortune was to have come from marketing its ".TV" Internet suffix through a Toronto company, Information.ca.Corp., which set up The .TV Corporation.

Last August Prime Minister Bikenibeu Paeniu said Tuvalu, a Polynesian nation north of Fiji, would make between 60 million and 100 million dollars a year.

It would have made Tuvalu's 9,000 inhabitants among the world's richest people.

He believed the scheme would end their need for aid and would allow the government to dramatically improve education spending.

He told the Suva based Island Business that when the 50 million dollars showed up "it is going to be a different chapter for Tuvalu, to fulfil our long-standing needs."

The operation would have seen companies paying 1,000 dollars to register a domain name and 500 dollars every year to renew.

Tausi said 200 companies had registered and paid, giving a total revenue of just 200,000 dollars.

He confirmed that they had expected 50 million dollars and might still one day get that amount.

"The deal is still on; we have just made some modifications to it," he said.

"Things didn't work out as intended, so what we did was make some modifications to the deal, but it is still on.

"There are still feelings and belief that we will pull through."

He said they did not get the number of applicants they expected.

"We believe, now, looking back, four months is a very short period of time to have a new thing and get a proper response. So we are giving more time for people to come in. We have a strong belief that it will materialize."

The new schedule of payments would be more realistic.

"We are phasing out the 50 million," Tausi said.

"We're still looking at millions but the time span is different. It will bring a lot of money."

The .TV Corporation will make its first payment in two months. Asked how much, the minister would only say: "We can leave that until later on."

Tausi said the head of the Toronto company, Jason Chapnik, was "doing a great job."

"If we give this thing the chance to work, it will do that."

In October Chapnik said the company would early this year conduct Internet auctions for some of the more popular domain names.

"We launched a week ago and it has been an absolute whirlwind of interest. Registrations are pouring in from around the world, because world-wide it makes sense to people what Dot TV means," he told Radio New Zealand then.

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

He said they expected all major media corporations to sign up.

"We are absolutely overwhelmed by the interest," Chapnik said. "It's just been staggering, world-wide."

Tuvalu is not the first Pacific country to discover the vague worth of the Internet; both Tonga with its ".To" and Niue with its ".Nu" have seen expected fortunes become more modest.

Tuvalu has had a number of curious money making schemes and until recently earned 10 percent of its national budget came from leasing out unused telephone numbers to international providers of sex telephone lines.

Paeniu admitted that posed "a really big moral issue," not least because the national motto is "Tuvalu for God".

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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