UNANSWERED QUESTIONS SWIRL AROUND ".AS" INTERNET CONTROVERSY

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By Tootoo Aleki

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa (February 14, 2000 – Samoa News)---The "dot-as" issue is not about the Internet, it is about money and authority.

Who has the money that control over "dot-as" provides? How much money are we talking about? Under whose authority does someone besides the American Samoa Government get the rights to make that money?

The first question is relatively simple to answer, but the other two are more vexing.

Rights to the Internet top domain name ".as" are sold or controlled by Joseph Matua and his company, which may or may not be named American Samoa Domain Registry.

But how much money have Matua and his agents taken in by selling domain names at $45 per year (advance payment of $90 required)? And who gave him the rights to cash in on the "dot-as" name?

Those two questions remain unanswered after several hours were spent Friday afternoon by the House Economic Development Committee, under the chairmanship of Representative Sala E. Samiu, as they opened their probe into this matter.

The Committee heard from Carl Sene of ASTCA, Governor's Legal Counsel Henry Kappel and local citizen John Wasko.

Wasko presented the results of his research, which indicated that Joseph Matua believes he obtained the rights to market "dot-as" in 1997 from the U.S. Government.

In a 1998 e-mail message to Wasko, Matua wrote that Governor Tauese Sunia was familiar with the arrangement.

But Tauese told the Samoa News two weeks ago that he was not familiar with the arrangement and did not know Joseph Matua. He did recall signing a "certificate" presented to him by Matua's mother, but the Governor said that so far as he was aware, that certificate did not give Matua the right to do anything other than make the Governor look good on an Internet web site.

Two weeks ago, the Governor indicated he was not much interested in getting to the bottom of the matter. Last Friday, Kappel acknowledged he did not know how Matua had acquired the rights to be administrator of the ".as" domain, but he believed it was time to find out.

He advised the House committee that if American Samoan's rights to "dot-as" were being pirated, ASG might have to consider relief through legal action, such as the federal Anti Cyber Squadron Consumer Protection Act.

It is not clear whether ASG absolutely owns the rights to the "dot-as" name. That is a matter of some international dispute, which is still being unraveled in international forums.

The man who could unravel these mysteries, Joseph Matua, does not apparently live on island (although he maintains a mailing address here and lists a phone number in Aoloau that belongs to members of his family).

As the administrator of "dot-as" he is reportedly required to be resident in American Samoa.

Wasko first became aware of the situation through a "Wired" magazine article which suggested that the administrator of the ".as" address was earning a lot money from the selling of the electronic address (perhaps as much as $500,000 a year).

Wasko eventually discussed the matter with Afoa Moega Lutu, the Director of the Legislative Reference Bureau.

Afoa recently apprised the Fono of the issue and stated that American Samoa may be missing out on considerable revenues to which it is entitled.

He advised that revenues from the registration of "dot-as" Internet domain names rightfully belonged to the people of American Samoa (unless someone had been authorized to keep them).

Hence, Friday's hearing, which included complicated testimony about companies in New York and Copenhagen that are apparently part of the "dot-as" marketing effort.

How many domain names with ".as" have been sold at $90 each? The 1998 magazine article indicated 500 a month were signing up at that time, but Wasko said he does not know the answer to that important question.

"I share your concerns, (over) why a public asset has been made to be a property of only a few," Wasko stated.

"Our interest right now is to find the legal authority to return ".as" to American Samoa and to recoup money that has been earned that rightfully belongs to the people," Rep. Sala concluded.

Samoa News efforts to reach Matua have been unsuccessful.

Stories from the SAMOA NEWS, American Samoa's daily newspaper, may not be republished without permission. To contact the publisher, send e-mail to samoanews@samoatelco.com. For additional reports from the Samoa News, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Samoa News.

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