AMERICAN SAMOA WANTS THE "AS" DOMAIN NAME BACK

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APIA, Samoa (February 17, 2000 - Samoa Observer/PINA Nius Online,)---The Territorial House of Representatives will aggressively seek the return of American Samoa’s top domain name dot-as (.as) to its rightful owner -- the government and the people of American Samoa.

It says it will use every means possible, including legal action, to make that happen.

This was the decision reached after a two-hour investigative hearing on Friday by the House Rules Committee. The hearing included testimony from the Governor’s Legal Counsel Henry Kappel, government officials and private citizen John Wasko.

(For additional details, see: Unanswered Questions Swirl Around ".AS" Internet Controversy)

Mr. Wasko first alerted lawmakers that it’s domain name had been sold and marketed by NetNames, a division of GDNS, Inc., a Scandinavian Company. Wasko and the local media later learned that Mr. Joseph Matua, an American Samoan residing either in Hawai‘i or California, had claimed ownership of the domain name.

Mr. Matua said in an e-mail message that he was assigned the domain name by the U.S. Government through the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority in 1997.

Mr. Matua also said his company, American Samoa Network Information Center (ASNIC), is a private firm.

A person answering a private number at ASNIC was unaware of the issue.

Mr. Matua’s claim was rejected by those attending the legislative hearing, including lawmakers. What was agreed upon by everyone was that money "lots of money, possibly in the millions of dollars" has been generated through the selling, re-selling and the marketing of the ".as" domain name.

Yet it came as a shock that no one in government or the legislature knew about the domain claim until Mr. Wasko came into the picture.

Officials at the government owned American Samoa TeleCommunication’s Authority (ASTCA), which operates telephone services, were not even aware of the ".as" domain or Mr. Matua’s claim until two years ago when "surfing the Internet."

"Just as American Samoa is protective of its cultural assets, it should also be protective of its cyber assets," Carl Sene of ASTCA informed lawmakers.

An interesting point raised by Mr. Wasko and Mr. Sene is that "as" means incorporation in Scandinavian, and this was probably the magnet which attracted GDNS to grab the ".as" domain. But what remains unclear and which lawmakers are pursing now is how Mr. Matua and GDNS took possession of ".as."

Although Mr. Matua has refused to give the local media more details about his claim, the House of Representatives will investigate further and refer the matter to the House Investigative Committee, which has the power to subpoena witnesses.

According to Mr. Wasko, policies and regulations for website domains states that the administrator of a domain name must reside where it is located. There are several regulatory issues that govern domain operations and Mr. Kappel said this is one option American Samoa can use to recover the ".as" name. Another option is for American Samoa to file for recovery of actual or statutory damages of up to $100,000 under a new U.S. law passed last November, which provides protection against the misuse of a domain name.

And if all these options fail, American Samoa then can ask the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Interior for assistance.

Reports given to the Legislature state that there are 166 registered to use ".as," as indicated by Mr. Matua. However, Mr. Wasko and ASTCA officials said that the ".as" registry is in "the hundreds or probably thousands."

According to the ASNIC ".as" site, the registration fee is $45 a year with the first two years to be paid in advance.

Lawmakers promised the government and the people of American Samoa on Friday that they will "further investigate and aggressively pursue those responsible."

Messages left with GDNS’s New York Office were not returned.

For additional reports from the Samoa Observer, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Samoa Observer.

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