PITCAIRN FINDS BURIED TREASURE IN THE INTERNET

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By Michael Field

AUCKLAND, New Zealand (October 16, 2000 - Agence France-Presse)---Pitcairn Island, founded by descendants of the Mutiny on the Bounty, has triumphed in a battle for its domain name and is making an unexpected fortune on the Internet despite having no connection itself and only one very expensive phone line.

Early this year Pitcairn became the first territory or country to win a transfer of its domain name when the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) transferred the Dot Pn (.pn) from a Channel Island company to the Pitcairn Island Council.

Pitcairn Commissioner Leon Salt told AFP Monday that since then they have made NZ$ 200,000 (US$ 78,937.60) in registrations of new websites -- which is good money for an island of "close to 50 people when everybody is home."

Annually it costs around NZ$ 800,000 (US$ 315,750) to run Pitcairn. Salt, whose own estimates of Internet revenue have been conservative, believes they may now make a lot more than that.

Pitcairn's success follows Tuvalu, with just 9,637 people, which sold rights to their Dot TV (.tv) name for US$ 50 million.

Pitcairn's story began with master's mate Fletcher Christian aboard the HMS Bounty which, commanded by William Bligh, was sent to Tahiti to pick up breadfruit plants in 1789.

In a romance immortalized by Errol Flynn, Marlon Brando and Mel Gibson, Christian fell in love with a Tahitian and rather than sail away, mutinied.

They seized the Bounty, cast Bligh adrift and with eight mutineers, six Polynesian men, 12 Polynesian women and a small girl went to Pitcairn, 2,160 kilometers (1,339 miles) southeast of Tahiti. They set the ship ablaze and remained undiscovered for 18 years.

Fletcher Christian's ultimate fate is the subject of a continuing mystery, but his descendant, Tom Christian, has tended to become the voice of Pitcairn Island.

Tom, 66, caused turmoil when, in 1997, he joined with a Channel Islander, Nigel Roberts, to claim the Dot Pn address. Robert’s company, Orichalk, picked up the revenue from selling domain names.

The entire island population, backed by Baroness Simons, the British government minister with responsibility for UK Overseas Territories, appealed successfully to ICANN to get Dot Pn for the island.

Salt said since the victory the money was pouring in and looked as if it could eventually overtake its main source of revenue, postage stamps, which makes around NZ$ 500,000 (US$ 197,344) a year.

"We see it as pretty much the same as what we do with postage stamps," Salt said.

"We are quiet excited by it. The potential is huge."

Costs in running the operation were very low with every person registering a web site paying US$ 200 followed by a US$ 100 annual fee. Non-trade names are put up for auction with the top bid so far being US$ 2,000 for Web.Pn.

Salt said an American has bought all the individual letter names -- a.pn, b.pn and onwards -- and was now buying up all the two letter combinations. He is also moving in on telephone numbers.

"What he is saying is that Pn is recognised internationally as an abbreviation for phone. So he is selling phone numbers dot Pn."

Talk is that every U.S. phone number is a potential Pitcairn web page.

The nearest Big Mac to Pitcairn is around 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) away in Papeete, but McDonalds has registered on Dot Pn. New York brokers Morgan Stanley has over 151 addresses there now, while the U.S. company Walmart, in a bid to protect its name, has registered over 100 addresses, all variations on their name.

Somebody tried to registered Amazon.Pn, but Salt said they sold it to the bookseller Amazon.com.

Under the ICANN deal, Pitcairn has the responsibility of providing Internet access for its people. Salt said they were trying to meet that despite the high cost. At the moment they have one telephone connected to the Inmarset satellite phone system at NZ$ 3.50 (US$ 1.3814) a minute. The newfound wealth could give them the money for the set up costs, with Intelsat offering much cheaper calls.

"We aim to cover our costs, which we haven’t done for years, and to try and recover some of the reserves we have had, but at the same time work to provide the Internet service."

Michael Field New Zealand/South Pacific Correspondent Agence France-Presse E-mail: afp.nz@clear.net.nz  Phone: (64 21) 688438 Fax: (64 21) 694035 Website: http://www.afp.com/english/ 

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