Domain Industry

Island demands return of its “naked” ccTLD

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Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2021, 17:58:04 (UTC), Domain Policy

The Pacific island nation of Niue is loudly demanding that ICANN hand over control of its ccTLD, .nu, after two decades of bitter argument.

The government has taken the highly unusual move of filing a redelegation request with ICANN’s IANA unit publicly, forwarding it to other governments and the media.

The request is backed by UNR, the former Uniregistry, which is being put forward as the proposed back-end provider.

Niue claims, as it has since at least 2000, that the string was misappropriated by an American entrepreneur in the 1990s and has been used to generate tens of millions of dollars in revenue, with almost no benefit to the country.

The word “nu” is Swedish for “now”. It’s also the masculine form of “naked” in French, which enables lazy reporters to write click-baity headlines.

The Swedish meaning was first spotted by Massachusetts-based Bill Semich in 1997. Together with Niue-based Kiwi ex-pat Stafford Guest, he obtained the delegation for .nu from pre-ICANN root zone supremo Jon Postel.

They used the name Internet Users Society Niue (IUSN) and started selling .nu names to Swedes as a meaningful alternative to .se and .com.

As of today, there are about 264,000 registered .nu names, retailing for about $30 a year. Pre-2018 data is not available, but a couple of years ago, it had over 500,000 names under management.

That kind of money would be incredibly useful to Niue, which has a population of under 2,000 and few other natural resources to speak of. The country relies on hand-outs from New Zealand and, historically, dubious offshore banking schemes and the sale of postage stamps to collectors.

The government has said in the past that .nu cash would enable it to boost its internet infrastructure, thereby boosting its attractiveness as a tourist destination.

IUSN and Niue signed a memorandum of understanding in 1999, but a year later the government passed a law decreeing “.nu is a National resource for which the prime
authority is the Government of Niue”.

It’s been trying to get control of .nu ever since, but IUSN has consistently refused to recognize this law, Niue has always claimed, and has always refused to cooperate in a redelegation.

The company made headlines back in 2003 for claiming that it was rolling out free nationwide Wi-Fi in Niue, but there are serious questions about whether that ever actually happened.

Now, Niue claims:

The Wi-Fi has been continuously unstable and exceedingly limited. As of today, the ccTLD.NU administration and local presence of the IUSN in Niue consists of a motel with a PO Box and the Wi-Fi is covering a [n]egligible are[a] surrounding the motel. There is no operational management of the ccTLD.NU by the IUSN present in Niue.

I believe the motel in question is Coral Gardens, north of capital Alofi, which is or was run by Guest.

While IUSN is still the official ccTLD manager for .nu, according to IANA records, the business operations and technical back-end were transferred to Swedish ccTLD manager IIS in 2013.

IIS agreed to pay IUSN a minimum of $14.7 million over 15 years for the license to .nu, but the domain remains delegated to IUSN.

Niue, represented by its Swedish special envoy Pär Brumark (who until recently was also vice-chair of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, representing Niue) sued IIS in late 2018 in an attempt to gain control of the ccTLD.

The government argues that under Swedish control, profits from .nu can only be earmarked for the development of the Swedish internet, at the expense of Niue.

Brumark tells us the case is currently being delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The problem Niue has now is pretty much the same as it always has been — IANA rules state that the losing party in a redelegation has to consent to the change of control, and IUSN really has no incentive to do so.

Niue’s best chance appears to be either the Swedish lawsuit or the possibility that it can get the GAC on board to support its request.

In-progress redelegation requests are also exempt by convention from ICANN’s transparency rules, so we’re not going to hear anything other than what Niue releases or the GAC can publicly squeeze out of ICANN leadership.

You can read the redelegation request (pdf) here.