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Why the AI Boom is a Windfall for Tiny Anguilla

The rising popularity of artificial intelligence has impacted the entire world, including the tiny island of Anguilla. Located in the Caribbean, the country, home to about 15,000 people, has a unique and suddenly in-demand resource.

In the late 1980s, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) assigned countries and regions of geographic interest their own two-letter domains. Anguilla received .ai, a luck of the draw that is now paying dividends as the country registers website domains for AI companies. IEEE Spectrumspoke with Vince Cate, who manages domain registrations for the Anguillan government, on how AI has had an impact on .ai.

Vince Cate

Vince Cate is a software developer and the founder of DataHaven.Net, which handles sales of the .ai domain for the Anguillan government.

How did you end up managing the .ai domain?

Vince Cate: I came to Anguilla in 1994. I started out doing an email business, because there wasn’t any email or Internet on this island. And I wanted to have a domain name that was .ai. So I reached out to Jon Postel—he was the one that was in charge of all these top-level domains. He said, there’s nobody running .ai, do you want to run .ai? And I said, “Okay.” That was really how it went!

At some point, I said, this shouldn’t be in my name, right? So I changed the [IANA] admin contact to be the government of Anguilla. Somebody else saw that and convinced the government to give it to them, so it went to this company in Taiwan. After a couple of years, they disappeared. They didn’t answer emails or phone calls or anything. And we got it back. A number of small countries got really messed up by losing their domain names, and I would say we kind of came close.

How did .ai open up for use outside of Anguilla?

Cate: This other company came and convinced the government that they could make a lot of money on it. They had this idea, that in Chinese “ài” means love. They thought they could market it to [Chinese websites]. At the time, I thought that artificial intelligence was a much better market.

Has the surge in AI interest been reflected in the number of .ai domains being registered?

Cate: November 30 [2022] is when ChatGPT came out. In the five months after that, our sales went up by almost a factor of four. Then they sort of leveled off at this new, much higher level. It’s just wild—we’re already like a third of the government’s budget.

Tuvalu is perhaps the first and most well-known example of a country opening up its top-level domain (.tv). Is Anguilla approaching this opportunity differently than that situation?

Cate: Tuvalu gave [domain registrations] to a big foreign company, and locked themselves in for 50 years. And we’re doing it locally. So the government is getting almost all the money. And that’s not what was happening in Tuvalu, right? Most of the money was not going to the country.

[Editor’s note: Tuvalu hasrecently renegotiated and is leasing its domain name for more money, but an outside company still manages domain registrations.]

How much money is being brought in by .ai registrations, and how is that affecting Anguilla?

Cate: It’s about US $3 million per month. We do the domains for two years, and so all of our money now is new domains. And if we just stay at this level of $3 million per month for new domains, when the renewals kick in a year from now, we’ll just jump to $6 million per month.

And it’s just part of the general budget—the government can use it however they want. But I’ve noticed that they’ve paid down some of their debt, which is pretty unusual. They’ve eliminated property taxes on residential buildings. So we’re doing well, I would say.

This article appears in the February 2024 print issue as “5 Questions for Vince Cate.”

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