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Summary:

Contrary to the explanation of the man who the U.K. government granted rights to sell .io domain addresses, back in the 90s, the government now says it doesn’t get anything from those sales, and therefore has no plans to share profits with the people it expelled from the Chagos Islands.

At the end of June I reported how profits from the sale of .io domain names are split between the U.K. government and the company to which it assigned the sale rights, Internet Computer Bureau. This is of interest because none of the money goes to the people of the Chagos Islands, which the .io domain represents, and from which the U.K. expelled the local population in order to lease land to the U.S. for a military base.

The article prompted several companies with .io addresses to donate to the Chagossian people, but it also prompted a question in the British House of Lords. Lord Avebury, a Liberal Democrat peer, asked the government what plans it had to share revenues from the sale of .io domain names with the Chagossians.

On Thursday, Baroness Warsi, the senior minister of state for foreign and Commonwealth affairs, responded:

“In much the same way as the .uk domain, the administration of the .io domain has always been carried out by a private sector organisation – this is currently the Internet Computer Bureau. As with the .uk domain, the Government receives no revenues from the sales or administration of this domain, and there are therefore no plans to share these with Chagossians.”

This contrasts strongly with what Paul Kane, the reputable industry veteran who runs the Internet Computer Bureau, told me. I largely paraphrased what Kane told me in the original story, but it is now worth recounting what he told me more fully, based on my notes from the conversation:

“Basically it’s an agreement in place with the government authorities, which is basically the U.K. government, that enabled us to run it more or less indefinitely, unless we make a technical mistake. Profits are distributed to the authorities for them to operate services as they see fit… the Crown bank or the government or the authorities that are there. It goes to the Crown bank. Each of the overseas territories have an account and the funds are deposited there because obviously the territories have expenses that they incur and it’s offsetting that.”

In a second conversation with Kane, he reiterated that “we do remit money to the Crown bank in accordance with our agreement. We pay X amount per name.” Kane did not say what “X amount” was, due to confidentiality.

For my original article, I gave the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) almost a week to respond to my questions, which largely called on the government to explain what Kane told me.

Kane’s description of the matter was unequivocal, yet an FCO spokesman told me today: “Basically neither the government nor the BIOT [Chagos Islands] administration receive revenues from sales of .io domains. ICB independently registered a number of domains including .io in the late 90s.” Which is also unequivocal.

So, there’s a pretty big discrepancy here.

  1. Given that there is no such thing as a “Crown bank” in the UK, at least part of Paul Kane’s story is clearly inaccurate. And it also certainly true that the UK government makes no money from .uk, either.

    Back in the late 90s, I was working for an ISP and was involved in helping to set up several gTLDs for various small islands. Not, as it happens, .io, so I can’t speak with direct experience of this one. But I do know that the British government wasn’t involved in any of the ones that I was involved with, even for those which belonged to British dependent territories (as is the case with .io). So it’s extremely unlikely that the British government was involved in setting up .io, or receives any money from it.

    The charitable explanation is that Kane has simply got confused between the different gTLDs that his companies run and forgotten that he doesn’t have to pay the government for this one. The less charitable explanation is that he’s deliberately trying to mislead, for whatever reason. If you want to do a bit more investigative journalism, it would be interesting to find out which it is. My money is on simple error, on the basis that cock-up is always more common than conspiracy. But it would still be worth clearing up.

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  2. Does anybody really care about this? At All?

    I didn’t think so.

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