Everybody knows Tuvalu’s DNS country code, but very few people know much about the country Tuvalu

Think about it.  I will bet you one free round of online blackjack that you do know Tuvalu’s country code, even if you think that you don’t … think about it … think about it …

Did you guess “tv”?  If you did, you are correct.

Everybody knows Tuvalu’s country code, but very few people actually know the country Tuvalu.  How did that come to be?

This is a true story, and it is actually one of my favorite ‘feel good’ stories.

Once upon a time (all great stories have to begin with ‘once upon a time’) …

Once upon a time, there was a very small country called Tuvalu.  It is a very small country, on a very small Island in the Pacific Ocean in the Oceana area.  The total area of Tuvalu is 26 km2 . It is a little bit larger than New Jersey and a little bit smaller than Massachusettes.  Its population in 2017 was 11,192. By comparison, the least populated US state has 55,000 people.

In terms of tourism, Tuvalu has the following attractions:

  • Funatui marine conservation – The marine environment of the conservation area includes reef, lagoon, channel, and ocean; and is home to many species of fish, corals, algae, and invertebrates.
  • Diving and snorkeling – With islands made from the coral reef, Tuvalu is truly an inspiring location for Scuba Diving. 33 sq km of lagoon, reef, ocean and island habitats form part of a conservation area. It is still open to visitors for walking, snorkeling and picnicking.
  • Cultural and traditional dance.
  • Local sports – the national game of Tuvalu is te ano (the ball).  Tuvalu also has volleyball and football (soccer).
  • Touring the island by motorbike.
  • Yachting – One of the best ways to explore the nine islands of Tuvalu is by chartering a yacht and going island hopping.
  • Mangrove planting – Mangroves are an important resource in Tuvalu. They enhance local fisheries, provide material for handicrafts and firewood, and protect the islands from tidal and storm surge.
  • Tuvalu Philatelic Bureau – Stamps depicting facets of Tuvalu are printed overseas and are highly collectible.
  • Tuvalu National Library – Since its establishment in 1978, the Tuvalu National Library and Archives have been a house on an old Red Cross building in the capital Funafuti.  In leading up to the political independence from the British Colony, Tuvalu needed a library and archives to safeguard Tuvalu Cultural, Political and Public records.
  • Women’s Handicraft Center – Tuvalu fans, mats, baskets, necklaces, woodcarvings and fishhooks are famous throughout the Pacific.

Tuvalu History and Archeology

During World War II, large numbers of American troops were stationed on the islands of Tuvalu and airforce bases were strategically located to allow the allied forces to attack enemy bases in Kiribati. An old runway exists on the northeastern side of Nanumea and the remains of World War II planes are visible in the scrub.

A wreck of a landing craft can be seen on the reef near the village on Nanumea. There is another World War II airstrip on the islet of Motulalo in Nukufetau, along with the remains of plane wrecks.

Funafuti Atoll was the main base and remains of World War II debris can be seen along the main island of Fongafale. A well-preserved underground bunker is found on the islet of Tepuka. On Funafuti, the site of the drilling by scientists to prove Darwin’s theory on the formation of atolls can be found.

Darwin’s theory was proved to be correct and evidence of submerged volcanoes was found after drilling to a depth of more than 1000 feet.

Another attraction on Funafuti is “David’s Drill.” Scientists from the Royal Society of London conducted experimental drilling in the late 1800s to test Charles Darwin’s theory of atoll formation. Darwin, the famous formulator of evolution theory, believed that all coral atolls rest on a volcanic base.

The deepest bore at David’s Drill reached 928 feet but did not hit a volcanic rock. A second attempt also failed but modern science has proved that Darwin was correct. The boreholes can still be seen to this day in Fongafale village.

History of the TV domain name and its impact on Tuvalu society

Tuvalu became its own country in 1978, when it was no longer a British Colony.  Tuvalu was assigned the country TV in 1996, 24 years ago. At that time, Tuvalu was only 18 years old.  For a country, that is a baby. Its assignment of the TV country code was random. It was based on letters in its name and what country codes had already been assigned.  TU belonged to Tunisia, so the next letter combination was TV.

When most English speakers think of TV they do not think of Tuvalu.  They think of television.

Tuvalu is a small country, with a small population. Although it is a beautiful country that is great to vacation to, Tuvalu did not have much that was valuable to export.  But through random chance, they were given something that was exportable — their TV domain name.

And valuable it was …

On 6 August 1998, two years after Tuvalu was assigned the TV domain name, Tuvalu made an agreement with information.ca.  information.ca paid Tuvalu $50 million dollars for the exclusive rights to market the TV domain name until 2048, a 50 year agreement.

But information.ca did not keep up with its agreed-upon payments, so Idealab took over the $50 million to be paid over 10 years.  

Now, this is the good part of the story …

With the first $1 million payment, Tuvalu was finally able to afford to join the United Nations.  In other words, Tuvalu was finally able to “sit at the big boy’s table”.

There was more back and forth between different companies and the TV domain.  Whenever one company was not able to keep up with their payments, there were other companies waiting in line to take over the payment agreements.

To put things in perspective, the $1 million payments that Tuvalu gets per year for its domain name is one tenth of Tuvalu’s gross domestic product GDP, 10% of the GDP.  By comparison, Israel’s total exported GDP is 4.7%.  

And when Tuvalu is as old as Israel is and they are strong enough to manage their own country domain name … that one exportable product, I can’t even take a guess at what that is going to be worth.

The reason I like this story is not just that they had this “Natural Resource” that was valuable and they could sell it, but it is what the government did with that money, something that benefited the whole society … that is what makes this story special.