Tokelau is the biggest country in the world, measured by domain extensions. A map of the world scaled to country code domain registrations was posted by Nominet on Wednesday along with a blog post by CEO Russell Haworth urging industry stakeholders to work to extend Internet access to people in underserved areas, including Africa, where ICANN’s 55th meeting wrapped up Thursday.
In his welcome message to the conference, outgoing ICANN President and CEO Fadi Chehadé referred to “striving and yearning” among Africans to gain the opportunities associated with Internet access.
“I hope the global internet community stands in support of this call,” Haworth writes. “If we work to bring the benefits of the internet to more of the world’s population, then we’ll be helping to create a truly online world.”
The tiny Pacific nation of Tokelau consists of 3 atolls inaccessible by airplanes or large boats, where 1,400 people and 31,311,498 domains live. It had its first short-wave radio installed in the 1970s. The .tk extension is the most popular country code in the world, with almost double the number of the second most popular extension, China’s .cn (16.8 million).
The story of how Tokelau came to learn what Internet domain names are is told in an interesting profile by CNN in 2012. It relates how a Dutch entrepreneur named Joost Zuurbier took Hotmail as the inspiration for a free domains service, and set out to find a country that was yet to utilize its rights under ICANN to a ccTLD. As of the article, an estimated one-sixth of Tokelau’s GDP, the smallest in the world at $1.2 million, came from advertising on expired .tk sites. Tokelau receives a source of income and internet access; millions of people around the world receive free domains; and Zuurbier had .tk administrator Freedom Registry and a life calling.
There are just over 16 million websites using German’s .de, and over 10.5 million using .uk. There are nearly 2.5 million .ca websites, while there are only 1.7 million .us websites, despite the population of the US being 9 times that of Canada. The reason for the low number of .us domains is that the early dominance of the internet led most Americans to adopt the more universal .com, and to a correspondingly reasonable assumption that sites with the .com TLD are likely based in the US, according to Wired. There are 123 million .com domains registered.
Chehadé also mentions ICANN’s long-awaited transition to international stewardship, and his own impending replacement by Göran Marby, and expresses hope for the representative diversity of the organization.
As of the CNN article 3 years ago, .tk was the third most popular ccTLD, but its growth had already exploded. Since then, Freedom Registry has become Freenom Registry, and partnered with Mali telecom Sotelma to give away free domains based in the African country (third on the continent with 344,500) through Freenom. Truly global representation in and by ICANN is connected to the goal of increasing internet access in Africa.
As the method of extending Internet access becomes a topic of popular debate, it is surely worth considering the possibility that the central question has already been answered, and that combined effort, advertising and free service make the lever long enough to move the digital world.