Tiny South Pacific island to lose free/universal Internet lifeline

The way most of the world knows about Niue, a 100 square mile island in the south Pacific with a population of about 1,100, is because of its country-code top-level domain (CCTLD), which is the ubiquitous .nu.

Selling the rights to .nu to international domain registrar bought the county's population unlimited access to a satellite Internet connection that downlinked to a free wifi service that had run since 2003, making Niue the first country in the world to extend free Internet to all its residents. The early rollout of projects like One Laptop Per Child ensured that the people of Niue were able to take advantage of the service. Niue is the country with the highest per-capita Internet penetration in the world.

But last month, Rocket Systems, who administered the .nu deal and the free Internet connection, announced that they would be shutting down the free link and replacing it with a paid one, because the .nu royalties had been cut. Under the new mandate, the 75% of people in Niue who relied on the service will begin paying an eye-popping NZD50/10gb to access the service. This is moderately competitive for satellite data, but by the standards of the developed world, it's amazingly expensive, especially given the country's low median per capita income.

I can't locate an explanation for the royalty decrease, but I imagine it has to do with the proliferation of new generic TLDs, from .day to .dentist to .esq to .sex to .sucks to .yoga. The artificial scarcity of names online created Niue's free Internet, and the end of that scarcity banished it.

I can't help but wonder if this couldn't have been foreseen and forestalled by using the money from the royalty to lay a transoceanic cable (very, very expensive, but then, so is unlimited satellite access), which would have had far lower operating costs once it was amortized. But hindsight is, as always, 20-20.

Emani Lui of Rocket Systems said that subsidy had been reduced and the company now had to charge for the service.

But he said it would mean a more comprehensive service which people had long sought.

"Knowing that we couldn't deliver that service because it was free. But now that we are able to charge for our services they have been forthcoming with encouraging feedback. Some have been a little bit hesitant."

Niue to get better internet service - at a cost [Radio NZ]

(Image: Classroom in Niue, Dr Brains, CC-BY)