AI boom makes millions for an unlikely industry player: Anguilla

The integration of artificial intelligence into everyday life has raised doubts and disturbing questions among many about the future path of humanity. But in Anguilla, a small Caribbean island east of Puerto Rico, the artificial intelligence boom has made the country a fortune.

The British territory collects a fee on each registration for Internet addresses ending in “.ai,” which is the domain name assigned to the island, such as “.fr” for France and “.jp” for Japan. With companies wanting internet addresses that communicate that they are at the forefront of the artificial intelligence boom – such as Elon Musk’s X.ai website for his artificial intelligence company – Anguilla has recently received a huge influx of name requests of domain.

According to government data, for each domain registration, the Anguilla government gets anywhere from $140 to thousands of dollars from website names sold at auctions. Last year, the Anguilla government raised approximately $32 million from these taxes. This equated to more than 10% of gross domestic product for a territory of nearly 16,000 people and 35 square miles.

“Some call it a godsend,” said Anguilla Premier Ellis Webster. “We just call it God smiling at us.”

Webster said the government used the money to provide free health care to citizens 70 and older and allocated millions of dollars to complete construction of a school and vocational training center. The government has also allocated funds to improve its airport; doubled the budget for activities, events and sports facilities; and increased the budget for citizens seeking medical treatment abroad, she said.

The island, which relies heavily on tourism, was hit hard by travel restrictions imposed by the pandemic and a devastating hurricane in 2017. Revenue from .ai domains was the boost the country needed.

“We never thought it would have this potential,” Mr. Webster said.

Anguilla’s control over .ai files dates back to the dawn of the Internet, when nations and territories were given their own slice of cyberspace. Anguilla received the .ai domain, and its government, whose website is www.gov.ai., didn’t make much from it until the domain names started bringing in millions. Officials aren’t sure how long the benefit will last, but they expect 2024 to bring similar revenue to last year from domain names.

It’s not the first time it’s made a big difference to a grateful domain owner. Tuvalu, a series of islands northwest of Australia, sold the rights to its suffix, “.tv,” to a Canadian entrepreneur for $50 million, and used the money to provide electricity to the outer islands, create scholarships and finance the United Nations accession process.

In the 1990s, the South Pacific island of Niue granted an American businessman the rights to the “.nu” suffix in exchange for an Internet connection. The island later claimed it had been scammed out of money from the sale of the domain name to thousands of Scandinavians attracted by the suffix “nu,” which means “now” in Swedish, Danish and Dutch.

But Anguilla realized soon enough that it couldn’t let this unexpected jackpot slip away.

“It’s just lucky for us“,” Said Mr. Webster.

Brian Hoerst contributed to the reporting.