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The small Caribbean island making a fortune from artificial intelligence

The .ai internet domain for Anguilla is attracting tech companies interested in using the domain extension for their AI services

Isla de Anguila
Anguilla is a British Overseas Territory in the Caribbean, and one of the most northerly of the Leeward Islands in the Lesser Antilles.Hedelin F. (Andia/ Universal Images Group/ Getty)
Verónica M. Garrido

In 1988, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) assigned two-letter domains for every country. Spain was given .es, .mx for Mexico and .uk for the United Kingdom. Anguilla didn’t realize it at the time, but the little Caribbean island was fortunate to get the .ai top-level domain. Nearly four decades later, the artificial intelligence boom is bringing in much needed income to the island of Anguilla, all because of the .ai domain extension. Big and small companies want to build AI websites using Anguilla’s .ai domain, which charges for the privilege. Domain registrations and investments now make up a third of Anguilla’s revenue in this British Overseas Territory about 155 miles (250 kilometers) from Puerto Rico.

Blue seas, white sand beaches and coral reefs are the main attractions of this island, which depends largely on tourism. In 2020, the most expensive domain on the island, expert.ai, sold for €95,000 ($103,300). The real breakthrough came with the launch of ChatGPT on November 30, 2022. Within five months, .ai domain registrations soared. Sales nearly quadrupled, says Vince Cate, who manages domain registrations for the Anguillan government. “We already represent approximately a third of the government budget,” he said.

Every national government manages the rates and renewal periods of its domains, says Gonzalo de la Cruz, from Especialistas Web. In Spain, the cost of each .es domain registration ranges from €1-€10 ($1.09-$10.87) and must be renewed every year. Anguilla earned $3 million from domain registrations in January 2024 alone, but Cate estimates that the figure will double by the time they’re due for renewal. “We register domains for two years. If we maintain this rate of $3 million per month for new domains, our income will jump to $6 million per month when renewals are required in a year’s time.”

Some AI companies like stability.ai and character.ai have already claimed their domain names. Big players like Google, Meta and X (formerly Twitter) have also staked their claims in the AI domain. In 2023, over 200,000 domain names were registered. Anguilla’s revenue sources include tourism, offshore banking, and fishing, with a GDP in 2020 topping €275 million ($300 million). Despite the island’s small size and population of around 16,000, domain registration revenue is significant. Estimates indicate registrations could bring in €72 million ($78.3 million) by 2025.

Invest in .ai domains

Before the trend, and long before ChatGPT, there was a trailblazer acquiring .ai domains. Igor Gabrielan, an AI and robotics enthusiast since childhood, started buying .ai domains in 2011 when registration opened to foreigners. He now owns 750 domains for sale, but hasn’t reaped the rewards yet. “Despite the many jewels in my collection, the big companies haven’t contacted me,” said Gabrielan. His biggest sale netted him $50,000 in exchange for portal.ai.

Gabrielan only owns one Spanish-language domain name: Amigo.ai. “I haven’t heard of large domains in Spanish,” he said. The Spanish acronym for artificial intelligence is IA, and the .ia domain hasn’t been assigned to any country.

The most popular domain extensions

Anguilla is not the only one cashing in on domain names. In 1994, Chris Clark bought the pizza.com domain name for $20 and sold it in 2008 for $2.6 million. Tuvalu, a small Polynesian country in the South Pacific, earned $50 million in 2000 by selling .tv domains to television channels. An intriguing situation occurred with the .amazon domain when the eight Amazon basin countries vied for control, but ICANN granted it to Amazon, Jeff Bezos’ multinational internet sales company.

Cate compares Tuvalu’s .tv domains with Anguilla’s .ai domains, noting a key difference. Tuvalu works though business partners for .tv domain registrations, while Anguilla manages its registrations internally. “We’re doing it locally, so the government gets almost all the money.” Meanwhile, Gabrielan is confident that the artificial intelligence growth trend will continue and companies will seek him out to buy all the sought-after .ai domains he owns.

  1. .COM Originally for private companies, the .com extension evolved in the 1990s. Now, anyone can register a .com domain without geographic restrictions.
  2. .CN The large number of .cn domains is not surprising given the size of China, its huge population and booming economy.
  3. .DE It stands for Deutschland and is Germany’s domain extension. It was the first country extension to surpass one million registrations.
  4. .NET Initially intended for network technology organizations, .net is a classic extension introduced in 1985.
  5. .UK The UK extension, launched in 1985, is now used by businesses, non-profit organizations and individuals.
  6. .ORG Stands for organization and is a classic domain extension introduced in 1985. Initially for non-commercial organizations with international users, .org is now primarily used by nonprofits, healthcare providers and cultural foundations, among others.

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