A junk drop is an anxiety-inducing prospect for any domain registry, but what if the registry is a national government and domain revenues are suddenly a huge portion of the money it has to spend on public services?
That’s the situation the Caribbean island of Anguilla finds itself in today, having benefited from a huge windfall last year with the sale of .ai domains but not a guarantee that its hundreds of thousands of new registrants will stick around.
Speaking to the local legislature in mid-December, Premier Ellis Webster said that .ai sales brought in a projected 77.18 million East Caribbean Dollars ($28.5 million) in 2023, compared to its start-of-year budget estimate of EC$24 million ($8.9 million).
That’s a huge chunk — about 20% — of the government’s overall 2023 revenue of EC$399.13 million ($148 million).
Just two years earlier, before the popularization of AI with the rise of tools such as ChatGPT, domains were bringing in just shy of EC$20 million ($7.4 million) against an overall government revenue of EC$220 million ($81.4 million).
But it seems Webster has been well-advised on the speculative nature of the domain name industry. He told lawmakers .ai’s performance was “a moment of pride and potential” but added that it “also calls for a moment of introspection and caution”.
The main beneficiary of the new domain money will be the development of Anguilla’s small single airport and growing the island’s important tourism sector, Webster indicated, something governments have been promising for years. Roads and schools will also see investment.
Anguilla is a British overseas territory with an estimated population of about 16,000.
According to a transcript of his remarks (pdf), Webster said:
We must acknowledge that these revenue streams, while robust, are not under the direct control of our government. The digital landscape is ever-changing, and what seems like a perennial source today can rapidly evolve tomorrow…
Our approach must be balanced — leveraging this opportunity to enhance our infrastructure and services while maintaining a diversified and sustainable revenue base. This will ensure that we do not find ourselves in a precarious position should the dynamics of the digital domain market shift
While .ai may be somewhat resistant to over-speculation due to its high prices (up to 10x .com, depending where you buy), those high prices may also inspire speculators to let their names drop if the .ai aftermarket fails to live up to expectations.
It seems certain that AI is going to become an all-pervasive force in human civilization in the coming years, but there’s always the risk that the same might not be true of .ai.