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Future of .io domains has become party-political issue in the UK

The future of the Chagos Islands and therefore the longevity of .io domain names may well depend on which party holds the reins of power in the UK.

The current Conservative government under Theresa May has this month rejected an international court ruling calling for the British Indian Ocean Territory — currently the official name of the archipelago — to be wound down and the lands returned to the exiled Chagossians.

But the leader of the official opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, has reportedly slammed the government’s position and said Labour is “committed to respecting the advisory opinion in full, so as to ensure that Chagossians are able to return to their homes”.

In February, the International Court of Justice ruled that the UK had kept control of the islands unlawfully when Mauritius, which had the prior claim, gained its independence in 1968.

The couple thousand natives were kicked out of the country a few years later to make way for a US naval base, and have been living in Mauritius and the Seychelles with no ability to return ever since.

Were the UK to follow the ICJ ruling, it would quite possibly mean the end of BIOT as the name of the islands and therefore the demise of its two-letter country code, IO, and therefore the eventual retirement of the popular .io domain name.

.io, which is believed to have around 270,000 domains, is run by London-based Internet Computer Bureau Ltd, which Afilias bought for $70 million two years ago.

It’s popular with tech startups as a kind of domain hack for “input/output”.

Now that the UK government has officially come out against the ICJ ruling, and Labour has supported it, it appears the future of the Chagossians and .io registrants alike will depend rather on who is occupying 10 Downing Street in future.

Start-ups protest “the dark side of .io”

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2015, Domain Registries

Two technology start-up companies that use .io domain name are to campaign on behalf of the exiled natives of the islands represented by the ccTLD.

As you’re no doubt aware, in recent years .io became a popular TLD among young tech firms squeezed out of .com by the lack of decent available names.

It could be understood to mean “input/output”, but the ccTLD actually represents the British Indian Ocean Territory, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean with a storied past.

It’s managed by UK-based Internet Computer Bureau, which runs several obscure overseas ccTLDs.

Over the last year or so, there’s been increasing awareness among .io registrants of BIOT’s recent history, which isn’t great.

The biggest island in the territory is Diego Garcia. In the 1960s, about 1,800 people — known as Chagossians — lived there.

But they were all forced to leave by the UK government in the early 1970s as part of a move to lease essentially the entire island to the US military.

This was at the height of the Cold War, when the US believed the islands were strategically important.

According to the UK Chagos Support Association, the exile was carried out covertly and many of those kicked off the islands were forced to live in “utmost poverty” in nearby Mauritius.

Now, Diego Garcia is populated by about 3,000 military personnel, mostly Americans, who staff the air and naval bases that were established following the Chagossians’ exile.

But the US lease is due to expire next year, so those backing the Chagossian cause reckon they’ve got an unprecedented opportunity to get the UK government to let them return.

You can read about the campaign here.

How does this all relate to domain names?

Two .io-using start-ups — Seats.io and BigBoards.io — said late last week that they have pledged their support to the cause.

In a press release, Seats.io’s “Chief Everything Officer” Ben Verbeken said the company will soon launch a web site at thedarksideof.io, “where companies can pledge to match the cost of registering their .io domain name with a donation to a Chagossian group or charity.”

.io names currently cost about $100 for the first year and about $50 a year thereafter.

Verbeken said: “When we learned about the Chagossian people’s story, we had two choices. We could give up our domain name and change the name of our business. But we would just be running away from the problem. So we decided to accept our social responsibility and actually help the Chagossian people a bit.”

The domain thedarksideof.io currently leads to a placeholder.

You can read more of the political back-story at The Guardian