With a population of only 164,000 and roughly two adult web pages for every man, woman and child in the country, São Tomé and its more than a quarter of million adult web pages are at the center of a international debate about how to properly administer top-level country-specific domains on the Internet.
Very similar to Verisign’s acquisition of the “.tv” TLD in 2001, originally assigned to the small Pacific island nation of Tuvala and then purchased and marketed as a television-oriented domain, São Tomé’s domain administration was given to Aguinaldo Salvaterra, a local network engineer and Internet café owner, and Jon Karlung, chief executive of Sweden’s oldest Internet operating company, Bahnhof Internet, in 1999.
According to São Tomé officials, Karlung and Salvaterra made promises at their appointment that they would set up a fast link to the Bahnhof network center in Sweden and give free connection to the São Tomé parliament.
Within months Bahnhof began marketing the .st domain as a shortened version of “site,” and, according to press reports at the time, Karlung believed that the .st TLD would become the second largest TLD after .com.
Following two years of slow registrations, Bahnhof announced in early July 2002 that it intended to market the TLD as a Stockholm-specific domain. Less than a month later, the company announced it would be marketing .st as an abbreviation of “street.”
The issue came to a head in June, when Secure Computing published a report that said the .st TLD was responsible for 307,000 of Africa’s 389,400 adult web pages.
São Tomé’s infrastructure minister, Deolindo Costa de Boa Esperanca, told London’s Financial Times that the report was generating a serious image problem for his country.
Bahnhof’s Karlung insisted that the report was inaccurate and that only around 5,000 clients used the .st TLD.
Karlung also told the Financial Times that he didn’t believe his company had done anything wrong and had only applied to take over the .st domain after discovering it was being managed by a dead priest.