Shangri-La Shanghaied: Outsiders Seize `Bhutan' for Their Web Sites
By Jonathan Karp Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal
The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, tucked between India and Tibet, is
one of the world's most sheltered nations. Few of its 650,000 people,
mostly Buddhists, have telephones or televisions, let alone access to the
Still, Kinley Dorji, editor of the national newspaper, was determined to
create the first authentic Bhutan Web site. And he was stunned to learn
that the most logical addresses -- Bhutan.com and Bhutan.net -- had already
been registered, by "poachers," he says.
A Canadian who owns Bhutan.com offered to sell it for $50,000. An
Australian company demanded $2,500 for Bhutan.net. Either is a fortune for
a country where the per-capita gross national product is $180.
But that's not the point for this shattered Shangri-La. "Anyone who
believes that the world is full of well-intentioned people need to
seriously review their naivete," Mr. Dorji cautioned in an editorial on his
brush with the outside world.
In Vancouver, entrepreuner John Black says he registered Bhutan.com --
along with other geographical sites -- because he knew "someone from that
area" who might put it to use.
In fact, Bhutan.com was in use, for awhile. Internet surfers who logged on
found a picture of a person lounging in a hammock under palm trees. The
site was accidentally linked with Caribbean Online, also owned by Mr.
Black, whose main business is setting up offshore operations for
multinationals in the Caribbean. He says the same glitch occurred with
other addresses he owns; surfers who keyed in "balding" and "bachelors"
sometimes ended up in the Caribbean as well.
Does Mr. Black feel he's bullying Bhutan? "Not when people are asking
ridiculous amounts of money for what I need," he says. "If I could sell
Bhutan to pick up Barbados, I'd do it." Besides, he says, other sites "have
sold for over $250,000."
Even so, Mr. Dorji decided to name the Web site after his newspaper,
Kuensel, which aptly means "enlightenment." Kuensel.com is run out of
Singapore, and Mr. Dorji updates it via a United Nations system because
regular electronic mail isn't available in Bhutan.
Early feedback indicates a healthy appetite for news about Bhutan, he says.
But information junkies shouldn't expect hot news. The lead headline of
Kuensel's May 10, 1997, on-line edition read: Imports exceed exports in