Bouvet Island: The Uninhabited Island With Its Own Top-Level Internet Domain

Oct 8, 2019 0 comments

As far as islands go, Bouvet is pretty insignificant—a speck of rock located in the South Atlantic Ocean over 1,600 kilometers off the coast of Antarctica. It is the most remote island in the world. Its nearest inhabited neighbor is Tristan da Cunha, an isolated spot by itself, located 2,260 kilometers away.

Bouvet Island is less than 50 square kilometers in size and is almost entirely covered by a glacier. But underneath that ice lies a fiery volcano that’s still warm to the touch, so to speak. Since the last eruption, some four thousand years ago, everything has frozen over. Now the island is home to thousands of penguins and dozens of species of seabirds. It also has a weather station, and its own top-level Internet domain.

Bouvet Island

Bouvet Island. Photo credit: Nodir Tursunzade/

A top-level domain (TLD) is one that comes after the dot in an internet address, such as .com, .net and .org. These are the most commonly used generic TLDs. In addition, every country has a two-letter domain name associated with it. The United States, for instance, uses .us, the United Kingdom uses .uk, Australia uses .au, China uses .cn, India uses .in and so on. Anybody can buy a generic TLD, but a country code TLD is usually restricted to citizens of that country, or require some kind of a physical presence in its soil to acquire one. A notable exception is the .tv domain. The TLD does not stand for “television” as some of you may think, but is actually the country-code TLD of the island nation Tuvalu, situated about midway between Hawaii and Australia. Realizing the commercial potentiality of the .tv domain, Tuvalu opened up registration of its TLD for all in 1998. Royalties from .tv addresses now account for ten percent of the country’s revenue.

Now Bouvet Island is not a sovereign nation. It is also uninhabited. Yet, it has a top-level domain .bv. How did this happen?

Bouvet Island

Bouvet Island

Bouvet Island. Photo credit: NASA

Since the 1970s, the United Nation’s Statistics Division has maintained a publication called the Standard Country or Area Codes for Statistical Use that assigns a three-digit code to group nations and geographic regions for statistical analysis. When the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) came into being in 1974, it adopted the UN’s area codes as well as developing its own standard called ISO 3166 for the representation of names of countries and their subdivisions.

The ISO 3166 standard contains several lists, but the most important one for our purposes is ISO 3166-1 alpha-2, which is a two-letter country code for each country and their subdivisions. All independent nations and any dependent territory with sufficient autonomy got assigned a two-letter code. For example, Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory, but is self-governed through a parliament and elections held every four years. The British Government is still responsible in matters such as defense and external affairs but Gibraltar’s government is not subordinate to the Government of the United Kingdom. Gibraltar, in other words, is an autonomous territory. It is assigned the country code GI. Another example is Guam, an unincorporated territory of the United States in the western Pacific Ocean. Guam has the country code GU. Similarly, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, both autonomous territories under Denmark, have their own country codes despite not being independent nations.

Bouvet Island is a part of Norway but enjoys a similar geopolitical status, and thus has its own country code—BV.

In 1988, when the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) began managing top-level domains, rather than getting into the messy business of deciding what is and what is not a country, it simply pulled the list from ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 and assigned a country-level TLD to all the entries. In this way Bouvet Island ended up with .bv domain in August 1997.

country code tld

The domain is managed by the Norwegian government, but there currently is no way to register a domain with this TLD. It remains unused along with .sj, another top-level domain managed by Norway and assigned to Svalbard and Jan Mayen.

To be fair, Bouvet Island is not the only uninhabited island with its own top-level domain. The Heard and McDonald Islands are also uninhabited with the domain .hm. But Australia, under whose jurisdiction the island lies, has opened up the .hm domain for use outside of the islands.

In 2012, Norid, the Norwegian registrar that manages the .bv domain, toyed with the idea of releasing the domain in the Dutch market, where BV is the common abbreviation used to mean “limited company” just like “Ltd” in used in English-speaking country. Many Dutch businesses, it was thought, would love to own a vanity domain that ended in .bv. But the Norwegian Communications Authority vetoed the idea.


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