HavenCo in Uncharted Waters

LONDON (06/08/2000) - HavenCo, a multiple-location Web hosting service, received unbelievable publicity this week when it announced a plan to provide data-hosting services operated out of a World War II military site off the southeast coast of Britain, where the firm says it would be free from taxes and government regulation.

The abandoned fortress - in reality, a 10-by-25-meter asphalt platform supported by two concrete pillars - was claimed in 1967 by an eccentric former British major, Roy Bates, who declared independent sovereign-nation status for the structure and named it "Sealand." HavenCo, which is in the process of raising $3 million from an assortment of angel investors, has struck a deal with Bates, gaining exclusive rights to host one of its facilities on Sealand.

The deal has captured the imagination of the Internet industry and, more importantly, the media, where HavenCo has been featured in the New York Times and on the July cover of Wired magazine. Unfortunately, Sealand's status as a sovereign nation is very much an unsettled question. This week, the British government said it did not recognize Sealand's sovereignty, and because it is located inside British territorial waters, it might be subject to government regulation. If the Foreign Office decides to make an issue of forcing HavenCo to comply with British regulations, there's little doubt that this mini self-dubbed nation would be forced to comply.

HavenCo's founders are unfazed. "We expected there was a reasonable chance that this would happen from the beginning," said HavenCo CEO Sean Hastings. "You can't guarantee the sovereignty of any country, but the nature of what we're doing will not change." Hastings says that although the business plan for the company does contain the observation that publicity from Sealand's bizarre history could only help launch the service, he and his cofounders were inspired more by their common ideology of data and commerce free from regulation.

And sovereignty aside, Sealand is a valued colocation facility because of its physical security. It is six miles from the nearest landmass and has the added bonus of its own security. In the past, its owners have been known to shoot at ships that approach the platform without permission.

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