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Asian ISPs Mobilize To Pressure US On Tariffs

Asian ISPs are mobilizing to bring about better tariff settlement for international Internet connections between Asia and the U.S.

Current tariff structures are increasingly going to pose challenges to telecom and ISP operators in the region, according to Bram Dov Abramson, an analyst at Washington-based Telegeography Inc.

Asian ISPs pay for the entire leased line to the U.S.--in contrast to non-Internet leased lines, whose cost is equally shared between the U.S. and Asian parties.

Earlier this year, a joint statement was issued by eight Asian telcos, calling for U.S. operators to share the costs of the international cables connecting the U.S. and the rest of the Internet.

The Asian telcos were the Communications Authority of Thailand, Chunghwa, Indosat, KDD, Korea Telecom, Philippine Long Distance Telephone, Singapore Telecom, and Telekom Malaysia.

"It is very hard to say exactly how much revenue is lost by Asia-Pacific ISPs because of the tariff imbalance, particularly given the secrecy surrounding many interconnect agreements," Abramson said in an exclusive interview.

Telegeography is a leading research organization charting telecom links and Internet backbone maps for Europe, Asia, Africa, and the U.S. Its 290-page yearbook "TeleGeography 1999" features a special section on Internet topography and its impact on ISPs and telcos.

The Asian Internet industry can address some of the traffic imbalance by local content generation, according to Abramson.

"Asia must become a destination on the Web, and not just a starting point, both for Asians and others. With large overseas diaspora, there's no reason that this can't happen: portals, for instance, can be designed to serve as surfing hubs to quickly reorganize users around regional content," Abramson suggested.

He said concerted efforts must be launched to provide access through community tele-centers, and to ensure that content development is driven by real needs.

"Asian ISPs have been the most visible in drawing attention to this problem of late, though European Internet carriers like Deutsche Telekom have certainly not been silent over the last few years," Abramson observed.

The initiatives which have come together in Singapore this month -- including APRICOT (Asia Pacific Regional Internet Conference on Operational Technologies) and various Asia-Pacific networking group meetings--may be an encouraging sign of resolving such issues.

But one of the roadblocks to better overall tariff agreements is the secrecy that surrounds many interconnection agreements.

"As the ISP sector in Asian countries like India grows in the wake of recent liberalization, it will be important to make sure that institutional spaces be created for ISPs to cooperate on issues of common importance -- not just on policy advocacy and representation, but on actual infrastructure and content initiatives," Abramson urged.

"The resources that will be necessary to create such an institutional space among Indian ISPs shouldn't be neglected, especially if smaller and remote ISPs are to have a voice within that kind of forum," he said.

In the telecommunications world, the International Telecommunications Union works out the sticking points in the relationships between interconnecting carriers.

"Governance in the Internet world has evolved without that kind of place," Abramson explained.