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Expert says hub plans are a 'backwards step'

Govt hub control would hurt ISP industry, Gartner analyst says

AN international expert at Gartner Inc has poured doubt on the potential effectiveness of a state-run Internet hub, calling the planned consolidation “a backwards step” as private sector representatives met with officials Tuesday to discuss the controversial decision.

Former editor of the Financial Times’ Asia telecoms section and author of the book Telecommunications Development in Asia, Nick Ingelbrecht is an analyst for Gartner Inc – an international technology research and advisory company.

On Tuesday he emailed the Post his analysis of government plans to create a domestic Internet exchange (DIX) and a single international Internet exchange (IIX), both to be run by state body Telecom Cambodia (TC). If implemented, all domestic and international Internet traffic would have to flow through the government, rather than private companies who currently run network links.

TC told the Post last month that this would enable it to control Internet access, while providing companies with cheaper connections to international lines through wholesale buys.

However, Internet service providers (ISPs) and domestic commentators have warned that potential increased costs involved – as the nation’s two DIXs are currently provided without charge – and potential for unreliable service would cripple the fledgling ICT industry.

Both parties were set to discuss the issue at a Government-Private Sector Forum meeting on laws, taxation and government, an invitation-only event held at the Ministry of Finance late Tuesday afternoon.

When quizzed on the effect of the government’s proposed model, Ingelbrecht said: “In practical terms, mandatory use of a central Internet exchange as the only international link usually results in under-provisioning and the quality of use [of the] experience drops. It represents a pretty big backward step. It also means that ISPs have few ways to compete.”

He added that the country that resembles the Cambodian proposal most closely “would appear to be China, which filters content at the international gateways”.

Ingelbrecht said that independent, commercial ISPs “don’t really exist” in China.

He concluded by saying that the future of the development of the Internet in Cambodia “ultimately depends on the government’s overriding policy objectives – social control/individual choice versus economic development”.

The analysis coincided with the start of a four-day course run by UN’s Asian and Pacific Training Centre for ICT (ACTICT), intended to educate government about the use of technology in governance.

It prompted discussion from officials about the importance and challenges of ICT development within a political system containing interlocking ministerial departments.

At the launch of the scheme at Phnom Penh’s Intercontinental Hotel Tuesday morning, National ICT Development Authority (NiDA) Secretary General Leewood Phu read a quotation from the course book, which said: “Policy makers are often unfamiliar with technology needed for national development.”

It went on the say that many policy makers have shied away from implementing change for that reason.

Phu continued by saying to the packed audience of government officials: “As many of you are aware, in the Cambodian government we are having that problem.

“For example, in the appointment of a relevant official to work with ACTICT for some reason NiDA was overlooked. They appointed someone from within the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications to work with ICT.”

However, following the meeting, he confirmed NiDA’s stance on the Internet plan, saying that a centralised hub should be hosted by the government in “initial stages” of ICT development.

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