Australian telecoms company Telstra said it would end its presence in Cambodia when
it announced the transfer of its last asset in the country to Cogetel, a local company.
Telstra announced August 1 it would hand over the Cambodian arm of Bigpond, its internet
service provider (ISP). It refused to comment on the deal's value.
The new company will continue to operate under the Bigpond brand name until the end
of July 2003. By then Bigpond's 8,000 customers will likely need to change email
addresses and website domain names. General manager Paul Blanche-Horgan said there
were to be "no changes at present".
Cogetel, a new entrant into Cambodia's internet industry, will take over the business
under president Vanthan Huot. The current staff and management of Telstra will remain
in their positions, with Blanche-Horgan staying on as general manager.
Sirat Chum, who was formerly country manager of French telecoms equipment manufacturer
Alcatel and prior to that director-general of the Cambodian Post and Telecom Administration,
will sit on the Cogetel board.
The deal ends more than a decade of the company's presence. Telstra, which is also
in Vietnam and Laos, came here in 1990 and invested heavily, and profitably, in establishing
the country's telecoms infrastructure. However it was squeezed out of the international
telephone business when its contract ended in October 2000.
The company, which is 51 percent owned by the Australian government, had lobbied
for an extension to its contract. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer raised
the issue in May 2000 with Prime Minister Hun Sen, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and
Finance Minister Keat Chhon.
His efforts were to no avail and two new licenses for international direct dialing
went to Cambodia Telecom and Tele2.
Bigpond started a joint venture with the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications
(MPT) in 1997 when it signed a 35 year agreement with the government. The deal gave
it and Cambodian-Canadian operator CamNet exclusive rights to provide internet services
until February 2002.
But less than a year later MPT launched another joint venture, Camintel, in direct
competition with Bigpond. In July 2001 MPT again breached the exclusivity agreement
when it granted a license to MobiTel to run its Telesurf ISP. However Blanche-Horgan
indicated the repeated breaches were not a factor in Telstra's exit.
"I do not believe there were any material breaches by the Government,"
he stated in an emailed reply to the Post.