Subject: AU: Reconnecting East Timor to rest of world

The Australian

April 23, 2002, Tuesday

Reconnecting East Timor to rest of world

Adrian Lynch

War-ravaged East Timor is asking for help to re-establish its vandalised telecoms system, Adrian Lynch reports

AUSTRALIAN IT and telecoms companies have been asked to donate money and equipment to help East Timor set up a wireless telephony service linking its most remote villages.

The Project Connect East Timor appeal has attracted backing from the Australian Army chief, Lieutenant-General Peter Cosgrove, the Australian Telecommunications Users Group (ATUG), and foreign aid organisations.

General Cosgrove led the predominantly Australian allied forces that went to East Timor in September 1999 after a UN-supervised referendum overwhelmingly backed political separation from Indonesia.

Donations will help connect East Timor's national and district capitals to its 489 villages.

These phoneless villages house a combined population of 281,000, subsisting on an annual per capita income of only $440.

East Timor's Transitional Government Minister for Transport and Communications, Ovidio de Jesus Amaral, recently held talks with Australian telco industry leaders about his country's lack of infrastructure and funds to build a national network.

Much of the infrastructure was deliberately destroyed by Indonesian-backed forces that opposed East Timorese independence.

The nation of East Timor consists of the eastern half of Timor island, a coastal enclave in Indonesian West Timor and an offshore island.

Amaral says that in the period between the UN referendum and the arrival of General Cosgrove's peacekeeping forces, 27 of the country's 28 telco infrastructure sites were totally destroyed, leaving the country with only an exchange building in the capital Dili, and 23 microwave towers.

A study prepared for the transitional government shows there is a need for 12,147 lines, comprising 5767 fixed lines for Dili; 1935 fixed lines shared among the 12 district capitals; 2610 mobile lines; and 1835 lines for the nation's villages.

Present plans to supply telco infrastructure by tender on a build, operate and transfer (BOT) basis are confined to Dili and the district capitals.

Amaral says building the network out to the villages -- using repeater stations linked to district capital exchanges -- is not economically viable, because of the lack of funds.

The BOT tender process, which will be finalised in May, will supply serviced areas with conventional fixed and wireless telephony, internet, television and private networks for data, video and voice.

Amaral says a projection study forecasts that demand for telephone lines in East Timor will jump by 93 per cent by 2005.

He says a "major hurdle" is the fact there are no funds for telecoms infrastructure for the villages

In coming weeks, appeal organisers will be talking to telcos and communities about how they can help.

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