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Insight on Silicon Valley's Net edge

Insight on Silicon Valley's Net edge

Here's a report from the Asia-Pacific leg of my Internet Futures speaking tour. The good news is I was able to dial locally into the Internet from San Francisco, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

Silicon Valley was home for 22 years, but during this trip, I pretended to be from Maine, gave my pitch, and listened. Silicon Valley is the only place on earth not trying to figure out how to become Silicon Valley.

In San Francisco, one "Valley" guy asked me why I was going to Asia to teach foreigners how to compete with the US. That gave me something to think about in passport control lines. One "Valley" gal showed me www.channelA.com which proves that Asia already knows.

In Tokyo, I learned that Japan has 1000 ISPs. One is Nippon Telephone and Telegraph (NTT) at www.ntt.com. Contrary to what many Americans think, NTT has not run optical fibres to every home in Japan. Instead, NTT is busy rolling out ISDN, which would have been great in the 1980s.

Intending to hasten the Information Age, I told several hundred Japanese that NTT, like all telephone monopolies should be prohibited from offering Internet service.

From Tokyo, I went to Hong Kong, which was exhilarating. Businesses there are busy diversifying out of real estate and financial services to become Asia's Silicon Valley (www.hkitc.org). Hong Kong will not be taken over by Communists from the People's Republic of China. It will be vice versa.

Hong Kong has 100 ISPs. One is Hong Kong Telephone, which is more of a threat to Hong Kong's future than the People's Republic of China.

In Singapore, I learned of "Singapore One" -- a grand plan to build the information infrastructure needed to turn Singapore into Asia's Silicon Valley (www.s-one.gov.sg). The plan is impressive. It involves ATM, ADSL, cable TV modems, and sadly, Singapore Telephone. I would add some competition and rename the plan "Singapore Many".

No censor, no feeling

Singapore is not entirely happy with the Internet. Its three ISPs share an expensive 45Mbps link to the United States because most of Singapore's Internet traffic is with the United States, and content is not localised. Furthermore, much of this content needs censoring. Finally, these ISPs overpay their telephone monopoly for the link, and unlike ISPs in the United States, they have to pay for both ends.

My last stop was Kuala Lumpur which, if you're wondering, is the capital of Malaysia. Many semiconductors and my favourite shirts are made there.

Kuala Lumpur is home to the Petronas Twin Towers -- the world's tallest office buildings, and to Malaysia's Multimedia Super Corridor (www.mdc.com.my).

Multimedia Super Corridor is a breathtaking grand plan, backed to the hilt by Malaysia's prime minister, to turn 50km of palm oil plantations south of Kuala Lumpur into Asia's 21st-century Silicon Valley. This grand plan will succeed as soon as Malaysia figures out why Silicon Valley does not have a prime minister.

My advice was to give Malaysia's telephone monopoly more competition in providing Multimedia Super Corridor's Internet infrastructure. This infrastructure will not be built once. It will need to evolve rapidly for the foreseeable future.

So, why tell Asia what we know about the Internet?

This question provokes answers from both sides of a deep ideological divide. One side believes life is a zero-sum game. The other believes life is win-win. Count me with the optimists promoting free trade and the Internet as global information infrastructure.

We'll learn as much about the Internet from Asia as Asians will from us.

One of the things Asia taught me is that a day can last 48 hours. This sounds impossible until you've spent more than 24 hours, one day, getting back to the US across the dateline from Kuala Lumpur.

Technology pundit Bob Metcalfe invented Ethernet in 1973 and founded 3Com in 1979, and today he specialises in the Internet. Send e-mail to: Metcalfe@infoworld.com


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