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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
An Asian pot-pourri
This issue of info has a distinctly Asian theme, including articles on the free and open software movement in South Korea, a comparison of text messaging in Hong Kong and China, the development of the telecommunication sector in Nepal, and a comparative analysis of convergence and regulatory frameworks in Korea and the UK. In addition there are articles on interconnection strategies in the internet industry and the need for regulation, exploration of technological, economic and regulatory factors affecting broadband rollout in the local loop, and eBay’s takeover of Skype. In part this Asian mélange is merely coincidental, but it is also a reflection I think both of Western interest in Asian communication issues and also the development that is taking place in good quality researchers of Asian origin. It reflects the globalisation that is taking place.
Three articles in particular stand out in this issue. The first, by Kwang-Suk Lee, examines the free and open source software (FOSS) movement and the attempts by the government in South Korea to counter dependence on Microsoft. He shows how the state has an important role to play in protecting freedom of choice by creating the conditions for community-based use of software technology. However, there are lessons from elsewhere which must be learned because the economic paradigm of FOSS is vulnerable and could still surrender to the proprietary logic of the software market.
The second article looks at interconnection in the internet industry. Size not only matters, but it also seems to be the case that being big is increasingly a necessity in order to compete meaningfully. Essentially internet service providers (ISPs) operate in a two-tier market – backbone and access markets. Seungjae Shin illustrates the difficulties small ISPs face in reaching a peering arrangement in the access market work even though local peering is efficient for routing internet traffic. This is because of the market power of the internet backbone providers (IBPs) who impose conditions for peering that rule out thousands of small ISPs. These small ISPs are required to pay a transit fee in addition to interconnection costs and represent a significant barrier to entry. Shin ends his article with important questions for policy makers:
It is time for regulators to think carefully about the following two situations: one is that internet privatization allows larger IBPs to discriminate against smaller ISPs to make larger profits and create faster and bigger Internet connections through de-peering. The second concern is that if peering is socially desirable, Internet policy makers need to create environments that make peering arrangements possible in the local internet access market.
Finally, it is fascinating to consider the reasons for the very different levels of take up in text messaging (SMS) between Hong Kong and China. The volume of SMS has exploded in China over the past five years – on New Year’s Day 2005, over one billion messages were sent. By contrast, texting has hardly grown at all in Hong Kong. Xu Yan, Min Gong and James Thong conclude that there are many factors – such as economic development, market competition, cultural differences, political censorship, etc. – that explain the difference. That is undoubtedly true but my own view of this is that cost, or more properly, the perception of cost, is a fundamental factor.
Colin BlackmanEditor of info, and an independent consultant. He may be contacted at 13 High Street, Cottenham, Cambridge CB4 8SA, UK. (E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)