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By Craig DeSilva

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (January 11, 2000 - PIDP/CPIS)---Entering the World Wide Web may be a double-edged sword for many small Pacific Island nations.

On one hand, the Internet could provide more benefits and opportunities for Pacific Islanders. On the other hand, it could also provide unwanted competition for many small Pacific Island entrepreneurs who will be forced to compete on the global marketplace.

This is the assessment of Richard Barber, former executive director of the Pacific Telecommunications Council and one of the moderators at the PTC’s upcoming annual conference in Honolulu.

The PTC will launch its 22nd annual conference January 30 - February 3 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki. Entitled "A New Vision for the 21st Century," the conference is expected to attract more than 1,600 global telecommunications and information technology leaders from the Asia-Pacific region.

Among the issues to be discussed at the conference include the social and economic implications the Web will have on many developing Pacific Island nations.

"If you’re running a bookstore in Suva and half the school students are ordering books from, the bookstore guy won’t have any business," Barber said.

Barber questions whether the Internet will bring economic prosperity to the region. But he said the Web is sure to bring more opportunities to the Pacific.

Another issue to be discussed during the conference includes how to bring greater Internet access to the Pacific. Cost has been one of the major barriers of increased access.

"The cost of international connectivity in the Pacific Islands is quite high compared to the U.S. or developed countries," said Barber, who is also an adjunct fellow at the East-West Center. "There’s potential for a large number of customers out there, but if you don’t have access, they can’t play the game."

Barber said most Pacific Island countries have access to the Internet. The big users are mainly in government and education. But he said the Web has been slow to penetrate to the outlining local populations. He said that should change once prices come down and more access is made available.

"They should be getting ready for it," he added.

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