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RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Feb. 24) - Problems with international phone calls reaching the Cook Islands could be due to operators re-routing calls through different countries, according to Telecom Cook Islands boss Stu Davies.

There were reports last week of calls from America being blocked on their way to Rarotonga, affecting businesses dealing with companies overseas.

Davies says the problem could be caused by a practice known as 'least cost routing', where phone companies use a 'third tier carrier' - another company that offers to connect the call for them.

Often the call is diverted through another country's exchange, and sometimes the call fails to make it to the final destination.

The problem is worse for small countries like those in the Pacific because there are fewer international calls made to and from the destination.

"A lot of operators use a process called least cost routing. They use third tier carriers who have no infrastructure in place, but what they do is buy and sell minutes," explained Davies, who says that the problem is not a new one.

The third tier carriers buy up millions of minutes to and from certain telephone exchanges, which they can then sell cheaply to operators like AT&T, who will use the carrier, as the cost is cheaper.

He said that one recent example of least cost routing involved calls from Australia being diverted through France on their way to the final destination.

However Davies said that the main consideration in the deal was usually cost.

"The third tier carriers are, in the end, just buying and selling minutes. They are not concerned about smaller markets like the Cook Islands and sometimes they find they are unable to connect the calls here," he said.

"They will route the calls through one country or another but that country may have no way of forwarding the call onto the Cooks. The calls end up going into a black hole.

"It is an issue with the Pacific Islands Telecom Association and places like Palau and Tonga have been very vocal about it.

"When we hear of problems we negotiate with the overseas carriers and attempt to correct it. But often after a few days they will go back to the cheapest option on paper."

One frustrated caller from overseas who was unable to get a line into the Cook Islands said he thought the problem could be related to the use of some Cook Islands numbers by sex line operators.

However, Davies said that although carriers sometimes blocked "mature entertainment lines" they would not cut off a country destination.

He said that although some 00682 numbers are used by the sex industry overseas they were not promoted by TCI.

"TCI does not itself market lines," said Davies. "This would be done through a third party and often people will pirate numbers."

March 1, 2003

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