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Eastern Europe: Internet - Testing New Technology

Washington, 14 August 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Two American organizations have entered into an agreement to provide high-speed Internet technology to several countries in Eastern Europe.

The Open Society Institute (OSI), a part of the non-profit network of organizations funded by Hungarian-born American financier George Soros, and NetSat Express, a supplier of Internet access via satellite, will test the new Internet technology in Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia.

The agreement calls for NetSat to provide two types of satellite terminals called "DirecPC" and "NetSat Express" to the six countries. OSI will test the technology at its offices in Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia. The Stefan Batory Foundation in Poland and the International Renaissance Foundation in Ukraine will use the terminals in their offices.

Jonathan Peizer, Chief Information Officer at OSI, told RFE/RL the satellite technology provided by NetSat is "exciting" and "well-suited" to countries in Eastern Europe.

Peizer says the reason for this is because both types of satellite terminals do not rely heavily on the state of a country's telecommunication's infrastructure.

According to Peizer, the DirecPC terminal requires users to have access to a telephone line to transmit data to the Internet, but receives the information back from a high-speed link via the satellite. Peizer says this will greatly enhance the speed of transmission and dramatically reduce the load on the nation's telephone lines.

Peizer says the other terminal, NetSat Express, requires no on-land telecommunication infrastructure whatsoever and is a complete satellite service for both receiving and transmitting data via the Internet.

Says Peizer: "Think about it. If you are in the middle of nowhere and you have the satellite coverage, you can have a full Internet high-speed solution without any domestic infrastructure requirements. You don't need phone lines or anything. It is really exciting."

Lisa Witherspoon, NetSat's Business Manager for Eastern Europe, told RFE/RL that under the terms of the agreement, NetSat loaned the organizations in three of the countries -- Romania, Lithuania and Poland -- the terminals free of charge for a six month period of testing. At the end of their period, says Witherspoon, they may purchase the terminals if they want. She says the organizations in the other three countries purchased their terminals outright.

According to Witherspoon, Poland, Lithuania, Ukraine, Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavia will be using the DirecPC terminals. Romania is the only one of the six countries that will be using the NetSat Express terminal.

Witherspoon says NetSat intended to give all of the countries the full satellite coverage terminals, but ran into problems trying to obtain the proper licensing.

Witherspoon explains that the governments of all six countries require an official license for receiving and transmitting data by satellite. Obtaining a license to receive data is fairly simple, says Witherspoon, but it is much harder to get one to transmit data out. The Romanian government, she says, was the only one to promptly grant the license.

Witherspoon says that there wasn't any time limit for obtaining the license, but added: "Time was passing and it just seemed simpler to give everyone else a DirecPC and let them do some testing with this."

Peizer says the installation of the NetSat satellite technology in its offices in Eastern Europe will greatly enhance OSI's operations.

He says that the new technology will solve several problems OSI encountered in the past connecting to the Internet with more traditional, non-satellite, technologies.