The following text is copyright 1997 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.

Building connectivity

This is being written on the way home from a week in Taiwan. I went to give a talk about the various US data networking initiatives including the Next Generation Internet (NGI) proposal, the Very High Speed Backbone Network Service (vBNS) and Internet II. The Taiwanese are very interested in these plans because they have ambitious data networking plans of their own.

You can begin to get a hint at the extent of the current Internet presence in Taiwan when looking at the throw-away tourist guide you can pick up at the airport. Almost all of the hotels, many of the restaurants and the larger tourist shops list web or email addresses in their ads, including the local Ruth's Chris Steak House.

There are now over 1.2 million people in Taiwan "on-line". The government's National Information Infrastructure plans call for 3 million people (1/7th of the population) on-line within the next 3 years. The government is being very aggressive in putting information on the 'Net and bringing the Internet into the educational environment. They plan to have all senior high and vocational schools on the net within 3 years and all junior middle and primary schools on-line within 5 years. At the same time they plan to install enough equipment in the schools themselves to attain a ratio of 20 students to one networking-multimedia computer (at a minimum).

It is important to note that this is being done in a basically non-English environment. Most Taiwanese speek little or no English and the Internet is predominately English. The URLs in the tourist guide are English (as much as URLs are in any language). They are not trying to change the native language of Taiwan so they must make the Net more accessible in Chinese and will be putting up a "Global Chinese Content Center" for use by Chinese speakers around the world (about a fifth of the world's population).

Unlike most countries, the local (currently monopoly) telephone company is part of the revolution. Chunghwa Telecom Co. runs one of the largest of the 40 or so ISPs in Taiwan and is very actively trying to figure out where else this technology can go rather than ignoring it, as often happens, or actively fighting it, as happens too often. They see the Internet as part of the future and want to be part of that future.

Just as Singapore and Hong Kong are trying to do, Taiwan is trying to become an Internet hub in the Asia-Pacific area. They are installing connections to many other countries in the region as well as the lines to the US. But it seems to me that Taiwan is doing quite a bit more than adding external connections.

Why am I going on about what Taiwan is doing Net-wise? Yes, its partly because I just spent a very busy but very rewarding week there but more because the Taiwanese are embracing the Internet and making it their own, just as all nations could. The Internet of the future will still be of all nations, but it can also be tuned by each participant nation just as it can be tuned by each participant culture and community.

disclaimer: Harvard is not a nation though some claim it has a culture, anyway the above observations are my own.