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Serbia fears for its Net access

War-torn Web hubs concerned that U.S.-based ISPs are about to pull the plug.
Written by ZDNet UK, Contributor

Could Serbia lose its Internet access?

That's the worry of many Serbian Internet users and service providers, who fear U.S.-based Internet service providers are on the verge of cutting off their bandwidth.

"How do we feel? Well, to put it bluntly, we somehow got used to air-raid sirens, bombings and threats of invasion, but we don't know how we're going to survive without the Internet," said Alex Krstanovic of Belgrade-based ISP BeoNET, in an e-mail interview with ZDNN. "Apart from satellite TV, this is the only window to the world we have and the only way to communicate with the outside world."

BeoNET Thursday created a Web page protesting the possible cut-off, and reports on the matter also circulated on the news site Beograd.com, which opposes NATO's campaign.

The fears stem from an executive order that went into effect May 1. Executive Order 13121 effectively blocks government property of Serbia, Montenegro and Yugoslavia that is held in the United States, and it prohibits trade with those countries, including a broad-based prohibition of "supply ... of any goods ... or services," and "any transaction ... in goods ... or services."

The order appears to block all services, including communications services, supplied by U.S. entities to Serbia and Montenegro. It also blocks services from such companies as Loral Orion Inc., a subsidiary of Loral Space and Communications Ltd., based in New York City, which supplies satellite-based Internet bandwidth to the area. However, some ambiguity arises from the fact that basic communications, such as telephone service, are often left intact during war for the benefit of civilians. For that reason, Loral, for example, says it has not yet cut off service. "We believe [the order] does not apply to us," said Loral Orion representative Lisa Koppel. "We have been in discussions with the federal government to clarify that, but we believe that it will not affect us."

The White House did not respond to ZDNN inquiries Thursday regarding Executive Order 13121.

The proportion of Yugoslavia's Internet bandwidth supplied by the U.S. is substantial, according to Yugoslav ISPs. If Loral, for example, were to cut off satellite-based access to the area, two terrestrial links and a few European-based satellite links would remain, but the capacity might not be enough to handle the nation's Net traffic. "We expect massive 'blackouts' to occur when traffic reaches its peaks," said BeoNET's Krstanovic.

And since satellite providers typically require multi-year contracts to begin providing service, many ISPs might be unable, in the near term, to switch to a new satellite provider.

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