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<nettime> Getting Kosova on-line (OTR-report 10)
Jo&Sanja on Fri, 12 Nov 1999 19:18:48 +0100 (CET)


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<nettime> Getting Kosova on-line (OTR-report 10)


======================================================================
ON THE RECORD: //Civil Society in Kosovo//----------------------------
======================================================================
Your Electronic Link to Civil Society in Kosovo
----------------------------------------------------------------------
Volume 9, Issue 10 -- November 11, 1999
----------------------------------------------------------------------

In this Issue:

>From the editorial desk:
TECHNOLOGY, PEACE, AND OWNERSHIP

WIRING UP KOSOVO (3) -- ONLINE AT LAST!

     Returning to Kosovo
     Post-War Vacuum
     The Internet Project Takes Shape
     The Technical Plan
     Rebuilding the Kosovo PTT
     On the Brink of Collapse
     Rescued by UNMIK
     Finding a New Home
     Power Play
     Online at Last!

======================================================================
                       FROM THE EDITORIAL DESK
======================================================================

                   TECHNOLOGY, PEACE, AND OWNERSHIP

     This issue tells the story of how a group of information
     specialists wired up Kosovo to the Internet. They include our
     colleague, Teresa Crawford, from the Advocacy Project.

     Teresa has taken time off from our Project to work under the
     umbrella of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) on
     establishing a new Internet service provider (ISP) in
     Prishtina. Known as the Internet Project Kosova (IPKO) it sent
     out its first email message from Prishtina by satellite on
     September 20. Already, the IPKO is serving a score of
     international relief agencies and Kosovar civic organizations.

     This is one of the first times that this kind of information
     technology has been integrated into a major peace-building
     mission. There are important lessons to be learned.

     The project had to overcome many obstacles before it could
     establish that first exciting connection. Not surprisingly,
     many were technical. Telephone lines, electricity, computers,
     technicians -- all these are the lifeblood of information
     technology. None of which was readily available in a country
     that had been bombed and pillaged for months on end.

     But these technical difficulties were easy compared to some of
     the other challenges. For some weeks Kosovo was a dangerous
     free-for-all. Laws were made up along the way, by trial and
     error. Unmarked landmines lay strewn about the country.
     Minorities were intimidated and driven out. It was unsafe to
     be out on the streets at night. (A foreign aid worker was
     murdered in downtown Prishtina as recently as October 11.)

     The project had to sell itself to officials from the UN
     Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which was charged with governing
     Kosovo; that proved difficult. Even harder, it had to justify
     its existence to the Kosovars running telecommunications. They
     were understandably determined to consolidate their own
     authority, and suspicious of foreign initiatives.

     Is the IPKO a "foreign initiative?" This is indeed a key
     question. Far too many aid projects are conceived by
     international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) seeking to
     take advantage of a donor's largesse (or guilty conscience),
     instead of responding to a local need and drawing from local
     talent. Too many projects are run for and by foreigners,
     without enough regard for the time when they will have to be
     handed over to those who are supposed to benefit.

     The IPKO was conceived by two young Americans who have a deep
     commitment to Kosovo, a fascination for the web, and a
     conviction that the new information technology can help to
     rebuild Kosovo.

     Paul Meyer, from the IRC, has provided the entrepreneurial
     spark and manages the project. Paul persuaded a company to
     donate a huge satellite dish and $900,000 worth of satellite
     time to the project. He also arranged for the IRC to lend the
     project $175,000 to carry it through its first six months, and
     lined up paying clients among the international relief
     agencies.

     Teresa Crawford, our colleague, has identified Kosovar civil
     society groups that will receive the service for free. The
     third member of the team, Akan Ismaili, is a Kosovar Albanian
     and technical expert, who has managed all the technical
     aspects of the project.

     In this issue, Teresa, Paul, and Akan tell the story of how
     they secured the Internet link. We make no apologies for going
     into detail. Not only does their story provide an unusual
     insight into the workings of a major peace building mission,
     it also holds plenty of lessons for the future.

     But the IPKO team knows that this is only the beginning. It is
     one thing to establish a technical connection for Kosovo. It
     is quite another to ensure that it benefits Kosovars instead
     of foreign aid agencies, and that it plays a constructive role
     in the rebuilding of this damaged country after the emergency
     has passed. For this to happen, the IPKO has to be handed over
     in the right way, at the right time, and in a form that can be
     sustained. That will be the subject of the next issue in this
     series.

     Certainly, if it is not done, the hard work and inspiration
     that went into the IPKO will go to waste -- like so many other
     well-meaning aid projects. (Iain Guest)

======================================================================

               WIRING UP KOSOVO (3) -- ONLINE AT LAST!


     (Teresa returned to Kosovo on July 2, for the first time since
     her arrest and deportation by the Serbians the previous year.
     In addition to editing this series of On the Record, she also
     planned to discuss an Internet connection for professors at
     Prishtina University. Her first call was to the family she had
     stayed with on her previous visit.)

- Returning to Kosovo

> From Teresa's diary:

     I went straight to the house where I had stayed the previous
     year. Hugs all round. Knowing what they had been through, I
     had brought a backpack of presents and several loaves of bread
     from Macedonia. We sat and exchanged news. The family had made
     it through the bombing and expulsions without any real
     incident. But their luck ran out the night the Russians
     arrived at Prishtina airport (June 9).

     The Serbian paramilitaries were out in force that night. They
     dragged one of the neighbors over, and held a gun to him while
     they asked Ibrahim for money. Before they left, one asked what
     computers Ibrahim had. He answered 486s. "What kind of
     computer is that for a computer expert?" replied the
     paramilitary. Ibrahim survived, but his neighbor was killed.

     I explained to Ibrahim that I was exploring the possibility of
     linking up the universities of Tetova and Prishtina by email.
     Ibrahim is a professor at the university and arranged for me
     to visit the technical faculty building. It is a huge building
     -- eight floors in all -- and is situated in the Sunny Hill
     neighborhood, which looked largely intact had survived....
     Before the bombing, it housed two separate faculties -- one
     for computers, and the other for mechanics (engines and motors
     etc).

     We walked around gingerly. Many of the rooms had been used by
     Serbs as sleeping quarters. Every lock was destroyed and the
     rooms were littered with beer bottles, blankets, and porn
     magazines. But it also looked like a promising spot for a
     satellite dish, with its height and southern exposure.

     On the way back, we passed some of the buildings I had seen
     the previous year, when we were arrested. The UN refugee
     agency (UNHCR) is in the police station -- or what is left of
     it. The building where I was imprisoned last year is still
     standing. Damn. (July 2, 1999)

(Editor's note: Names have been altered in this diary extract.)

- Post-War Vacuum

Serbian forces withdrew on June 12, and NATO's Kosovo Force (KFOR)
moved quickly into Prishtina. There was much work to do. NATO's
strategy during the war had been to break Kosovo's links to Serbia.
This left almost no intercity telephone links between Kosovo and
Serbia, although a small number of telephone numbers (those that
began with #5) were linked to a newer system that had escaped the
bombing. With these numbers one could call outside the country, but
not to other cities in Kosovo.

Into the vacuum poured a small army of international relief
agencies desperate to coordinate with each other and keep in touch
with home base. Within days, mobile phones were everywhere and
satellite dishes had sprouted in the parking lot of the UN Mission
in Kosovo (UNMIK) and on rooftops. One international agency spent
over $15,000 in the first month on satellite phone bills alone.

But the mobile phone system was hopelessly overloaded. There was
only one small antenna in Prishtina, and the Yugoslav company
MOBTEL, which provided the service, had sold far more connections
than the system could carry. This meant it was always busy or
crashing. (Some felt this was deliberately intended, so as to
disrupt the relief effort).

Some pre-war subscribers could log on via one of the Internet
providers in Serbia (EUNET or the Post and Telecom [PTT]). But this
required a functioning phone line -- and a number that began with
the number 5. As noted above, the pre-war telephone system was
overwhelmed with users and in need of basic maintenance. Most
international organizations were reduced to checking their email
via a satellite phone, which cost up to $2.50 a minute.

There was one other Internet connection in Kosovo at the time. The
Grand Hotel in Prishtina allowed clients to log on through a small
satellite dish on the roof for a charge of one D-mark (45 Cents) a
minute. This was well beyond the means of Kosovars.

The legal basis for telecommunications, like everything else, was
completely unclear. In theory, Serbia was still sovereign over
Kosovo. But UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (June 10, 1999)
also instructed the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to ignore Serbian
laws that were deemed obstructive to Kosovo's autonomy. This was
tantamount to starting with a clean slate.

With the mood lurching between fear and exhilaration Kosovo
provided the perfect environment for new ideas -- but also for
total anarchy.

- The Internet Project Takes Shape

By July, Kosovo needed access to the Internet -- there was simply
no other way to communicate. Either it would have to be supplied as
part of the international aid effort or as a commercial venture, in
which case international relief agencies would spare no cost to
communicate with their home base, while Kosovar organizations would
compete to raise funds for their own expensive connection. This
would favor those with the best links to the international
community, like the Mother Teresa Society or Koha Ditore (the
Albanian language newspaper).

Teresa went to the Balkans with the idea of supporting a non-profit
project to wire up Prishtina University. She got the idea in March
1998, after testifying at the asylum hearing of a Kosovar woman in
San Francisco. The woman put Teresa in touch with her cousin, a
professor at the university, and the two began to talk by email. He
encouraged her to explore ways of providing Kosovo with an
effective and neutral Internet service provider. It was not until
after the war that she was able to pursue the idea.

Teresa's first idea was to connect Prishtina with the
Albanian-language University in Tetova, Macedonia, which had
attracted many of Kosovo's Albanian intellectuals during the
refugee crisis. She met with Marko and Borja, two Slovene techies
who worked in a media lab in Slovenia, and the three developed an
idea for an Internet service provider (to be called the Independent
Balkans Internet Service -- IBIS).

But the cost proved too high, and Teresa was forced to focus solely
on Prishtina. She broached the idea with several Albanian
professors on her first visit, and they talked about creating a new
ISP at the Technical Faculty building. This would have allowed the
university to service its own network of faculties, libraries,
schools, and independent media -- and so eventually reach a large
sector of Kosovo's civil society.

It helped that the Technical Faculty Building was structurally
sound. The problem was that it was also dependent on the PTT and
telephone lines -- like the rest of Kosovo. This raised all kinds
of technical and administrative problems. The PTT was still
Serbian-owned, and in complete disarray. The best solution would be
to use a satellite. But this would be very expensive -- and it
would still need to go through the PTT.

Around this time, Teresa met Paul Meyer, from the IRC, a prominent
international refugee relief agency. Paul was looking for ways to
develop the Internet in Kosovo, after his success in using the
Internet to help reunite families in the refugee camps (See #9 of
this series).

Paul had grown disillusioned with the misuse of technology during
the refugee crisis and was interested in finding shared
technological solutions for the international humanitarian
community. He was keen to develop a project that forced agencies to
share technology, resources, and information.

While he was in Albania, Paul had also spent time with the founders
of the Soros foundation's wireless academic Internet. While that
project was successful, the foundation had grown tired of covering
the costs year after year. Paul wanted to develop an ISP in Kosovo
that financed itself with revenue rather than relying on donor
money. He saw an opportunity to sell service to the humanitarian
agencies and create a self-sustaining non-profit ISP in the
process.

Paul knew from working with the refugees that there was one very
large satellite dish sitting unused in the former camp at
Stenkovac, and a year's supply of satellite time that had been
promised to the refugees -- all of whom had now returned to Kosovo.
He suggested asking the owner of the satellite dish (the company
Interpacket, <www.interpacket.net>) whether this valuable package
could be shifted from Stenkovac to Prishtina, and used to set up
this non-profit ISP.

This made sense to Teresa, who was finding less and less enthusiasm
among donors for a traditional Internet project. Officials from
USAID's Office of Transitional Initiatives (OTI) said they were
more interested in supporting the local media. They also advised
wiring up international NGOs before the Prishtina University if the
aim was to attract donors.

Paul and Teresa decided that if they were successful in getting the
use of the Stenkovac dish, they would offer Internet access to
international NGOs for a charge, and free to Kosovar groups. The
income from the first could pay for the second, and also give the
project a fighting chance of staying afloat after initial funding
stopped. They decided on a six-month fee of $6,000 for a
64-kilobyte connection and more for extra bandwidth.

Paul unveiled the idea at a meeting, and 14 NGOs signed up on the
spot. He then sounded out the IRC and was promised a loan of
$175,000, to be repaid by the end of the year. Teresa then started
to identify the non-paying customers, such as the University,
hospital, National Library, and independent media.

The project was coming together. But it depended squarely on use of
the satellite dish and satellite. Paul went to work on Interpacket,
the owner. The only other proposal on the table came from the
International Organisation of Migration (IOM), which had taken over
use of the dish and satellite in the refugee camp at the request of
the US Information Agency (USIA). The IOM proposed to use its ($1.5
million) grant from the US to set up seven dishes around Kosovo,
all linked to the satellite. These in turn would service seven
information centers.

It was left to Interpacket to chose between the two ideas. Paul
argued that the IPKO model would benefit far more users in Kosovo
than the IOM's, at much less cost. Interpacket agreed. At one fell
swoop, Paul had won the IPKO a $50,000 dish and 12 months of free
satellite time, valued at $912,000. Internet Project Kosovo
(IPKO.org) -- a connectivity project supported by the IRC -- was
born, with Teresa as a consultant. The pieces were in place. It now
remained to put them together. This would involve securing
permission from the UN Mission in Kosovo (which was administering
Kosovo); finding a site for the project; installing the dish;
finding the frequencies; putting in the equipment; finding a
network administrator; and securing the money.

- The Technical Plan

Most subscribers who are reading this issue of On the Record will
have logged onto to the Internet by commanding their computer to
dial up a service provider.

The method envisaged by the IPKO in Kosovo was different. It would
bypass Prishtina's creaky phone system altogether, allowing
subscribers to log onto the Internet through the airwaves.

All of the initial customers would be institutions/agencies. Each
would have a microwave dish installed in its building, providing a
constant Internet connection to every computer on their network.
The microwave dishes would be pointed at an antenna on top of the
Rilindja, the tallest building in Prishtina. These dishes would
exchange a wireless signal with the antenna, which would be
connected to the Interpacket satellite dish. The dish would link to
the Pan Am satellite and, from there, to the US Internet backbone.

As part of their donation, Interpacket also gave the IPKO a pipe to
the Internet backbone in the United States. This donation of
bandwidth is worth over 800,000 US dollars per year. The bigger the
bandwidth, the more data that can flow and the more people who can
access it concurrently. Data includes email, pictures, voice, audio
and video streaming, and multimedia. The connection allows for a
total of two megabits of information to be sent out, and four
megabits to be received per second. The bandwidth is separated into
uplink and downlink. The two megabits for the uplink is more than
enough to handle all of the computers, that are currently in use in
Kosovo.

The first task would be to move the dish from Macedonia to Kosovo.
One of the companies working in Kosovo, Darlington, had installed
communications equipment in the US government offices and had
experience in setting up satellite dishes in strange places
(Including the Pyramid building in Tirana, Albania.)

Darlington seemed a logical partner, and Paul put the Darlington
offices in Virginia in direct contact with Interpacket since
Interpacket would also pay for the installation of the dish. All
Darlington needed was the go-ahead from Paul to go to Macedonia,
break down the dish and transport it to Prishtina, where it would
be installed and coordinated with the Pan Am Satellite.

The IPKO would need to install a microwave network of antennas,
repeaters, and microwave dishes around Prishtina. IOM had planned
to use a company in Macedonia to develop their Internet work, and
at first the IPKO thought they would use the same company.

On closer inspection, however, the company was found not to possess
important software that would prevent each of the microwave
stations from receiving the full two megabit bandwidth -- something
which would slow down the system and also make it harder to
identify problems. More troubling still, the Macedonian company
refused to provide the technical specifications of its equipment
while constantly insisting they would "provide a good solution."
The group grew increasingly suspicious and decided to look
elsewhere for the microwave equipment.

On advice from Ilir Zenku, a friend from Soros Albania, Paul
decided to approach MicroTik, a company based in Riga, Latvia.
MicroTik had all of the necessary equipment, including software
that would allow the network administrator to regulate bandwidth,
depending on need and usage. This equipment had also been used
successfully by the Soros foundation in a number of Eastern
European countries.

The MicroTik president, John Tully, was even willing to donate
equipment and come to Kosovo at short notice to set it up. His
equipment would be easy for an experienced technician to handle,
although it would need consistent electricity and a secure
location. At the time, neither seemed likely to pose a problem.

With the technical plans more or less clear, the next task was to
find a network administrator. The best candidate seemed to be Akan
Ismaili, a Kosovar Albanian who had worked for the US Information
Service (USIS) before, during and after the refugee crisis. In
early discussions at the USIS, Paul had been told jokingly not to
"steal" Akan. There was something to it. Akan was coveted by USIS.
He was experienced, resourceful, and able to work in adverse
conditions. His English was good and he was very committed. He was
the perfect candidate for the job of IPKO network administrator.

Several other candidates were considered. Some lacked experience,
or had prior commitments to other jobs. Several wanted to work for
profit. Many were reluctant to make a commitment to a project that
had not yet received the go-ahead from the Kosovar authorities.
Akan was clearly the best suited, and Paul approached him. After a
week of indecision, Akan signed on, and tendered his resignation to
the USIS.

At this point, the project ran into a political roadblock.

- Rebuilding the Kosovo PTT

The directors of UNMIK faced some tough decisions over
telecommunications.

UNMIK itself needed a quick, reliable, and modestly-priced way of
communicating with UN headquarters in New York. It could have set
up an independent satellite connection. But that would have cost a
huge amount and done nothing to strengthen UNMIK's many partners
and dependents. This growing army of aid officials in Kosovo
desperately needed email. How to provide it?

A second dilemma facing UNMIK was how to reconstitute the telephone
system. The pre-war system had run through Belgrade, and rebuilding
it would mean placing Kosovo's telephone system once again under
the control of Belgrade. This would very likely be unacceptable to
the Kosovars and most of the UN Security Council.

But the other option -- establishing an independent
telecommunications system that bypassed Serbia altogether -- would
be tantamount to a declaration of independence. It probably could
be done: a new system of fiberoptics was being laid from Albania.
But that was months, if not years, away.

There was, in addition, an issue of foreign ownership. Kosovo's PTT
had been 51% owned by the Serbian government. The other 49% was
owned by Greek and Italian companies, but some Kosovars challenged
the way that Serbia had sold off this valuable national asset.

This hot potato was handed to Rob Van Leeuwen, a veteran UNHCR
official who was lured away from Seattle, Washington by the UN to
administer the key Kosovo utilities of gas, electricity, and
telecommunications.

Van Leeuwen decided that the first priority was to reestablish
Kosovo's defunct PTT, and then move from there. At his
recommendation, UNMIK took over the 51% Serbian share in the Kosovo
PTT on August 2, and renamed it the Post and Telecommunications
Kosovo (PTK).

The old PTT building was reopened, and 400 former PTT employees
were rehired under the direction of Ismet Hamiti. Hamiti had been
director of operations at the Kosovo PTT until he was fired by the
Serbs in 1989. After his dismissal, he had left Kosovo to work with
the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) in Bangkok,
Thailand. His re-entry into the PTT building in the summer of 1999
was seen as a huge victory over Belgrade.

The once and future employees were waiting at the gates. They were
allowed in under the watchful eye of KFOR soldiers after being
individually identified by Hamiti. Several prominent Kosovars were
appointed to a joint coordination team, which was given the task of
managing the new PTK.

The PTK had been inaugurated by UNMIK, and Hamiti was its new
director. He was now the main legal authority for all matters
pertaining to telecommunications. Paul set out to secure his
blessing for the IPKO Internet project.

- On the Brink of Collapse

When Paul first met with Ismet Hamiti, Kosovo's new
telecommunications czar, he received the cold shoulder. Hamiti was
aware of the importance of the Internet, and he wanted any Internet
initiatives firmly under his control at the PTK. Otherwise, he
implied, there would be a free for all. He told Paul that the
project would fit nicely as the Internet division of the PTK.

Hamiti was an influential figure in post-war Kosovo, and few were
prepared to openly oppose him. This extended to the university.
Teresa and Paul had always assumed that the university would serve
as the hub of their network. Its staff and students could provide
support for the project. Several professors hoped that an Internet
link would also allow the university to undertake its own
technology projects, including an oral history project on the web
about the refugee exodus.

But housing the IPKO at the university would mean challenging Ismet
Hamiti. Ilir Limani, the dean of the electrotechnical faculty,
asked his colleagues whether they wanted this, and most said no.

After many days of trying to find a solution around the university,
Paul and Teresa concluded that it simply would not work. This was a
serious blow to their hopes of engaging Kosovars in the early
stages of their project and of ensuring that it did not operate in
isolation from the local population. They had also hoped that the
university would inherit the project after the initial period of
funding. This now seemed impossible.

There seemed to be three possibilities. First, the project could be
housed at the PTK building and run by the PTK. This was the
solution strongly favored by Van Leeuwen and UNMIK. They had just
established PTK and wanted to find ways to strengthen their new
creation.

But in the view of Paul and Teresa, this would be the kiss of
death. PTK lacked the technical capacity to carry it off. Hamiti
planned to set up an Internet division in the PTK, but his
technicians were unfamiliar with the latest technology after their
years of limited opportunities. This was not a criticism, so much
as a fact: they were hard-pressed even to run what remained of the
existing telephone system. Moreover, none of the handful of young
Kosovar "techies" were willing to work under the aegis of the PTK.
Possessed of the most marketable skills in town, they weren't about
to join an old-style bureaucracy.

The second option would be to go it alone, without the support from
the Kosovars they had come to help. In addition to being
undesirable, it was not even clear whether this was possible.

Third, Paul and Teresa could call it a day and give up. That, too,
seemed unthinkable. They had come so far, and made so many
promises.

In desperation, Paul met with Hamiti, Van Leeuwen, and a KFOR
Colonel for one last try at gaining permission for an independent
IPKO. He was supposed to have been joined by two local friends of
the IPKO project. Neither showed up for the meeting. The IPKO was
on the brink. Teresa remembers how she and Paul sat in the Amadeus
cafˇ in Prishtina, looked at each other, and wondered what they
were going to do. They were in far to deep to pull out, but could
not see how they could make it work.

- Rescued by UNMIK

Help arrived in the form of two IRC board members who were visiting
Kosovo to look at IRC projects. Two of the mission members --
lawyers Jeremy Carver and George Hritz -- had been involved with
the IPKO from the beginning, and were ready to argue strongly for
it.

First Jeremy, George, and Paul went to see Van Leeuwen. Though
clearly irritated, he patiently explained the need to boost up the
PTK and implored IPKO to come to some kind of agreement.

At Van Leeuwen's suggestion, the three went to visit Agron Dida,
the director of the PTK who worked under Hamiti. Dida was cordial,
but he evidently shared Hamiti's view that the airspace was the
property of Kosovo and only the PTK was legally entitled to exploit
it. The project would have to fall under his domain. Otherwise, it
would be viewed as a violation of Kosovo's natural rights.

The three IRC officials left the meeting firmly convinced that
locating the project at PTK would be a disaster, even if they were
assured of independence under a contract. After all, what good was
a paper contract in a lawless country, especially when those in the
PTK building could just turn off the power to the whole system?

The project received a helping hand from an unexpected source.
Around this time, the creaky telephone system collapsed, the mobile
network failed, and the phone lines starting with the number 5
stopped working for two days. It was clear that the PTK lacked the
capacity to take on a major new Internet project -- another strong
argument for allowing IPKO to proceed.

Paul and Teresa decided to approach the UN's office of humanitarian
affairs (OCHA), which had set up a unit to coordinate the work of
NGOs in Kosovo. The director of the unit, Randolf Kent, understood
that helping NGOs to communicate would help the overall
peacebuilding and had supported IPKO from the beginning. Kent
suggested to Paul and Teresa that they approach Dennis McNamara,
head of UNMIK's humanitarian arm. McNamara agreed to support the
IPKO. He contacted Jack Covey, the UNMIK deputy special
representative, and argued that the IPKO was good for the
humanitarian community and would directly benefit the Kosovars.

With momentum for the project now beginning to build again, Paul,
Jeremy, and George huddled together and wrote up a short Memorandum
of Understanding between IRC and UNMIK. Late on a Saturday
afternoon, they camped out in a cafˇ across the street from UNMIK
waiting to intercept Van Leeuwen before he left for home. They
finally caught up with Van Leeuwen and convinced him to sign the
MOU over a few warm cans of Coke. After signing the document, Van
Leeuwen told the three that he would certainly catch heat for it.

One of the concerns, clearly, was monopoly. UNMIK's agreement gave
IPKO a headstart in providing Internet access to Kosovo. Was it
also handing over a monopoly? Strictly speaking no. One other
Internet provider in Kosovo, Fastnet, had opened an Internet cafe.
Fastnet had asked UNMIK if they needed a license to operate, and
been told no. KFOR gave Fastnet a frequency license for their
satellite, and it began advertising microwave links.

So in a formal sense, there was competition for the IPKO. But the
case could be made that this was hardly relevant at such an early
stage in Kosovo's reconstruction. As noted above, a commercial
scramble over the Internet in July would have benefited those with
money, and put the Internet beyond the means of the smaller, less
affluent civic associations. It would also have greatly reduced its
humanitarian usefulness.

On the other hand, UNMIK had now given the IPKO a formidable role
in dictating the future use of the Internet in Kosovo after the
emergency had passed. The question was whether the IPKO would use
this power responsibly. Would it be able to hand over to Kosovars
in a way that benefited all of Kosovo -- and prevent this
humanitarian initiative turning into a real commercial monopoly?

- Finding a New Home

UNMIK authorized the IPKO on two conditions. First, it would have
to be "humanitarian" -- in other words, it could not be used for
profit. IPKO would be selling its service, but as a contribution to
the humanitarian effort.

Second, it would need a "neutral" base. This would rule out the new
PTK. Unfortunately, it would also rule out the university, because
the PTK made it clear that it would oppose the university being
handed such a powerful resource. At this stage, it was very hard to
identify a Kosovar home for the Project that did not strike someone
as biased.

As a result, it was decided to base the project and the satellite
dish in the Boro and Ramizi Sports and Cultural Center, a large
squat building in the center of town.

Boro and Ramizi turned out to be ideal for several reasons. The
building was inhabited by the Civilian and Military Information
Center (CIMIC), which was set up by British KFOR to provide
information for local Kosovars, and the KFOR Press Center. This
meant that soldiers were all over the Center day and night, which
guaranteed security for the equipment.

There were added advantages. Boro and Ramizi were administered by
Lt. Colonel Barry Barnwell, who also headed CIMIC. Barnwell was
technologically savvy and understood the importance of an Internet
connection for CIMIC. He agreed to forego rent ($1,800 a month) in
exchange for the service.

In addition, British aid was paying for the reconstruction of Boro
and Ramizi Center. This meant that it was swarming with contractors
fixing electrical wiring, broken locks and windows. British
soldiers from the 26 Armoured Engineer Squadron were also on hand
working on electricity, plumbing, and the back-up generator for the
Center. Their expertise would come in useful.

In spite of these advantages, the center did carry drawbacks. It
was some distance from the University, especially the Technical
Faculty. This meant there was even less incentive for students and
faculty to come and work on the project.

The only space available at Boro and Ramizi was in a former branch
of the city Library. In exchange, the project had to agree to find
money for the librarian to renovate the library and buy new books.
There was some initial misunderstanding because the librarian
thought he would eventually inherit the project. After this was
ironed out, the IPKO and library submitted a plan to British aid
for the refurbishing of the library.

Access to the building seemed likely to pose some problems.
Providing Internet access is not a nine-to-five job. All employees
of IPKO have to have 24-hour-a-day access to the building and
office, and this means they interrupt the lives of the soldiers who
call the building home and sleep downstairs. The soldiers advised
the IPKO staff to let them know when they were planning to work
late, if they did not want to be challenged by sleepy, gun-wielding
soldiers. It was a reminder that this was still a war zone.

- Power Play

With the location now decided, Darlington was given the go-ahead to
install the 3.8-meter dish from Interpacket. Over a 3-day period
they disassembled the dish in Stenkovac, transported it to
Prishtina, stored it overnight, and reappeared in the parking lot
of the Boro and Ramizi Center with it hanging from UNMIK crane. The
dish looked huge.

Once it was installed, the team made an appointment with the
satellite company to test the connection. It was night-time in
Prishtina. Akan, Paul, Teresa, and a new international arrival from
Chicago, Kay, were waiting in the office in high excitement.. A
Darlington employee was tuning the satellite equipment on the roof.

The plan was to hook up with the Pan Am satellite. According to the
equipment of the Darlington engineers, they could "see" the Pan Am
satellite on their equipment. But Pan Am Sat did not receive the
signal transmitted from the IPKO dish. In other words, it did not
"know" that they were transmitting. The team waited until one
o'clock in the morning before going off to sleep, deflated and
disappointed.

The following morning, the Darlington technicians went through
their checklist and narrowed the problem down to the receiver on
the back of the dish. It was receiving but not transmitting. The
receiver was sent back to the US, and a replacement arrived within
a week. It was fitted to the dish and the team went through the
same exercise again -- with exactly the same disappointing result
-- the Pan Am satellite still could not see the IPKO signal.

By now everyone was tired and frustrated, and the timetable was
beginning to slip. The project would not make its first connection
on September 1st, as hoped. Clients were becoming edgy. Interpacket
was reluctant to send another receiver if it was just going to be
blown up.

If the problem was not the receiver, it had to be the power. This
surprised no one because the entire province was dependent on two
power plants that had been poorly maintained and damaged in the
war. Instead of producing consistent power, they were sending out
surges of voltage. Everyone assumed that this was frying the
receiver. After consulting with engineers and electricians, IPKO
bought a generator with an automatic switch, which was activated by
a power outage or change in the voltage. As added protection, the
team bought several UPS's (Uninterrupted Power Source's). These are
basically big batteries with built in protection against power
surges.

As a final precaution, the room with the equipment was wired
separately from the rest of the building. This would mean that in
the event of a power failure, the project generator would only give
power to the project equipment and not to the entire Boro and
Ramizi building.

After more problems with the electricity (including shorting out
several light fixtures and several sockets) IPKO asked British
Royal Engineers from the 26 Armoured Engineer Squadron to wire up
the entire set. The Engineers had befriended the project, and
jokingly suggested that they wanted to see it work so they could
get football scores off the web.

Taffy Gill, one of the engineers, came and tore out all the wiring,
which he then redid. But even after that the generator did not give
out the right amount of voltage. Akan fashioned two 25-meter power
cables to plug directly into the generator and plugged the UPS
(Uninterrupted Power Supply) directly into the generator. This
seemed to solve the problem. Finally, after so many fits and
starts, Darlington was ready to try again.

- Online at Last!

>From Teresa's diary:

     After a month of false starts, September 20, 1999 did not seem
     all that special. We were huddled in the office, prepared for
     another sleepless night. Darlington technicians were on the
     roof, positioning for the satellite. One of them, Chris, was
     fiddling with the transmitter. All he could say was "they
     don't see us!" In other words, Pan Am Sat, the satellite
     company, could not tell if we were transmitting or not. We
     have been hearing the same thing from them and from Chris for
     over a month.

     Akan was getting fidgety. Like any good technology buff he
     began fiddling with a computer. He randomly typed
     "www.ipko.org" (our nascent web site address) into the web
     browser on the server. For some reason the browser sent him to
     "www.register.org." There then appeared the following query:
     "Do you want to register this domain name?" This should not
     have happened since our computer was not actually connected to
     the Internet -- or so the satellite company had been telling
     us. Perhaps, it had been telling us wrong?

     Akan let out a whoop. He then typed in "www.cnn.com" and the
     page appeared with the date September 20, 1999 at the top. We
     were transmitting and receiving! Our satellite dish had locked
     onto the Pan Am satellite, although the Pan Am Sat could not
     "see" us because of some default on the transmitter. It
     appeared that the system had been up and running all along:
     the satellite company had not been looking at the right
     frequency. Talk about accidental birth.

     I was sent out for champagne, while Paul and Kay emailed their
     mothers. Akan's first email went to his ex-boss, Michael
     McClellan, former director of USIS Prishtina. The first thing
     I did was email The Advocacy Project, which has been harassing
     me for being out of touch for over a week. I then spent two
     hours on Instant Messenger, with three friends from the US,
     who were all logged onto the Internet. I felt like a teenager
     all over again.

     We soon sobered down. What exactly were we celebrating -- the
     fact that the four of us could check our email? The real
     celebrations could come when the people of Prishtina could
     connect.

     And there was such a long way to go before that could happen.
     There was no dial-up access for those with telephones. We did
     not even have a policy for deciding who could surf the web on
     our two laptops. Hours and hours of work were leading to hours
     and hours of more work. (September 20, 1999)

======================================================================
                              CORRECTION
======================================================================

     From Mentor Cana, editor of Alb-net.com:

     Please note that the following text in "OTR Civil Society in
     Kosovo, Issue 9" is not correct:

     "Certainly, with an acknowledgment like that from the US
     government, it was easier for Alb-net.com to get a donation
     from the Kosovar Albanian Government in exile to buy new
     computer equipment and expand their work."

     The fact is that the financial support for the computer came
     from the Albanian community in America. I will appreciate if
     you can make this correction in the next issue.

     Thanks, Mentor

======================================================================
In the next issue: Sharing Connectivity with Kosovar civil society.
======================================================================
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