By Robert Birsel
Lisa note: On Monday they said this would only be quite temporary and that internet service would take 'three days' to restore. Now today, Friday, we hear that the problem is a bit more complicated. Lisa
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A faulty fibre-optic cable that virtually crippled Internet access in Pakistan has damaged the country's fledgling call center business but new links should reassure investors, an industry official said on Friday.
The submarine cable, Pakistan's sole international cable link for data and the Internet, developed a fault late on Monday, causing many businesses across the country to grind to a halt on Tuesday.
Back-up satellite links restored some Internet access later in the week.
"We're trying to do some damage control," Abdullah Butt, president of the Association of Call Center Operators of Pakistan, told Reuters.
"Definitely, international investors might think that Pakistan does not have adequate back-up," he said.
Pakistan Telecommunication Co Ltd, which operates the faulty link, says a repair ship is on its way to the site and the problem should be resolved by early next week.[Lisa: didn't they say that last Monday?]
In the meantime, it has provided business, including call centers, with back-up satellite links.
Two new links, one a submarine cable and the other a land link with neighboring India, are due to come on stream this year. Butt said he was urging authorities to speed up work on the new links but some damage had already been done.
A British company operating in India is reconsidering a $10 million investment in Pakistan because of this week's communications melt-down, Butt said.
"They are reconsidering Pakistan as an option because they think Pakistan does not have an alternative link," he said. He declined to reveal the name of the British company but said he was trying to persuade it to go ahead with the project.
Pakistan has 25 call center operators employing up to 2,000 people, with a combined revenue of up to $15 million a year.
Butt had entertained visions of attracting business away from India, where he said taxes on the business are rising, and he had targets of an industry with annual revenue of up to $60 million employing 10,000 people within a year or two.
But this week's problems have raised questions about the existing business, as well as future operations.
One blessing was that this week's communications nightmare came when the call center business was just getting going.
"I'm not losing hope," Butt said. "Right now, Pakistan does not have a place on the global map of out-sourcing so the impact has not been that great."
Had the communications break-down come after a few years of investment and growth, that would have been disastrous, he said.
For now, Butt is pinning the hopes for his industry on the two new international data and Internet links: "We foresee in the very near future things will be much better."
Copyright 2005 Reuters Limited.
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