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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Western firms welcome lifting of telecom ban

A tentative agreement between U. S. , European and Japanese negotiators which will lift export controls on high-tech telecommunications equipment to former Soviet republics was greeted with cautious optimism here this week.

The restrictions, imposed by the Paris-based Coordinating Committee on Multilateral Export Controls, known as COCOM, were imposed on the Soviet Union for security reasons. The focal point of the restrictions, fiber-optic technology, was deemed a national security risk by opponents since it can be used for high-speed long distance telephone and data transmissions.

While the technological points of the agreement still need to be ironed-out, and could still effect certain exports, most telecommunications companies welcomed the announcement, although this was no surprise.

The easing of restrictions is expected to be finalized this summer at the next meeting of COCOM members.

The company most likely to gain is U. S. West Corp. , the Englewood, Col. regional Bell company. U. S. West has faced numerous political obstacles in its

attempts to create a fiber-optic network across the former Soviet Union, commonly referred to as the TSL project.

The trans-Siberian Line is being blocked largely by the U. S. National Security Council because of the potential for its dual military use. One major stumbling block, according to NSC officials, is that a fiber-optic line can't be monitored, although this remains debatable, according to some telecommunications executives.

Thus, the announcement last week appears to be a shift in U. S. policy, although the TSL project could still be blocked because it is still unknown which operating frequencies will be included. What's more, initial reports in the Western press say the project could again be stonewalled because it would pass near nuclear missile facilities.

"They are finally and reluctantly liberalizing COCOM rules", said Stan Cramton, a vice president at U. S. West Corp. based in Moscow.

"But we've been down this road for three long years. We are very optimistic that things will move in the direction to let us proceed, but we recognize there are still some hurdles that will have to be overcome".

The future could be brighter for other telecommunications companies here, though, given other projects not as large.

For example, American Telephone & Telegraph Co. last month signed a joint venture agreement with Dalnaya Sviaz, a St. Petersburg manufacturer of high-tech equipment, including fiber-optics. While the U. S. company's Moscow office refused comment, the lifting of restrictions will no doubt pave the way for AT&T to import and eventually manufacture Western fiber-optics equipment here.

AT&T's other global competitors, such as Siemens (Germany), Alcatcl (France) and Fujitsu (Japan) are also expected to reap benefits.

In terms of service, a fiber-optic network here would improve business communications, enhancing the business climate.

"It certainly presents new opportunities for investment in installing fiber optics", said Henry Radzikowsky, general director of Sprint Networks, a joint venture between U. S. Sprint Corp. and the Russian Ministry of Posts & Telecommunications. "For us there will be a lot more capability and band width available to service our clients here".

o 15 U. S. leading investors discussed conditions for foreign investment with Russian authorities and businessmen in the Kremlin Thursday. Vice-Premier Gennady Burbulis said that the meeting should result in clear-cut co-operation plans, from which appropriate changes could be made to Russian law.