UN Slams Vietnam's Ongoing E-Mail Shambles

SINGAPORE (05/29/2000) - United Nations (UN) personnel in Vietnam are urging their staff not to use standard e-mail for critical messages because of the "serious disruption" of transmission of e-mail to and from the country.

The UN Development Program (UNDP) in Vietnam has formally complained to the country's sole Internet gateway operator, Vietnam Data Communications Corp.

(VDC), according to a letter obtained by IDG News Service.

Independent reports given to UNDP suggest that as much as 3 percent of e-mail being sent is rejected by overseas servers and that technicians in various locations around Vietnam report problems in setting up e-mail services because the mail server configuration at government-owned VDC seems to change.

In the letter, UNDP noted the following points:

-- servers outside Vietnam may reject e-mail from Vietnam; e-mail to some servers is always refused, and many other servers refuse it on a transient basis.

-- e-mail from outside Vietnam cannot find hosts within Vietnam, also on a transient basis.

-- rejection notices are not always returned to senders (inside or outside the country) so users cannot always tell whether e-mail gets through.

-- e-mail list servers outside Vietnam may stop subscriptions because e-mail service is rejected to accounts in Vietnam and the server assumes that the user/host does not exist.

The problem is most likely caused by risky upgrade procedures and a lack of bandwidth to deal with the extra traffic generated by recently lowered Internet prices, according to Andrew Marshall, a Ho Chi Minh City-based consultant with VietInfoComm & Education.

"It seems that VDC technicians may be doing their upgrades on the live system rather than developing and testing them elsewhere and then migrating them to the live system," he said in a telephone interview today. "They also tend only to do upgrades in reaction to a problem, rather than upgrading with foresight."

Lack of the will to upgrade, rather than lack of funds, is the problem, as VDC is owned by the well-funded national carrier Vietnam Posts & Telecommunications Corp. (VNPT), Marshall said.

The UNDP said that the situation, which has been going on in one form or another for several years, was causing damage to Vietnam's efforts to become regarded as a technically savvy country.

"While it is impossible for us to determine at this point whether the problem lies with VDC or elsewhere, it is certainly a matter that GDPT (General Departments of Posts and Telecommunications) should investigate swiftly and as a priority, since it is of great harm to communications for the government and the donor community," the UNDP said in its letter. "We have complained officially to VDC, and we suggest that other organizations do so as well."

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