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Dot-coms Redux
Opportunity knocks, and Indonesian Calvin Lukmantara listens

October 14, 1999
Web posted at 6 a.m. Hong Kong time, 6 p.m. EDT

On Aug. 30, Calvin Lukmantara and his staff were busy in his Jakarta office registering online domain names. Ordinarily, there's nothing particularly unusual about that. Website domains are being registered at a rate of 250,000 a week and, after all, Lukmantara's company RegisterCentre is the Indonesian agent for Network Solutions, the Virginia-based giant that dominates domain registrations.

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But the name Lukmantara was registering struck a chord elsewhere in the Indonesian archipelago, in East Timor, where that same day almost 500,000 people voted overwhelmingly to sever themselves from Indonesia in a United Nations-sponsored referendum.

Lukmantara is nothing if not an opportunist. As East Timorese voted, and as pro-Jakarta militias were planning their campaign of terror, Lukmantara registered a site called

Timor Lorosae means Rising Timor in East Timor's Tetum language. It's the term independence leader Xanana Gusmao coined as the prospective name of his new independent nation. He and his would-be foreign minister Jose Ramos-Horta have made numerous pronouncements declaring that they want the new independent nation of Timor Lorosae to someday take its place at the United Nations.

Lukmantara's registration suggests that he fully expected the East Timorese to vote for independence. But in the buildup to the referendum, his company sought to hedge its bets. So it registered That's how you say East Timor in Bahasa Indonesia. Searching further, he discovered that had been registered, and by the pro-independence East Timor International Support Center in Darwin.

Lukmantara has no desire to develop any of his newly registered sites. If you call them up online, there's nothing there. And that's the point. It costs money to develop websites and Lukmantara aims to make it, not spend it. So he wants to sell the name--ideally to someone involved with the prospective Timor Lorosae government. As he explained to me, "I am not interested in politics, but I am realistic about it. I know what good names are valued at, and I think $100,000 is a fair price right now. I may even ask for a million."

A million dollars would go a long way in Timor Lorosae. It's about one-hundredth of the economy--before the militias razed it to the ground. Many East Timorese would see Lukmantara as giving them the ultimate cyber-insult after what they have been through.

But we in Asia can expect to encounter more cybersquatters like Lukmantara before any trade-practice laws catch up with them. Asia's slowness on the Net means that many companies and businesses had their names snaffled up before the Net and e-commerce entered the region's collective conscience.

Try logging onto and you get a Toronto-based ISP, not one of Thailand's leading banks. So much for online banking with Krung Thai. The same for Singapore's big Keppel Tat Lee Bank. Log on to and there's the generic "under construction" advisory. Some Hotmail account holder in the Cayman Islands registered the name.

Even Richard Li and his Pacific Century group seem slow off the mark in the Net world. Although he markets himself as being on Asia's leading tech edge, Li didn't get hold of When his people finally got around to registering their site in May last year, Li had to settle for the unwieldy The other site was registered in March 1996 from Kansas City, and it's good spot for lonely hearts in search of a mail-order bride.

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