East Timor or Timor Leste is Asia's newest country, only independent since 2002, after 24 years of Indonesian occupation and nearly 400 years of Portuguese colonial rule.

Following the country's vote for independence in 1999, Indonesian-backed militias laid waste to East Timor, destroying 80 per cent of its infrastructure. This included its telecommunications network.

Consequently, it was almost impossible to reach East Timor by telephone, except via Australia's Telstra mobile phone network, which had expanded its signal into the country, or via UN telephone exchanges in New York and Darwin in Australia.

In 2000, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) allocated the country code 670 to East Timor, but as so few fixed telephone lines were in operation at the time, few telecom operators started using it. This has remained the case even after the country's new telecom operator, Timor Telecom, began operations in 2003.

Many companies do not recognise the 670 code, while others charge outrageously high rates for calls to East Timor. For example, BT in the UK charges 2.00 (US$3.70) a minute. High rates like this are damaging East Timor's prospects of attracting foreign investment and tourism, badly needed in what is Asia's poorest country.

Timor Telecom says that other companies' rates are not its responsibility, even though these are a reflection of what they have to pay Timor Telecom to terminate calls in East Timor. East Timor may not be the most frequently called country in the world, and Timor Telecom, backed by Portugal Telecom, needs to make money, but is this the best way to do this? It should be encouraging more people to make telephone calls to East Timor, not punishing those who already do, least of all, East Timorese living overseas.