NEW YORK TIMES April 17, 2003
After a Long Climb, Cyberchat on Everest
By NANCY GOHRING
TSERING GYALTSEN was devastated when a partner advised him over a month ago to give up on his dream of building a cybercafe this year at Mount Everest’s base camp in Nepal because the bureaucracy was even more daunting than the technology.
But while Mr. Gyaltsen was taken aback, he was not deterred. On Monday, with the climbing season under way, he and his team finished building a cybercafe at 17,500 feet. “I feel great,” he wrote in one of the first e-mail messages sent from the cafe.
The cafe consists of a 10-by-20-foot tent that sits in subzero temperatures on a moving glacier. To connect to the Internet, laptops there communicate wirelessly with a satellite link.
Members of an Everest climbing expedition must pay $2,500 to use the four laptops and the Internet connection during their stay at base camp, which can stretch to six weeks. Other climbers and trekkers can use the Internet service for $1 a minute or pay $4 a minute for voice calls.
So far, Mr. Gyaltsen said, no expedition team has signed up for the bulk rate, but the cafe has had a steady stream of walk-in customers.
The project has come with its share of troubles. Just as the climbing season was about to begin, Mr. Gyaltsen’s Internet service partner in Katmandu, the Nepalese capital, suggested that he forget about completing the cybercafe this year because the Nepalese telecommunications authority would not grant the licenses needed. But Mr. Gyaltsen contacted another Internet service provider in Nepal, WorldLink, and met with success.
WorldLink was able to secure the licenses, mainly because it was willing to allow the licenses to be issued in the name of the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee, a nonprofit organization responsible for cleaning up the heaps of trash on Mount Everest. The committee will receive the bulk of any profits from the venture.
The cafe will be a bit smaller than originally planned: one radio and one laptop were stolen when the gear, which also includes the satellite dish, batteries and solar panels, was taken from Katmandu to the base camp.
But unexpected help also arose. SES Americom, a satellite operator in Princeton, N.J., read about the project and offered a free connection for the first six months of operation. It will continue to provide the service for a fee after that.
Mr. Gyaltsen has started up a Web site, www.linkingeverest.com, that provides information about the cybercafe.
In addition to his technical team on the mountain, Mr. Gyaltsen has been guided by a small group of well-known American technologists. Gordon Cook, author and publisher of a monthly Internet newsletter, www .cookreport.com, has offered enthusiastic support and a well-populated Rolodex. Dave Hughes, a wireless technologist, taught Mr. Gyaltsen and his team how to set up the network, and Jim Forester, an engineer at Cisco Systems, persuaded his company to donate three radios. Mr. Gyaltsen hopes to move the radios and satellite dish during the off season to his hometown, Namche Bazar, farther down the mountain, where the network can be used to offer distance learning to a school.