At Last Count

Map of phone traffic from the U.S.

THE map above shows volume on the major telecommunication routes between the United States and other, noncontiguous nations. What is behind the heaviest traffic, to the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan, is no surprise: trade, investment, tourism, and family connections keep these phone lines humming. But the growth in traffic with these countries is relatively slow, given their mature economies and established networks. The routes now experiencing the fastest growth in volume are busy for reasons sometimes unexpected and largely determined by the particularities of the countries involved -- which are in some cases quite unexpected as well.

China and India:  The world's two most populous countries are virtual "teledeserts," each with fewer than five telephone lines per hundred people. Efforts are under way, however, to change this (China added 13 million phone lines in 1995, a 49.5 percent increase), and more telephones mean more calls. U.S. traffic with these countries has increased by more than 50 percent annually since 1994. Former Soviet Union: The emergence of the republics of Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan into the global culture is unmistakably reflected in the growth of their telephone traffic with the United States. The traffic on each of these routes rose by more than 50 percent from 1994 to 1995. Volume remains small, to be sure (Kyrgyzstan's 372 percent increase in 1995 represents a modest absolute increase, from 66,000 to 312,000 traffic minutes), but the further development of telecommunication networks can only boost growth.

: Telephone companies in several remote countries are realizing the benefits of acting as middlemen in the lucrative international phone-sex industry, worth $2 billion a year. Guyana is a haven for such business. In 1996 Americans spent 84 million minutes, up from 35 million minutes in 1994, calling Guyana. Much of this traffic consisted of "audiotex" service: callers heard recorded messages, many of them pornographic. American carriers collected $118 million from such customers and then paid Guyana Telephone and Telegraph $72 million for completing the calls, a portion of which was passed on to the audiotex providers.

Source: TeleGeography, Inc. (

The Atlantic Monthly; June 1998; Speaking Volumes; Volume 281, No. 6; page 83.