JB: This group is a delegation from a group called Keidenren. What's that?
AIZU: The Japanese companies or business societies often form delegations, or study groups, to the U.S. or Europe. It's not so much about interaction as trying to absorb what's going on there, take it back, and use what we can from the experience. This tour has a very unique, strange setup. Officially, for international consumption, it's the Keidenren Tour. Domestically it's a quiet tour — they cannot present it as Keidenren. I was asked to help them visit some of the places like the White House and the FCC. Usually, a government ministry or a large corporation such as NTT, would make the arrangements. But this time they were interested more informal meetings with some of my friends inside the White House and inside the FCC than in going through official diplomatic channels. It started two and a half years ago when a similar group, under a different banner but made up of almost exactly the same people, came to the U.S., in '94, to study what's going on in the U.S. when the Clinton administration began serious thinking about the Internet revolution.
At that time, most people were still focused on cable box and the possibility of 500 channels delivered over your tv set. So the group decided they wanted to visit Time-Warner in Orlando, Florida. Nevertheless, I wanted them to meet people who believed the Internet would be the central focus. In this regard, with few email exchanges I set up a White House meeting with a young guy named Mike Nelson who was interested in the Internet. Mike got some other higher ranking officials to also join the meeting.
It was the first time the White House had made a high-level meeting of this nature without exchanging any formal paper. It was all done through email. Without the informal nature of the contact through this means of communication, the meeting never would have taken place. At that time, your President and our Prime Minister couldn't agree on trade issues. In fact, In February '94, our Prime Minister had said No to the U.S. side. All the diplomatic talks were temporarily stopped. Your ministries couldn't talk to our ministries without higher level of approval by the Clinton administration, which didn't happen. That's part of the reason why my group, GLOCOM, was brought in - we were able to make contact very informally by the use of email.
JB: Wouldn't it seem reasonable to imagine that a visit to the White House by a group that included the Chairman of NTT, perhaps the largest corporation in the world, the Managing Director of Mitsubishi, the heads of the five largest banks of Japan, would get an audience with President Clinton or the Vice-President Gore? Why did they wind up meeting with the White House techies?
AIZU: Very simple. The younger guys like Mike Nelson and Tom Kalil, know much more about technology, even though they may not have a big influence on policy.
JB: But you didn't bring your younger guys; you brought the bosses. Why wouldn't the Secretary of Commerce be there, or the U.S. Trade Negotiator?
AIZU: I didn't try that, because in my perception these big names and big guys don't produce much. They give us diplomatic, official talk, but we don't find out what's actually going on inside the administration. I love something more informal, casual and young. That's how we learn things.
JB: What did you learn?
AIZU: We had expected that big competition would emerge here out of the new communications act passed in Congress, and related FCC rulings. It seemed to us that the telephone companies were going to emerge as leaders of the communications revolution. But we left being very skeptical about the role of the telcos. They are not up to speed on the Internet, or, say, on Intranets. What they may be able to offer cheaper, faster pipes, and that's fine. But that's not where the action is.
The morning after we visited you in New York, we went to London and met with the Chairman of British Telcom, then to Bonn and met with the Chairman of the Deutsche Telekom. Those talks were boring. Really boring. Along with their U.S. counterparts, the European telcos are ready for competition but they are in the wrong arena. They are not really living in the digital age.
After Bonn I flew to Singapore for a twelve hours visit as a side trip, separate from the group. I had a question for myself: how I could explore setting up an operation in Kuala Lumpur to help develop a Multimedia Super Corridor and to have a major presence in not only Malaysia, but rather vast areas in Asia, from Mongolia to India, let's say. The visit was successful and I am about to move there.