Korea’s first portal to vanish into cyberspace

Ridden with debts and unable to keep up with its competitors, Korea’s oldest Internet portal is on the verge of permanent retirement.
Netian.com went offline suddenly on Monday but resumed service on Thursday. Its Web host provider, Inet Hosting, said yesterday that the shutdown was due to overdue payments. The host said that critical media reports and public opinion persuaded Netian to pay a small amount to temporarily continue its services.
“Netian owes us hundreds of millions of won in Web hosting fees, although I can’t disclose the exact figures because it’s a very sensitive matter for our client,” said Park Ki-jong, a spokesman for Inet. The figure equals several hundred thousand dollars.
For the sake of its regular users, Netian’s services will be available until Aug. 15, but if the company does not pay a certain amount to Inet by that time, the site will be closed permanently. Mr. Park said that he wouldn’t exclude the possibility that Netian might fold.
The owners of the portal seem to have done so already. “The number you have just called does not exist,” an automated voice tells those who call Netian’s main phone number. Yesterday, the company’s offices, on the 19th floor of the Geopyeong Building in Nonhyeon-dong, southern Seoul, were empty. Days, perhaps weeks, of mail lay in a pile in front of the door.
“We haven’t seen them for quite a while,” said a maintenance staff member at the building. “They haven’t paid five months of utility costs, putting them behind 30 million won. We had no choice but to cut off the electricity on May 27.”
That could explain why Netian’s Web site has not been updated. The most recent “public notice” on Netian’s customer service Web bulletin board as of yesterday evening was dated May 14.
Established in 1997 with 330 million won in capital, Netian was the first portal site in Korea, mainly providing personal homepages for its users. At its peak, it had 7.3 million subscribers, but a lack of new profit sources led to a capital reduction in 2003 and later a takeover by the Kosdaq-listed firm Cosmo CNT, a security products and services provider. Cosmo has not decided what to do with Netian, although it says it is having accounting firms conduct an inspection of the site’s debts to see whether the company should continue to support it.
Some Netian users are demanding legal action; others are merely disappointed. “I created my first e-mail account on Netian. Even if I back up the love letters I exchanged with my girlfriend for the past five years, it won’t be the same,” one user said.

by Wohn Dong-hee, Suh Kyoung-ho

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