Asia's potential need for Internet connection is driving the creation of another regional network to carry the anticipated load of Web traffic in coming years. WorldCom, the second-largest long-distance phone company in the United States, is pulling together another project on top of its present work to link parts of Asia. Until recently, the company focused on building a transpacific capacitor cable system, which would make it one of the largest owners of hook-up capacity travelling from Asia to the US, WorldCom Japan's general manager Vinod Kumar said. In the coming 18 months, WorldCom and its six partners will concentrate on the first project, but a new deal is under way for another major Asian backbone network. Mr Kumar did not discuss the design or bandwidth of the network, but he said announcements were expected soon and that construction would begin in the latter half of this year. Communications companies worldwide are eyeing Asia's growing Internet usage, since most consumers in North America and Europe have already bought personal computers and gone online. Countries such as China and India - home to huge populations - have raised hopes of communications expansion, especially as the US economy has slowed. Instead of laying their own underwater sea cables at great expenses, telecommunications network companies often pool resources to construct a system and share revenues as demand for the pipes increases. WorldCom's new backbone would, at a minimum, travel through Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan, with branches to areas such as India, Mr Kumar said. 'It covers all the major markets in Asia. This is where the growth is. Markets are deregulating. The competitive landscape is changing,' he said. Mr Kumar believed China and India would provide huge opportunities for telecoms and Internet penetration. WorldCom has not been immune to the changes in the telecoms landscape since the technology stock market crumbled last year. This year, the Mississippi-based company has reported lower-than-expected revenues for the fourth quarter and announced lay-offs. The company, which owns Internet service provider UUNet, plans to expand its networks despite a recent drop in its share price. Long-time rival PSINet recently admitted that it was threatened by bankruptcy. If its rivals dropped off, UUNet, which carries 40 per cent of the world's Internet traffic on its backbone, could gain more customers, Mr Kumar said. 'When some of the start-ups - smaller companies - run into financial difficulties and start going out of business, in some cases it gives us the opportunity to expand our market share. 'Customers also realise the importance of working with the more established players who will be there to stay in the coming years,' he said. In Japan, Mr Kumar is facing some challenges. He said WorldCom was building a network in Japan faster than other foreign carriers, but it took some time for a Western company to understand the market. Japanese businesses also are showing signs of slowing down, with customers looking for a phased approach to spending instead of paying up-front.