The Condition of The Internet in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is in a quandary at the moment internet-wise. This sparsely-populated but large country still has an instinctive secrecy and protectiveness towards the sanctity of information, a hangover from the days of the USSR, while simultaneously understanding that in order to introduce free market economy information must be freely shared and accessible. This results in mixed messages being received by the populace and the rest of the world alike and even within government itself.

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From one state-controlled internet service provider Kazakhstan has loosened control enough for there to now be five major players on the internet market; KazakhTelecom – the former state provider and still having a 51% government stake, Transtelecom, Kaztranscom, Arna (DUCAT) and Astel. Under this umbrella of major players are approximately 100 smaller providers who all lease internet traffic from the big five. There was something of a scandal when it was discovered that KazakhTelecom had a system in place by which it could monitor and even interfere with customers using the competitions services. An investigation confirmed the existence of said system, but no signs were ever found of the system being actively used against customers. It is felt that competition between the suppliers is not fought on a very even playing field when it is considered that KazakhTelecom as the original operator had control of the internet infrastructure and still dominates the market, leasing bandwidth to the other operators.

Despite a clearly stated intention of opening up the internet provision market, allowing competition to thrive there are still restrictions on foreign companies offering internet provision in Kazakhstan, even Google could not offer google.kz as the server running the domain name would not be based inside the country. Google directed users to google.com until the Kazakhstan government relented, enabling google.kz to be made available once more.

Market penetration of the internet in Kazakhstan has risen considerably from a mere 3.3% in 2006 to between 45 – 53% by 2011. Up to 50% of internet access is made from customer’s homes, especially now that competition has brought prices down to a more affordable level. In general internet contracts offer unlimited access within the .kz domain, but implement limitations on international web site access. The people of Kazakhstan have a word for the internal internet, that which falls within the .kz category – Kaznet. The service is mostly reliable although it is whispered that extending the lag time of commercial sites such as http://www.singledaycarinsurance.co.uk or sites providing insurance cover for tradespeople is a method used to control access to them; they are available, but take such a painfully long time to open that the user gives up before the page ever loads! More than half of users access the internet through dial-up and ADSL is making strides with approximately one third of the market.

Unfortunate recent events have seen the Kazakh government tighten controls and censorship of the internet once again, and laws are being drafted with a view to further increasing controls. This is due to events that might be seen as nationally embarrassing were they to reach a wider stage. As long as the country remains stable politically there is hope that the tentative emergence of a liberalised economy will continue; if not, it is to be feared that there will be a return to an information-starved era.

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