The Condition of The Internet in Kyrgystan

Kyrgyzstan is a small country in central Asia, landlocked and mountainous. Its geographical position sometimes means that it is affected by the political considerations of its neighbours.

The official ruling on internet provision is that of free market economy welcoming both foreign and domestic suppliers. There are as many as 38 local internet service providers, or ISPs. However only three of these are linked to the international internet namely: KyrgyzTelecom, SaimoTelecom and Elcat. Of these KyrgyzTelecom is state controlled and leases lines and cables to many of the smaller local suppliers; and government has a 50% interest in Elcat. When it is remembered that in 1996 there were only two internet suppliers in the country (AsiaInfo and Elcat) it is easier to see that Kyrgyzstan’s internet market is growing steadily, albeit slowly. With financial assistance from the Soros Foundation ISPs, AsiaInfo & Totel, have begun to install fibre optic cables, extending their reach as needed. The Soros Foundation has also helped to finance an Internet Traffic Exchange Point (IXP) in the country.

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Despite the lack of government control as regards the internet there are still hindrances in place. The country relies on buying its bandwidth from neighbouring Kazakhstan and Russia, and when the former places tight controls on the internet for its citizens this censorship trickles downstream to Kyrgyzstan. Another problem is the lack of rural infrastructure. Internet systems tend to be focused in the two largest cities, the capital Bishkek where 77% of internet users are concentrated and Osh. Rural internet access does exist, but is sparse and suffers from unreliable connectivity. Only about 2% of the population have private internet connections at home, but total market penetration is estimated to be anywhere from 8 – 13% of the population. Fifty-one per cent of users access the internet at work, 21% use their mobile phones and 20% access the web through internet cafes and other public access points. A large proportion of users, about half, are students and 25% list themselves as ‘unemployed’.

High-speed broadband is relatively rare; most provision points use dial-up, although businesses can take advantage of 64Kbps lines fairly easily.

A big plus for Kyrgyzstan is its stated free market for internet service provision and this will stand it in good stead for the future. Development is slow but going in the right direction and as the infrastructure is expanded and improved upon there will be opportunities for service providers and customers to make the most of the world-wide-web; this will help overcome the two main current problems, strict upstream filtering and poor rural access.

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