The Condition of The Internet in Turkmenistan

Turkmenistan is a relatively small country in central Asia which shares borders with Afghanistan and Iran. It was part of the old Soviet Union before it gained independence in 1991. Several years of chronic under-investment and tight state censorship on internet usage has left the country with an outdated internet service. However, there have been some significant changes made in recent years which should result in a marked improvement in both broadband quality and reach over the next ten years.

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Turkmenistan is currently one of the most secretive nations in the world. The limited internet access is extremely unreliable, and it is only available to a small percentage of the population. Anyone who is lucky enough to have some form of internet access will have to deal with constant surveillance from the state. Most international sites have been banned, and there are tight controls regarding the domestic agencies who may operate their own websites. TurkmenTelecom, the Ashgabat City Network and Altyn Asyr all provide varying levels of electronic communications, yet they are tightly controlled by government ministers. All companies wishing to post their own websites must first apply to the Cabinet of Ministers for a licence; a lengthy procedure which has severely restricted the growth of internet usage in the country.

The only designated internet service provider in Turkmenistan is TurkmenTelecom. The official government position suggests that new providers are welcome to apply for a licence to operate internet services; however, the reality is that the process involves a lengthy government review. It is believed that, thus far, no other internet service providers have applied for a licence since the regulations were implemented. This monopoly on the industry has made internet access expensive; far beyond the meagre budgets of many of the local people.

The government of Turkmenistan was aware that the internet services in the country were slow and highly unreliable. In order to improve internet communications, a deal was signed with TATA communications. The agreement gave TurkmenTelecom access to the Transit-Asia-Europe fibre-optic network. This allowed ordinary people the chance to gain access to high-speed ADSL networks for the first time. In only five years, penetration of the market increased from less than one percent to well over sixty percent.

The country's service is still widely censored, and a number of different websites are automatically filtered by government agencies. A 2008 test by OpenNet detected a number of filtered websites, and several of them extolled the virtues of free speech. It was also discovered that sites containing references to women's rights, pornography and gambling were also systematically blocked. The future of Turkmenistan's internet service rests heavily on the future direction of the political establishment. Nearly forty percent of the population still has no regular internet access. Sites promoting free thought and anti-government sentiment are still routinely blocked. It is also believed that a sophisticated system of internet surveillance is in place; even failed searches can be identified and recorded against the individual. Although the internet is still widely controlled, its speed of growth in the country has been staggering, and it looks like continuing for some time yet.

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