The Condition of The Internet in Uzbekistan

The Central Asian country of Uzbekistan has a population of approximately 30 million. In order to understand the country's current situation in terms of Internet service, it is necessary to establish a few facts about Uzbekistan's history.

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Uzbekistan was part of the extinct Soviet Union between 1924 and 1991. This means that while other countries were immersed in the development of Internet services, Uzbekistan was barely appearing as an independent nation in the international scene. As a result, the country has lagged behind other Eurasian nations in terms of technological development, as the Internet only made its first appearance in Uzbekistan towards the end of 1995.

Although since the mid-nineties Uzbekistan has made progress in transitioning to a market-based economy, heavy restrictions and strict controls by the government are still in place. These factors deter foreign investment that could potentially help develop the Internet infrastructure in the country. The media and communications are also under government control, although it is worth mentioning that one of the few independent media outlets is an online news agency, Uznews.net. However, there is a number of websites that are fully or partially blocked by governmental agencies, mainly foreign news sites. Social networks are occasionally blocked too.

Another factor to take into consideration is the fact that a large percentage of the country's population is employed in primary sector industries, such as agriculture and mining. For the most part, individuals employed in these sectors have no regular access to the Internet, or no access at all.

Main Internet service providers in Uzbekistan

EVO offers Internet access to individuals and companies, although the conditions and quality of the connection vary throughout the country. There are also 3G and GPRS connections available via mobile phone with providers like Ucell, Beeline, and MTS.

Quality of service and current issues affecting the Internet in Uzbekistan

Internet speeds are notoriously low in Uzbekistan and dial-up connections are still predominant. Although fibre optic cable infrastructure is available, all communications go through a leased connection in Moscow, with results in frequent bottlenecks. There are a few wifi hotspots scattered around the capital. The highest speeds, often averaging 15 kbytes/s, are offered at Tashkent's best hotels.

As for the country's Internet penetration rates, it looks as if things are improving. Uzbekistan has gone from having 1.8 million users in 2007 to 9 million in March 2012. However, with an average GDP per household of $3,000 per year, affordability is an issue that prevents a more widespread adoption of the Internet in Uzbekistan.

Future opportunities

Although the current situation in Uzbekistan is not particularly buoyant, there are certainly opportunities for growth and development in the field of Internet technologies. Some positive indicators include the country's 7 per cent economic growth rate and the signature of a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement with the United States, which may help accelerate the introduction of online technologies.

Similarly, and according to the HSBC Global Economics Report for January 2012, Uzbekistan is one of the 26 “fast growth” countries expected to benefit from technological advances such as the Internet over the next ten years.

Uzbekistan's high literacy rate, which is in the region of 99.3 per cent, along with its predominantly young population, are factors that Internet companies can capitalise on. The educational sector presents huge opportunities for development, as there are 600,000 new university graduates every year, but only 15 per cent of the universities offer basic Internet services such as e-mail.

Another area of opportunity concerns the future development of websites in Uzbek, as opposed to Russian, which is still the predominant language in most sites that have a local .uz domain.

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