26 September 2006

1047) Internet Almost Equally Spread in Region

It is almost impossible to get complete and accurate information about the penetration of Internet into the countries of the region and issues concerning it. On the one hand, various data is kept in various structures and, in general, they differ each from the other, and on the other hand, their absolute accuracy is impossible, taking into consideration the specificities of the sphere and differences between methods of gathering information. . .

Nevertheless, the existing information on the popularity of Internet in Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey permits us to come to certain conclusions. It is noteworthy also that the most recent information obtained from international organizations (World Bank, International Broadcasting Association) and organizations operating in the sphere relates to the survey made in 2004.

So, in Armenia, from 5 to 7 people out of 100 are Internet users. According to data got as a result of a household survey, that rate is 18 per cent in Yerevan, 8 per cent in other cities and towns and 3 per cent in villages.

Are these figures that reliable?

Speaking about Armenia, as well as other countries of the region, we have to bear in mind that the concept of "Internet users" is too conditional one.

It is not possible to find out how many people are Internet users in a concrete state structure, private organization or family. One subscriber may command the services of two or three providers, and on the contrary, one family may command the services of a single company, but suppose 5 members of that family may be Internet users. Anyway, 150 thousand out of 3 million population is mentioned as the number of Internet users in Armenia.

In Georgia, according to the above-mentioned sources, the number of Internet users amounts to 175 thousand out of 5 million population. According to data as of 2003, Internet users were 3 per cent of the population, and 3,5 per cent as of 2004. In the opinion of experts in the sphere, currently that rate is from 4 to 5 per cent.

In Azerbaijan, 4,2 per cent of the country's population is mentioned as the number of Internet users. This is the rate of 2003, and as of 2004, according to some estimations, the number of Internet users has reached up to 5 per cent. 350 thousand out of 8 million population is mentioned as the absolute number of Internet users in Azerbaijan.

In Turkey, 14 people out of 100 were Internet users according to data as of 2004. The 2002 data is known as the absolute number, according to which, there were 3 million Internet users out of 72 million population in Turkey.

Beside the conventionality of the concept of "Internet users", there are other factors common for all the four countries of the region. We mean, in particular, the disproportionate distribution of Internet. In all these countries, the number of Internet users in distant countryside areas is exiguous. One of the substantial reasons of de facto insufficient popularity of Internet is the social hardships experienced by the populations of the countries in the region.

Internet clubs and cafes are mainly in big cities. By the way, they also cause certain problems connected to the concept of "Internet user". Should Internet clubs and cafes be considered one user each? If no, then how to consider them?

Or, if an individual uses Internet only once a month, in an Internet club or in his office, should he be mentioned among permanent Internet users, or not? There are no clear answers here.

In the countries of the South Caucasus, unlike Turkey, it is obvious that the level of popularity of Internet is almost the same. The governments of all the three countries attach importance to the development of this sphere, and an unannounced struggle is led as to which country will be the first.

Armenia was declared by the European Union regional center of information and high technologies. However, despite the fact that Armenia has had certain achievements in this sphere, and leading international companies in the sphere have opened their representative offices here, problems connected with the very Internet hamper the further development of these achievements. The problems, in their turn, are conditioned by two main factors, those of ArmenTel's monopoly and the geographical location of Armenia.

The monopoly on international let-out keeps on being preserved even after the new agreement struck between the government and the monopolist company. As a result, given the absence of competition, the tariffs for the provided service remain high, its quality remains low, with frequent glitches.

Besides, Armenia is connected to the global network by a cable passing through Georgia and may in one second be deprived of cable Internet (the satellite one has no big power) if the above-mentioned cable is negligently damaged because of some construction works carried out by Georgia. By the way, this is not just a theoretical judgment, as such incidents have in fact taken place. The cable passing through Iran which would be an alternative to that passing through Georgia does not function yet.

As we have stated in our previous article, the concept of Internet accessibility is relative one. We have mentioned some of the reasons of it in that article, as well. This time we will touch upon other data, relating to the number of computers per 100 people, the number of so called nodal computers connected to Internet (hosts) and respectively the number of hosts per 10 thousand inhabitants. Citing again data provided by the World Bank and the International Telecommunication Association on Internet accessibility in the region, we will mention also why one should deal with some data of these respected structures with certain reservation.

The number of computers in 2002 was 200 thousand in Armenia, 192 thousand in Georgia, and according to the 2002 data, that rate in Turkey was 3 million. There is no direct information about Azerbaijan in this regard. In Armenia, there are 6.55 computers per 100 people, 3.78 computers in Georgia and 5.12 computers in Turkey. This rate in Azerbaijan is known and amounts to 1.78. Given it, one can assume how many personal computers are in the country, that is, if in 2004 the population of the country was 7 million, then the number of computers amounted to 125 thousand.

The number of computers cannot be accurate because, first of all, it is not all the personal computers that are connected to Internet, and, secondly, it is impossible to specify how many computers are connected to a nodal computer connected to Internet. Perhaps, we can deal with the number of nodal computers with more reliance. Another case is that they may be connected to Internet, but the number of users might be unknown.

So, the number of nodal computers (hosts) is 1,897 in Armenia, 6,030 in Georgia, 355 in Azerbaijan, and 474 thousand in Turkey. In Armenia, there are 6.22 computers per 10 thousand people, 12.42 in Georgia, 0.43 in Azerbaijan, and 65.56 in Turkey.

In accordance with the above-mentioned data, Azerbaijan is in the last place in all these respects. In respect of the ratio of the number of population to the number of computers, the leader is Armenia, and as to the number of nodal computers per 10 people, Turkey.

Georgia has good chances to come to the fore, as still a study titled South Caucasus Telecommunication Sphere Development and Integration Project and carried out in March of 2003 with the support of Eurasia Foundation emphasized the leadership of this country in regulatory reforms and liberalization of market, as well as its being the conjuncture of regional telecommunication networks.

Armenia, the country which has fixed the biggest development and recognition in the region in the sphere of information and high technologies, has so far failed to become the leader in Internet sphere. As we have already mentioned, two main factors are blocking that, i.e. the geographical location of Armenia and the monopoly of ArmenTel company.

While the first reason is objective one and nothing can be made in that aspect, the second one could have been somewhat changed by the agreement signed in 2004 between ArmenTel and the government of Armenia. We mean more liberal conditions in the sphere of international let-out (exchange of data), which however was not an objective of paramount interest for the Armenian government. At the time, the main objective of the government was to achieve a partial liberalization of the cell communication market and to assure the entrance of the second operator to the market.

by Aram Melkumian


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