Thursday, September 30, 2010

Internet in Turkmenistan

RFE-RL reports on the growth of the internet in Turkmenistan:
"During Niyazov's decades-long rule, the Internet was available only for a select few, mostly government officials and well-connected families in the capital, Ashgabat.

"Berdymukhamedov, in his first months of office, freed things up a bit, providing greater access to the Internet that led to the opening of dozens of Internet cafes in the capital and other regions.

"Now, the economy, corruption, and domestic finances are among popular topics on blogs and forums, and while the Turkmen president might be responsible for the newfound openness compared to his predecessor's rule, it does not spare him from criticism...

"Despite the small changes, Turkmenistan still has a long way to go in its on-line liberalization...

"For instance, Facebook and other social-networking sites such as the Russian Odnoclassniki (Classmates) are blocked, along with many foreign news sites and YouTube.

"Access to the net also comes at a high cost, placing the Internet beyond the reach of ordinary Turkmen citizens. An hour of surfing the net at an Internet cafe costs about $2.10, while surfing at home costs $0.42 per hour in addition to a monthly subscription fee of $4.20. Such prices are prohibitive in a country where, despite vast energy wealth, some 30 percent of the population lives in poverty, and the average monthly salary is about $200."

Despite those caveats, it would be difficult to overstate how remarkable this is. The background to the regime's decision to permit more internet access is probably an interest in economic development, but it does provide at least a small counter-public for the economic elites who can afford it and a chance for the regime to keep an eye on their concerns.



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