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Old 27th July 2007, 06:48 AM
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Central Asia: Internet Influence Grows Despite Official Pressure

Extract:


Surfing In Uzbekistan

Apart from what are officially regarded as "pornographic and political" sites -- a catchall that is used to block non-state news outlets -- the Internet is expanding in Uzbekistan.

The number of Uzbek ISPs has grown from 25 in 1999 to 539, according to the latest available figures, from 2005, according to Open Net Initiative. Still, official Uzbek statistics suggest that just 1.2 million of the country's 27 million people has access to the Internet.

There are increasingly Internet cafes offering inexpensive connections to the net. The Tashkent Internet cafe owner we quoted earlier says the going rate -- equivalent to about $0.50 per hour -- is affordable for many Uzbeks.

Same Old Turkmenistan?

In Turkmenistan, it is a different story. The late strongman president, Saparmurat Niyazov, kept his impoverished public as hermetically sealed as possible. No Internet connections at home -- with even the handful of people who received official permission for it in the 1990s later banned from using the web.

The new president, Burbangulu Berdymukhammedov, famously vowed to open the Internet up to his people.

But even under his tentative reforms, the cost of using the Internet is prohibitively high. In a country with an average salary of about $70 per month, the several Internet cafes that have opened charge around $4 per hour.

When he officially succeeded Niyazov in February, Berdymukhamedov pledged an immediate improvement in access to the Internet: "Starting from today, Internet cafes will be opened in Ashgabat and other cities. We are working on a program that gives every school and university access to the Internet."

Six months on, there appear to have been few changes. All opposition, human rights, and independent news websites are still blocked by the authorities. All ISPs are said to be closely controlled by the government.

Getting authorization for a household Internet connection is out of reach for most, with thorough checks by the National Security Ministry.

Limited Option

In Tajikistan, officials put the number of active Internet users at an improbably high 500,000, which would represent one in 12 citizens.

Tajikistan's unreliable electricity supplies present a major challenge for would-be web users, with power available in many places limited to a few early-morning and late-evening hours.

The same problem exists in many provinces of neighboring Uzbekistan.

While there is Internet growth all over Central Asia, the number of the net users still remains low relative to more developed places.

http://www.rferl.org/featuresarticle...A31A512FE.html
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