The 2nd Central Asia Internet Symposium organised by the European Regional Bureau of the Internet Society took place on 2 March in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The discussion was focused on how to increase the Internet penetration in Tajikistan from the current level of just under 20%.
A lively, at times heated debate continued between the speakers and the audience throughout the day addressing the opportunities and challenges related to connectivity and access:
Given that Tajikistan is a land-locked country, international connectivity is key to reduce price and improve quality. International organisations such as the World Bank group and the European Commission are active in Central Asia supporting regional connectivity through specific projects, namely Digital CASA and CAREN. Tajikistan was the first country in Central Asia to deploy 4G in 2012, and mobile Internet is likely to continue as the “technology of choice” due to price and difficult terrain. A representative from a local mobile operator made a poignant remark emphasising that a laissez-faire commercial approach should be the greatest accelerator of connectivity in the domestic market, but at the moment the regulatory environment can be a slowing factor.
Getting People Online
Many Tajik Internet users benefit from the available online sources and services in Russian, but local content in Tajik language is lagging far behind. However, the presentations of several speakers demonstrated the innovative mind-set of the local Internet community. One motivator is the economic opportunity. A young entrepreneur concluded that despite the sometimes challenging regulatory environment, it is still worth his while being a web entrepreneur in Tajikistan – the market is growing fast and the competition is still relatively low. Second, people look for opportunities to facilitate their everyday life. The Tajik e-government programme and bottom-up initiative called the TajikMama are good examples of socially engaging online content.
Many stakeholders, both international and local, make significant efforts to accelerate Internet development in Tajikistan and the wider region. While this is positive, a representative from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) asked a critical question during our session: who will do the follow-up and make it happen after this event? Indeed, the global and regional (Internet) development community can inject ideas, expertise and even funding, but this is not enough to introduce sustainable progress. The local stakeholders – government, businesses and civil society – will have to take the lead in implementing change. ISOC prides itself on bringing people together and building communities, and I believe we succeeded in doing exactly that in Dushanbe.
 ITU, 2015, World Telecommunications/ ICT indicators database