Central Asia, the most remote landlocked mountainous region in the world, has some of the most expensive Internet in global comparison. The cost of it can easily reach 10-20% of average monthly salary. In absolute terms, the price of the Internet can reach triple digits for 1 Mbps.
Acknowledging such challenges and considering the benefits that the Internet can bring, Central Asian governments are embarking on national digitalization strategies. The Kyrgyz Republic has launched a national program on digital transformation “Taza Koom” (“Transparent Society”). The program focuses on building an open government and a digital economy.
When it comes to digital development strategies, cooperation among countries is a mutually beneficial approach. To foster such collaboration, Cambridge University initiated a common platform called Digital Dialogue for Central Asia. The first meeting of this platform Making Inroads into Digital Transformation took place in Astana in April 2018.
Speaking at the forum on behalf of the Internet Society’s Kyrgyz Chapter, I proposed to jointly build the Digital Silk Road guided by the slogan: “free movement of ideas, people, creativity, technology and innovation”. Central Asia, with its favourable geographical location in Eurasia, could become the connecting host and focal point – a global digital hub – connecting different continents.
The region has talented people and beautiful nature that offers energy and inspiration. The Internet has become our ocean of possibilities and Central Asia can be the virtual window to the entire Eurasian region.
As a specific proposal for innovative cooperation, we proposed the idea of extending the network of fiber-optic communications lines through the territory of the Central Asia connecting the East and the West. Simultaneously, the World Bank is helping connect the South and the North through the Digital CASA project.
Another idea under implementation with the support of the Internet Society’s Beyond the Net Programme is the Digital Silk Road IXP in the Ferghana Valley, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, bordering three Central Asia countries of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.
Improving Internet connectivity in Central Asia would bring many economic opportunities and social benefits to the citizens of the Central Asian countries. This is a mutually beneficial effort that would help the region to leapfrog in terms of sustainable economic development. The region that was the world’s centre of culture and science during the times of the Ancient Silk Road gets a new chance to become one of the vibrant regions of the globe thanks to the Digital Silk Road.
The discussions on Internet development in Central Asia will continue at the Central Asian Internet Governance Forum on 21-22 June in Astana, Kazakhstan.
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