Growing the Internet

Strategic Vision and Local Stakeholders Needed to Keep Tajikistan IXP on Track

Today, we released an Internet Exchange Point (IXP) Environment Assessment for Tajikistan. This report was carried out in the framework of Internet Society’s partnership agreement with GÉANT with a view to support regional Internet development in Central Asia.

The release of this report coincides with the 2nd Central Asian Internet Governance Forum (CAIGF), which takes place in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. This event gathers a wide range of stakeholders from Tajikistan as well as from the Central Asian region at large and provides an excellent opportunity to receive wider feedback from the community on our findings and conclusions.

Stakeholder Cooperation Is Key

While the benefits of IXPs are well-established, some 80 countries worldwide, including the five Central Asian Republics, still do not have a local IXP. Developing an IXP in Tajikistan is a vital step in cementing the nation’s Internet sector, making the exchange of traffic between Internet providers much more efficient, reducing costs for providers, and increasing the performance of Internet-based services for the end user.

While some of the Internet challenges Tajikistan faces are geographic – it is a landlocked country with mountainous and earthquake-prone territory – others are linked issues such as telecommunications market conditions, policy environment, and skills levels. This latter group of challenges can be addressed if local stakeholders can agree on common goals and an action plan.

Building a Roadmap

In addition to longer term recommendations to improve the Internet environment in Tajikistan, our report proposes an immediate roadmap to develop an IXP. This roadmap suggests a step-by-step approach starting from strategy formulation and core group formation to IXP services marketing and capacity building. Based on our previous discussions with local stakeholders, the key elements of the IXP development process are likely to be clarification of the policy environment and creation of a neutral institutional framework between the different network operators. These issues need to be tackled locally by the Tajik stakeholders, as any quick fixes or outside pressure will most likely produce an unsustainable result.

Reaping the Benefits

Despite the challenges and the potentially lengthy process, an IXP may open important economic and social opportunities for Tajikistan. Tajikistan could become an Internet transit country, if the planned optical fibre projects linking Central Asia to the nearest submarine cable landing stations in Pakistan are realised. An IXP also encourages the presence of local hosting services, which typically helps increase the amount of global and local content. Locally developed services, for example in the area of e-government and e-commerce, bring value to the local economy and promote inclusiveness for all. The full benefits of an IXP only become apparent over a longer term, so a strategic vision is a must to keep the IXP on track.

Read the full Tajikistan IXP Environment Assessment in English or Russian.

Growing the Internet

Sustainability in Armenia: ARMIX Adopts Solar Power

Given that within the coming years, another billion people are going come online along with billions more devices thanks to the Internet of things (IoT), we recognize that the community of Internet professionals and organizations cannot legitimately discuss access without addressing sustainability, especially as it relates to energy. Our support for ARMIX, an Internet exchange point (IXP) in Armenia, is testament to this, and reflective of our global development strategy. Around three years ago, ISOC donated 18 solar panels to ARMIX to help cut down on their energy bill and reduce their reliance on nonrenewable power sources. The panels provide around 4 kilowatts of power, and they constitute the first time that ISOC has donated such equipment to an IXP.

We recently spoke with Vahan Hovsepyan, the director of the ARMIX Foundation and a member of the ISOC Armenia Chapter, about what prompted ARMIX to reach out to ISOC with their request and how it has benefited them.

According to Vahan, the idea to reach out to ISOC came about when they decided to integrate renewable energy into their operations to promote green energy solutions as well as reduce their electricity costs and consumption. He added that ARMIX chose solar because they knew about a company installing solar panels in Armenia, and they did not have many other renewable alternatives to consider (such as wind). The Armenian government is also heavily promoting solar. For instance, a bill was being drafted at the time that included stipulations about returning additional capacity gained from renewables, solar in particular, back to the grid – and it become law in 2016. He also stressed that Armenia is in a unique geographic location since the country receives ample sunlight, and the panels largely do not have to be rotated since they are almost always exposed to the sun during the day.

Since the panels have been donated, their electricity costs have dropped by more than 30%. Moreover, Vahan emphasized that their reliance on nonrenewable energy has decreased as a result of the panels. “They have helped immensely, and we really thank ISOC for its support,” Vahan said, adding: “The solar panels are also drastically reducing the amount of electricity we obtain from nonrenewable sources.” And while they are only currently present at one of ARMIX’s three points of presence (PoPs), Vahan said ARMIX wants to expand the use of solar to the rest of their PoPs.

Vahan made one point clear: ARMIX wanted to set a good example of technology companies that help to change their physical environment. It also demonstrates the importance of an enabling policy environment and public-private partnerships to promote a cleaner, more sustainable environment. They are introducing the community to a new issue, in this case, sustainability, which Vahan considers a significant step forward.

When I spoke to Vahan, his colleague Hovhannes Alexanyan – the commercial director of ARPINET, a local Internet service provider (ISP) and member of ARMIX – joined. Hovhannes said the Municipality of Ejmiatsin, the spiritual capital of Armenia, installed LED lighting around the city, and is on track to get its investment back within a year. He stressed this program was implemented partly due to ARPINET’s success with solar power and energy savings, which served as its inspiration.

ARMIX’s success has not gone unnoticed, either. ARMIX is setting a good example for other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries in terms of promoting green energy and green infrastructure, along with the policies, strategy, regulation, and legislation to support it. Vahan said they are planning to host Kyrgyz colleagues that they met at an ISOC-sponsored IXP workshop, which was held in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, in December 2016, to show them how they operate the IXP after they expressed interest.

Such collaboration and the success ARMIX has experienced represent a positive affirmation of why we do the work we do. And, of course, when his Kyrgyz colleagues arrive to visit, the solar panels will have a front-and-center position.

Blockchain Building Trust Events Growing the Internet Human Rights Improving Technical Security Internet of Things (IoT)

EuroDIG 2017: ISOC Speaks on Cybersecurity, Blockchain, Human Rights, IoT, Internet Shutdowns and more

How do we create a more secure and trusted Internet within the multistakeholder model of Internet governance? That will be among the many questions addressed this week at the European Dialogue on Internet Governance (EuroDIG) in Tallinn, Estonia. From June 5-7, we will have an Internet Society team on site participating in many sessions. Our EuroDIG 2017 page has all the details – including links to live video streams – but at a high level here are some of the workshops we are participating in:

  • Plenary panel on cybersecurity
  • New business models and the Internet
  • Blockchain technology and internet governance
  • Community connectivity: empowering the unconnected
  • Criminal justice on the Internet – identifying common solutions
  • Workshop on human rights and IoT
  • Internet content blocking: from collateral damages to better solutions
  • Stress testing the multistakeholder model in cybersecurity
  • Drowning in data – digital pollution, green IT, and sustainable access
  • Forced data localization and barriers to cross-border data flows: toward a multistakeholder approach

Again, view our EuroDIG 2017 event page to see exact times and live stream links.

To stay up on our activities, you can follow us on social media – and follow the hashtags #eurodig17 and #eurodig on Twitter.

Please do say hello to our staff in the sessions – and tell us how you think we need to work together to build a stronger Internet and #ShapeTomorrow.

Development Growing the Internet

Internet Society Partners with GÉANT – Joining Forces to Mainstream ‘Digital’ in Development in Central Asia

In April 2017, the Internet Society (ISOC) and GÉANT signed a partnership agreement – in the framework of the CAREN3 project – to promote Internet Exchange Points (IXP) in Central Asia with a focus on Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The CAREN3 project supports regional Internet connectivity of National Research and Education Networks (NREN) in Central Asia and is principally funded by the European Union (EU).

Last week, in the framework of the ISOC-GÉANT partnership, the Internet Society organized a regional panel discussion and a workshop with the Kyrgyz Internet community on IXP development during the CAREN Regional Networking Conference in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Over the past years, various studies have shown that an increase in Internet penetration can positively impact growth, employment and commerce. The Kyrgyz government published recently a ‘Smart Nation’ strategy, known as Taza Koom, indicating that the highest levels of political leadership are ready to pursue the promise of digital technologies. However, digital solutions require a strong infrastructure to rely on. The objective of the two sessions was to highlight the role of IXPs as a lever for Internet connectivity and content, and to expand the Internet Society’s stakeholder outreach in this area.

While protectionist mindsets and regulatory challenges still exist, the Internet connectivity and interconnection environment has evolved since the ISOC’s study on Kyrgyzstan in 2015. The Kyrgyz Association of Telecommunications Operators, who run the existing IXP, are in the process of reviewing their policies and practices vis-à-vis openness and neutrality. In parallel, it appears that the region is slowly opening up in terms of cross-border connectivity. Openness, neutrality and transparent regulatory regime are key factors in order to increase Internet traffic and attract global content in Central Asia.

IXPs are only one component of the local Internet eco-system, but setting up one requires a wide range of stakeholders to participate and collaborate. Our IXP workshop brought together network operators, government agencies, business representatives, and various civil society organisations. The World Bank Group have included IXPs in the scope of their Digital CASA project, which addresses Internet development in Central Asia. Furthermore, the opportunity to get involved with the CAREN Regional Networking Conference extended our outreach the NRENs, who often play a role of a neutral partner in IXPs. It truly looks like Internet and IXP development is gaining momentum in Kyrgyzstan and in the wider region!

From a European perspective, I am also encouraged to see that the EU and its Member States are moving towards a greater focus on ‘digital’ in their development policy and funding, and that partnerships are part of the implementation strategy. In November 2016, the European Council adopted conclusions on mainstreaming digital solutions and technologies in EU development policy. These conclusions call for digitalization to be mainstreamed across all policy areas, while in parallel addressing cyber challenges and issues with human rights. Hopefully, partnerships and collaboration with different regional actors will continue to grow, as this can help streamline and accelerate the multiple Internet development efforts in Central Asia and beyond.

Building Trust Internet Governance

Russian Internet Governance Forum: Standing by the Internet of opportunity


On 7 April, the Russian Internet Governance Forum (RIGF) took place in the new city of Innopolis, near Kazan. My main takeaways from this 8th RIGF converge around three themes: digital economy, trust and the next generation of Internet aficionados.

Very much in line with the discussions between the G20 leaders in Germany last week, one of the key messages at RIGF was the importance of digital economy to Russia and its citizens. In his keynote address, Sergey Plugotarenko, Director of Russian Association for Electronic Communications (RAEC), emphasized the importance of the Internet to the Russian economy. RAEC estimates that the Russian Internet sector (RUNET) made up 2,4% of the Russian GDP in 2015 and 19% of GDP when including other sectors relying on the Internet. Despite the challenging economic circumstances in Russia, Plugotarenko noted that the Internet sector is still growing and that the Internet enabled digital economy is a “force for good”. The Internet has obviously delivered on the promise of economic opportunities.

However, there has been a shift in the regulatory environment in Russia since the early days of the Internet towards more restrictive policies, largely explained by concerns about national security. This evolution is not unique to Russia – we have seen similar developments in many parts of the world. In order to ensure a prosperous digital economy, we must address the concerns about Internet security. As Kathy Brown stated in her message from the G20 meeting: “The digital economy will only continue to thrive and generate opportunities for citizens if the Internet is strong, secure, and trusted”.

The cybersecurity session at this RIGF focused on the current landscape of global cyberattacks and on whether it is possible to attribute them to any specific party. While attempting to bring culprits to justice is important, we must make sure that organisations and individual users deploy available tools and practices to prevent and mitigate attacks. Using tools such as encryption will reinforce trust in the digital economy and other Internet services. In the longer term, stakeholders share a collective responsibility to secure the Internet ecosystem and increased cooperation at global level is necessary.

Finally, why in Innopolis? Innopolis is a purpose-built city for high-tech businesses, innovators and students – a showcase of the opportunities provided by the Internet. The Russian Internet community is making great efforts to get the youth engaged in the policy and technical discussions regarding the future of the Internet. As part of the ‘IP&IT Law competition’, held by and the IP Club, a number of students were awarded for their policy research projects in areas such as online licensing and blockchain regulation. It was truly motivating to have the young Internet enthusiasts present in the discussions – the future of the digital economy and security is in good hands.

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

Building Trust Improving Technical Security

Cybersecurity and National Elections

The European Union today faces some serious challenges including growing levels of populism and the threat of foreign intervention through cyber-attacks. Last year’s alleged Russian-led cyberattacks on US Democratic Party servers as well as Chinese government cyber espionage against other governments and companies have provided worrying precedents. Although it is hard to measure the actual impact these attacks had on the election results in the US, concerns are growing amongst European leaders that their electoral procedures are vulnerable to manipulation.

With elections rapidly approaching in three EU Member States (The Netherlands on 15 March, France on 23 April, and Germany in late September), these vulnerabilities are of immediate concern. Populist parties such as the Dutch Party of Freedom (Partij voor de Vrijheid), the French Front National, and the Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland) are already unsettling the political system, this new cyber threat presents an additional element of uncertainty and creates further risk of political instability.

The European Agency for Network and Information Security has urged politicians to take cybersecurity seriously, starting by encrypting their communications. National governments have started to respond. In February, the Dutch government decided to count all votes cast in the national election manually to avoid manipulation. French President Hollande, meanwhile, recently acknowledged that hacking was a major threat in light of the upcoming elections and organized a Defense Council on 23 February to discuss possible ways forward. Likewise, Germany is preparing for hacks throughout the election year, and put the issue forward for discussions between interior and defense ministers from a range of nations at the Munich Security Council 2017.

At this same Council, Andrus Ansip, the European Commission’s Vice-President responsible for the Digital Single Market, emphasised the global threat of cybercrime and the risks it poses for democratic processes. In his opinion, close coordination between governments, law enforcement, industry and NGOs, and a solid commitment to research and investment in cybersecurity are key to heading off this threat. Julian King, the EU’s Commissioner for Security, has likewise urged the EU and its Member States to shore up their defenses in the face of the mounting danger. It has become clear that the Commission sees cybersecurity as a political priority.

At European level, the launch of a cybersecurity public-private partnership as well as the implementation of the NIS Directive are concrete measures being taken. However, a more systematic approach is needed, which motivated the Commission’s plan to review the EU’s cybersecurity strategy this year. The early indications are that this strategy will include a focus on tackling cybercrime and working with partners around the globe.

While these are important elements of a response to the cyber threat, including in the political realm, we hope to also see a recognition of the fact that, as we have argued before, cybersecurity is a shared responsibility.

Ensuring that any cybersecurity framework starts with an understanding of the fundamental properties of the Internet and an appreciation of the complexity of the cybersecurity landscape is the critical part of an effective response – and a multistakeholder cross-border collaboration is an essential component of it. We must all work with policy makers in our region to make sure this happens.

Internet Governance

Not-so-free Flow of Data

The digitalization of human activities, from social interactions to industrial processes, has led to unprecedented levels of data collection. New data is constantly being produced, driven by the rise of user-generated content, the digitalization of industries and services, and the improvement of both machine to machine communication and data storage. As recognized in the Commission’s Communication “Towards a data-driven economy”, this trend “holds enormous potential in various fields, ranging from health, food security, energy efficiency to intelligent transport systems and smart cities”. Indeed, data has become an essential resource for societal improvement.

However, despite the obvious benefits of the digital age, there is a growing tendency towards data nationalism and digital border-checks. Several governments have sought to restrict or control the flow of data by introducing a greater number of data localization requirements. A recent study by the Brussels-based European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE) shows that over five times as many requirements are in place now compared to 2000.

Data analytics can be disruptive, and the risk of abuse is well-known, partly justifying the impulse to control these flows. But an adequate balance needs to be found. As we have said before, data access can only be meaningful if users can trust that their fundamental rights are protected. Indeed, if rules on privacy and security are effective (e.g., GDPR, NIS Directive), there is no reason to keep unnecessary restrictions on the flow of data.

A few European countries, namely France and (until recently) Germany, have fought hard to keep these barriers in place. What they have failed to account for with their digital protectionism, however, is the likelihood that these restrictions will backfire, leading to losses in productivity and the competitiveness of their economy, without achieving any of the intended objectives.

At a time when the European economy is moving on from its traditional model and becoming progressively more digitalized and data-driven, the economic gains to be achieved by removing these obstacles are impressive, representing around 52 billion EUR per year (0.37% of the EU’s GDP) according to ECIPE’s study.

Regrettably, the EU still lacks a future-proof regulatory framework on data. The European Parliament and at least 14 Member States have called for the removal of forced data localisation requirements. The European Commission has a clear mandate to propose progressive measures to remove these obstacles. Given this, it is disappointing that the recently adopted Communication on “Building a European Data Economy” seems to waver from the Commission’s stance on banning data localization.

The communication does promote free movement of data, but its impact is much more limited that an actual legislative tool, as it represents no more than a non-binding declaration of intentions. Moreover, it seems that consensus around this issue is also faltering, with new alternative methods to reduce barriers being suggested. One such idea floating around the upper levels of the Berlaymont is to instead rely on infringement procedures against Member States which disproportionally limit Single Market freedoms.

But such methods take a long time, and hardly ever create the necessary conditions of certainty and precedent which would enable us to enjoy the level of data flows we want and need. The European Commission needs to stand firm against digital protectionism, or risks perpetuating our current position, to the edge of the podium.

Beyond the Net Community Networks Community Projects Development Technology

Turning best practice into capacity building for community networks development

Image: net4all team from left to right: Roger Pueyo, Laia Sucarrats, Roger Baig, Ramon Roca and Leandro Navarro.

Beyond the Net Journal: Spain Catalonia Chapter #1 Episode

The purpose of net4all – Net for All – is to develop a set of capacity building materials for training people in the different aspects of development and sustainability in community networking infrastructures using technologies such as wifi and fibre. Particular attention will be focused on the needs of under-served communities and developing regions.

While producing these materials, net4all will benefit from the ten years experience of , a free and neutral crowdsourced network based on a commons model, currently accounting for more than 30.000 working nodes. In 2015, Guifi received the European Commission Broadband Award for its innovative model of financing business and investment.

I asked Roger Baig, computer science engineer and net4all researcher, to help us understand how they are capturing the “lesson learned” by a local project to enhance the community networks of the future Internet.

Which solutions will the project provide and how will they be implemented?

The innovative aspect of this proposal is using the international knowledge gathered by to deliver a comprehensive capacity building kit. net4all is following an incremental and iterative methodology, combining the production phases with on-site seminars. In the seminars, we will present the outcomes of the production phases to date and gather input for the following ones. The training materials will be shared publicly, allowing others to learn from our process of building infrastructure, and creating the right conditions to make them self-sustainable.

The project, coordinated by the Internet Society Catalonia Chapter, is divided in two one-year phases. The first phase, which is currently funded by Beyond the Net, comprises:

  • 9 months of materials development (documents, slides, videos, training materials, and brochures)
  • On-site seminar in South Africa, in collaboration with the project “Upgrading Zenzeleni Networks in Mankosi” – also funded by Beyond the Net
  • Second round of materials development taken from the seminar experience.

What motivated your Chapter to take this initiative?

We feel it’s important to review what has done, and collaborate with a successful local initiative. Through this exercise, we expect to identify the success factors and to share them afterwards, but also to explore new challenges and opportunities for the future. The ultimate goal of net4all is to contribute to the replicability of a successful project.

How is this project a great opportunity?

The support of Internet Society allows us to promote the experience worldwide. Community networks empower people to extend the Internet and they can play a key role in reducing the digital divide. Success stories such as demonstrate they can be sustainable and compete on prices and services with the traditional telecoms, as well as positively effecting the local labor market and users’ sovereignty.

How will the project contribute to Internet Society’s mission?

The Internet Society’s mission is to “to promote the open development, evolution, and use of the Internet for the benefit of all people throughout the world”. Community networks are an emerging model for extending the Internet outside the dominant market logic which has led to the current digital exclusion. Proper documentation of success stories like is a key element in enabling people to successfully undertake their own projects.

How can people engage with your Chapter and learn more about the project?

Through the Chapter’s website and its mailing list.

Share this story

If you like this story, please share it with your friends. That would tremendously help in spreading the word and raising the visibility of this project. Help more people understand how the Internet can change lives.

We are interested in your project

We are looking for new ideas from people all over the world on how to make your community better using the Internet. Internet Society “Beyond the Net Funding Programme” funds projects up to $ 30.000 USD.

Applications are Now Open.

Find our more about the programme

Building Trust Privacy

WhatsApp with the UK's new Information Commissioner?

The UK’s Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has been in post just under four months, but already the differences between her approach and those of her two most recent predecessors (Richard Thomas and Christopher Graham) are starting to become clear. This may be due partly to the fact that she comes to the role with six years’ experience as the Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia, whereas Thomas and Graham came, respectively, from legal practice and the BBC.

Recently, Denham posted an update on the first eight weeks of her team’s investigation into personal data sharing between WhatsApp and Facebook. The bottom line is this: she thinks consumers and their data are not being properly protected, and she offers the prospect of enforcement action if Facebook uses consumers’ data without consent. Here’s how she thinks Facebook is falling short of the legal requirements:

  • Subscribers are not properly protected, or properly informed about uses of data about them;
  • Facebook does not have valid consent for sharing personal data;
  • Users are not given sufficient control over data about them.

The Commissioner also highlights risk in a number of other areas:

  • “Free” services are not a licence for the service provider to do as they please with users’ data;
  • Vague terms of service don’t adequately protect the intimacy revealed by our online data;
  • Company mergers, and aggregation of the resulting data, create privacy risks that go beyond simple data protection.

The tone of the Commissioner’s post is firm but understated. It focuses on basic steps: inform users, get meaningful consent, give users proper control, and be transparent about terms and conditions. The Commissioner’s concerns echo those expressed by the wider group of European information commissioners, the Article 29 Working Group. The head of that group, Isabelle Falcque-Pierrotin, has expressed its concern that, following WhatsApp’s acquisition by Facebook, personal data is being used for purposes that were not included in the terms users signed up to.

Some may point out that, in strict legal terms, consent is just one of a number of valid grounds for the processing of personal data. My personal view is that there is no need for equivocation here. I don’t care (and neither should consumers) if consent isn’t the only basis for legal processing: if the end result is not what I signed up for, and it increases privacy risk, I should be made aware of that and given the option to say no.

The Commissioner has set out her position, simply and clearly. It will be interesting to see what the next eight weeks bring.

Community Projects Internet Governance

Building Consensus for a Stronger Internet in Ukraine

The 7th edition of the Ukrainian Internet Governance Forum (UA-IGF) took place in Kiev on 14 October 2016. The event attracted some 150 participants despite the fact that October 14th is a public holiday in Ukraine.

This year’s UA-IGF piloted a new interactive format with minimal slide shows, lively moderated discussions and an “open mic” for Q&A. This approach worked well with the Ukrainian community – we witnessed some juicy debates and questions from the audience were abundant.

So what did the Ukrainian community debate about?

Role of Governments in Internet Governance 

The underlying core question was: to what extent should governments intervene in Internet development through regulation, policy and also investment? While the Ukrainian Internet Association argued that government should be involved as little as possible, theNational Telecommunications Regulator emphasised the protection of Internet users. 

Governments can, of course, make a huge positive impact, for instance, by promoting Internet access in their respective country. Specific areas of activity typically include strategic planning, regulatory reform and management of spectrum licences – all of these discussed at the UA-IGF.

It was also agreed that the government should play a role in the space of cybersecurity and data protection. However, the details on how to counter the complex issues of cybercrime and surveillance in a consistent manner are still being defined. 

 Rights and Freedoms Online 

The much-debated balance between security and online freedoms is a concern also in Ukraine. Monica Horten representing the Council of Europe (CoE) discussed the role of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) holding the tools both for surveillance and for protection of correspondence. In parallel, she emphasised the judicial oversight of surveillance as stated in the CoE standards.

The local stakeholders defending online freedoms raised specific concerns regarding the recent trend of botnets and trolling used as part of political campaigns. These kinds of methods compromise the effectiveness of democratic processes and may hamper local Internet traffic.

Overall, most of the topics at the UA-IGF were familiar but crucial to the development of the Internet. Many topics were controversial, and yet the local stakeholders – government, business and civil society – agreed to discuss and disagree on these openly and in public. This is an important step towards common solutions and sustainable development of the Internet.

Development Growing the Internet

Bridging the National Connectivity Gap – What’s the Right Recipe?

The second Georgian Internet Governance Forum (GEOIGF) took place in Tbilisi the first week of September. The two host organisations, the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) and the Internet Society Georgia Chapter, succeeded in bringing together a wide range of partners and supporters from government, private sector, technical community and civil society.

One of the liveliest discussions took place during the panel session on Internet access and the broadband gap. For the past couple of years, there has been a vibrant national debate about the level of Internet access in Georgia. According to the latest data by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU, 2016), 45% of Georgians have access to the Internet. This is less than in the neighbouring countries in the Caucasus – Internet penetration in Armenia stands at 58% and in Azerbaijan at 77%.

Our panel session at the GEOIGF had all the components one might hope for when discussing Internet access. A representative of the OpenNet initiative (under Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development) shared details about the plans to expand national Internet infrastructure and to develop a public-private partnership schemes for this purpose. The GNCC talked about the ongoing regulatory reform. The panellist from the World Bank outlined the Bank’s new programme GENIE, which focuses on support for innovation, skills training and other measures to boost demand for Internet services in Georgia. And finally, we learnt from a case study presenting the awarded RAIN broadband project in Lithuania.

Supply, demand generation, regulatory environment, and best practices – this is a solid set of measures to increase Internet access in any country. However, it is equally important to establish a clear strategy and a set of goals that all the stakeholders can agree on. How many people do we aim to connect over a certain number of years with the available resources? How do we reassure the private sector stakeholders that the planned interventions will not distort the market for Internet services?

A transparent and inclusive strategic planning process is critical to minimise uncertainty and to ensure sustainable results. As the Georgian government is increasingly harmonising its regulatory framework with the European Union (EU) rules, infrastructure sharing and open access will become part of the Internet services market landscape. Participants raised concerns about possible market distortions and erosion of the value of past investments. While these concerns are understandable, an increase of the number of users and growth of IP traffic through new bandwidth-hungry services will increase the total market size and typically offer more opportunities for everyone.

The Internet Society will contribute to Internet development in Georgia by supporting acommunity networking project in the remote region of Tusheti in partnership with Georgia ISOC chapter and a group of other local stakeholders. Based on the experience of many EU countries, a successful broadband strategy is often a combination of private sector led, governmental and community initiatives. The Georgian stakeholders will continue to discuss the national connectivity plan in the course of the coming months to define the way forward for their country.

Growing the Internet Improving Technical Security Internet Governance

We Hear You Central Asia! (An update from the CAIGF)

In times when disintegration seems to be the word of the day, it is a pleasure to witness people coming together to build bridges and find common ground. The first Central Asian Internet Governance Forum (CAIGF) took place in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on 21-22 June gathering a significant group of local, regional and international stakeholders.

Central Asia consists of five former soviet republics (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan), and this IGF marked a first time to conduct open dialogue on Internet policy matters in the region. The organisers – the Kyrgyz Government and the Civil Initiative on Internet Policy – rallied support from a group of partners including the Internet Society, the Internet Governance Forum Support Association (IGFSA), ICANN and others.

The issues raised during the conference were very much in line with the priorities of many global Internet stakeholders today.

Internet access is still a challenge especially in remote and rural areas. According to International Telecommunications Union data (ITU, 2014), Internet penetration in Central Asia ranges from 12% in Turkmenistan to 55% in Kazakhstan. Even though these numbers are likely to be higher now, several challenges persist in this largely land-locked region. Options for international connectivity are limited and demand for Internet access is curbed by prices, low levels of digital literacy and lack of local content. The Internet Society shared experiences and good practices from other parts of the world in the areas of traffic exchange and wireless connectivity.

Internet security and resilience are on top of the Internet agenda in Central Asia as in many other regions. The countries in the regions do not yet have comprehensive national cybersecurity strategies or critical infrastructure protection schemes, and CAIGF provided a platform to exchange ideas and listen to experts. Much like in Europe, privacy and other rights are a central part of the discussion about planned and actual measures for national and cybersecurity in Central Asia. While we may not yet have all the answers on how to secure our Internet environment, the first step is to break the “security tabu” and discuss the issues at stake openly with all relevant stakeholders.

Our hosts and event partners went to great lengths to make this first CAIGF a successful event. The CAIGF offered us an opportunity to better understand the hopes and concerns of the Central Asian stakeholders.

As a next step, we would like to encourage the participation of Central Asian stakeholders in the global Internet fora such as the global Internet Governance Forum (IGF). It is important that all the corners of the world are represented and heard as part of the global discussions on the Internet!