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Friday, October 19, 2007

The Russian Internet is Perishing . . . Putin is Killing it

CNews reports:

The internet subscriber base formed [in Russia] within the last half a year has decreased by 2 mln. this summer as compared to spring. The given data is provided by the Public Opinion foundation (FOM). The data also proves the internet connection to slow down this year. According to sociologists, if the provider monopolism in the regions remains and subscriber fees do not go down, then only one third of the population will continue using the internet in several years. Market participants and analysts are more optimistic.

According to the latest survey ‘Internet in Russia’, carried out by FOM, the subscriber base using the internet for half a year came to 26.8 mln. this summer, which is by 1.9 mln. lower than in spring. Monthly internet user base has decreased by 2.4 mln. to 22.4 mln. Thus, 24% of the population above 18 used the internet in summer. The sociologists are concerned with the given indices. According to their data, in the previous years even despite the seasonal factor the subscriber base in summer used to be higher than in spring, which was connected with the dynamic growth in subscription. For example, last year in summer the number of subscribers using the internet for half a year was by 1.7 mln. higher than in spring, while the increase in the number of those using the internet for a month grew by 0.8 mln.

According to the sociologists, one can speak about the decrease in the growth rate of the internet subscribers. ‘The main factor impeding with the internet development in the regions is the provider monopolism and high subscription fees, - Ephim Galitsky, FOM Senior Specialist says. – If the given tendency does not improve, then in several years only about 32-34% of the population will use the internet in Russia in several years, and there will be no further growth. While the principle when people connect to the internet because their friends have already done it does not work any longer’.

According to Konstantin Ankilov, iKS-Consulting Senior Analyst, one can speak about a certain decrease in the growth rate of the internet subscriber base, however, the market is changing in quality: broadband access penetration is becoming more and more evident. ‘There is no monopolism any longer, as the alternative providers have started operating in the regions. Communication companies monitoring dial-up in most regions are loosing their positions. Thus the revenue from the broadband internet in Russia is higher, - Mr. Ankilov highlights. – Such established companies as Stream, Corbina Telecom, Golden Telecom are penetrating into the regions’.

‘FOM statements regarding high internet subscription fees in the regions are right, - Alexander Malis, Corbina Telecom Director General tells CNews. – I can assure Corbina is interested in improving the given situation. We are actively penetrating into the regions. While the subscriber fee in the regions should be cut not 2-3 fold, but 10-30 fold’.

In some Western European countries more than 60% of the population is using the internet. For example, in Great Britain, according to Nielsen, the given index comes to 62%, in Germany to 63%. According to Mr. Ankilov, in Moscow such a level might be gained only in 2009, while it might take much longer to achieve the given indices across Russia in general. Mr. Malis is more optimistic. He is sure, the internet subscriber base in Russia might exceed 60% in 2-3 years.

Paul Goble has more:

Growth in the number of Russians going online has slowed overall this year and may even have been reversed in some places, developments that casts doubt on the hopes of some that the relatively free Internet could serve to counterbalance the Kremlin’s increasingly tight control over other media outlets. Yefim Galitskiy, a specialist at the Public Opinion Foundation in Moscow, said yesterday that his organization’s regular surveys since 2002 about Russian Internet use had documented rapid rises until this summer, when the rate of growth slowed or even stopped altogether. And he predicted on the basis of his company’s latest findings that the total number of Russians using the Internet would top out at about one-third of the population, up from approximately a quarter now, far fewer than other experts have suggested, albeit on the basis of more limited data sets.

Ruslan Tagiyev, who studies the Internet for TNS Gallup Media, said that he believes that ever more Russians will turn to the Internet until perhaps 75 percent of them go on line – although he acknowledged that this projection was based only on findings from the city of Moscow and not the provinces, places he has yet studied. That Internet connectivity is less in Russia’s regions than it is in the capital is common ground, of course, but a new study of how the Internet is used in the various regions and republics of the Southern Federal District (FD) shows just how much further behind the center all of them are – and why they may not catch up. That FD as a whole ranks second from the bottom of all federal districts in terms of Internet use. (Only the Far Eastern FD is lower.) Although it contains 15 percent of the country’s population, the Southern FD has only three percent of the Internet domains and 4.9 percent of the IP addresses.
But even within it, there are significant variations among the constituent federal subjects in the Southern FD, journalist Nikita Mendkovich reports in an article posted earlier this week on the Regions of Russia website, differences that he argues justify classifying them in three groups. Those living in the first of these groups, which includes Rostov oblast, Volgograd oblast and Krasnodar kray, currently have more than 80 percent of the registered domain names in the Southern FD and also lead the region with 614,000 IP addresses, despite the fact that they form a far smaller fraction of the Southern FD’s total population. The second group, whose constituent parts each have from 10,000 to 100,000 addresses, is made up of the populations of Stavropol kray, North Osetia, Astrakhan oblast, Daghestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, and Karachai-Cherkessia. That figure, about six percent of the Southern FD total, is also dramatically less than proportionate. And the third group, which includes Adygeia, Kalmykia, Ingushetia and Chechnya, Mendkovich says, is the least well served by the Internet. None of these non-Russian republics have more than 10,000 IP addresses, and most of them have fewer than that.

Moreover -- and this is the more significant point here -- those living in the predominantly ethnic Russian regions are continuing to experience dramatic growth in the number of users because their areas have the communications infrastructure and political interest to promote it. In Rostov oblast, for example, there are now 56 Internet teleconferencing centers, one at the center and one in each of the 55 municipalities, something that not only allows the authorities to speak with one another but also helps condition them to using the Internet more generally. But the situation in most of the non-Russian areas is very different. Far fewer people have gone online, and both geography and violence have meant that neither the governments nor private investors are willing to put in the kind of resources needed to jump start interest in the World Wide Web. As a result, Mendkovich concludes, there is not yet the critical mass in most of them needed for the Internet to take off, and as a result, their populations remain mired in a pre-Internet communications world, one that over the last decade has become less and less useful as a source of balanced and accurate information. That the other channels of the Russian media are now likely to be less useful to those who consume them was underlined this week by the extraordinarily low ranking Reporters without Borders (RWB) gave to Russia in its annual report on media freedom around the world (, October 17). According to RWB, Russia now ranks 144th out of the 169 countries the media watchdog group evaluated, just below Yemen (143) and just above Tunisia (145), Rwanda (147) and Saudi Arabia (148), and below most of the other post-Soviet states, including, for example, Estonia (3), Ukraine (92), Tajikistan (115) and Azerbaijan (139). Reacting to these figures, Anatoliy Baranov, a Moscow commentator who specializes on Russian media policies, suggested that the Russian Federation not only fully deserved this low ranking but also is likely to find itself even lower down next year. He argues that Russian television has never been fully independent, that newspapers and journals are ever less so, and that the Internet, the new media in which so many have placed so much hope, is now at risk of being silenced or absorbed by the authorities as well. His remarks on the last point are especially worthy of note. “Internet media do represent the real zone of relative freedom in Russia, but even there,” he points out, the authorities are working to take them “under control.” But most of the “free” sites attract only a few hundred visitors a day, too small a number to “set the weather” for the Internet or affect that of the Russian media as a whole. Indeed, he continues, “one can count on one’s fingers” the sites that are both entirely independent of the regime and attract large number of visitors. Some operators hope to survive by registering with IP providers abroad, but that may not be enough. And “six months from now,” these islands of “relative” freedom may disappear as well.


Dave Essel said...

I think several Russophile factors are at play here.

1. The Russophile business model.
This is not based on entrepreneurial competition which drives prices down. Russian businesses, from small to large, seek cartel pricing to maintain high prices and superprofits. This is for a number of reasons ranging from an insistance on recouping capital expenditure much faster than in countries with normal economies where one can rely on a long-term future to a still deeply held belief that capitalism is a rip-off, so how can one be a self-respecting Russian capitalist if one is failing to rip off the customer.
This is why in Russia one sees completely empty luxury goods shops with outrageous prices – they pay their way by a single sale a day; taxi drivers who prefer to wait all day for one rip-off fare rather than ply their trade honestly; etc. etc. In a cartel régime, undercutting a competitor can lead to more physical forms of cutting, kneecapping, and so on.

2. The Russophile cultural model
It is a curious fact that Russophiles go word blind when faced with Latin characters. I think they actually find it hateful. The internet of course runs on these.
- I have not yet met a Russian who is able to dictate his email address (if he has one and not that many do) or take dictation of one without messing up his Cs and Ss, As and R's (letter R in English sounds like Ah, write R), Ys and Us etc.
- If you can't type Latin characters reliably, you don't have much fun using a search engine. Russians use Russian-language search engines (e.g. and they're pathetic. They return mainly Russian documents, thus losing for the Russophile the worldwideness that is the internet. But this of course is is what he wants. The Russophile world is a closed one and wants to be that way.
- The hatred of Latin is such that there is no codified system of transliteration of Latin-character-based languages into Cyrillic (to match the Library of Congress or British Library systems of transliteration of Russian into English). This results in a free-for-all making it impossible to predict how a Western name or word will be written in Russian. Search results become haphazard and skewed to Russian sources. Fine and dandy for a place where uninformedness is preferred.
- Russophile paranoia. This is justified. Letter writing leaves a physical trace. Stick to oral and ultimately deniable communication. Much better not to write. So in Russia, practically no one has a real email address and even businesses in the main make do with the useless free email service and change the address often to maintain anonymity and confusion. This is a country where if you send someone an email, the proper thing to do is to then telephone them to tell them you have done so! And probably better phone first to verify that they are still using like last time.

These, I think are some of the reasons why the internet has not become a vital part of everyday life in Russia like elsewhere.

Artfldgr said...

To be tongue in cheek on it, it seems that while capitalism is the midas touch...

its antithesis, is the anti-midas touch...

everything withers on the vine...

what doesnt wither on the vine, sucks the lifeblood and causes all the others to wither till there are none left, then it too follows in its fashion.

they can take a perfectly good company, school, organization, club, federation, etc.. and it whithers.

the only exception is if that organization is the enemies, then they run it great as they steal resources to spread like fungus.

exporting deadly state games is their product, and they do that VERY well..

everythign else kind of rots, uncluding the people, who are just moving resources and means of production. useful till they are not useful anymore.