How Azerbaijan Promoted the Internet to Keep Citizens Online: On Internet in Azerbaijan and Related Speculations

“How Azerbaijan Promoted the Internet to Keep Citizens Online: On Internet in Azerbaijan and Related Speculations”

Identifying the Reality Gap

Why would a government fearful of the Internet and aspiring to keep its citizens offline announce information communication technologies (ICT) as a policy priority, push for price cuts, modernize its infrastructure, and going even farther initiate and actively participate in regional projects like the Trans-Eurasian Information Superhighway and the Europe Persia Express Gateway that are actually supposed to improve Internet trafficking and penetration?

Why would a government achieve progress in ICT development in general, and Internet penetration in particular, which is recognized and appreciated by various serious studies and reports, if it wanted to demonize the Internet and minimize its penetration into the lives of its country’s citizens?

No doubt, the Eurovision 2012 song contest program held in Baku opened up many excellent—if sometimes painful—opportunities for Azerbaijani self-examination. Anyone addressing “Azerbaijan and the Internet” needs, in my opinion, to apply a broader perspective and more extensive statistical back-up than those offered by authors Sarah Kendzior and Katy Pearce in , “How Azerbaijan Demonizes the Internet to Keep Citizens Offline,” May 11, 2012.

The issues Kendzior and Pearce touch upon are crucial for the country’s development. However, as is the case in several other recent publications, the authors seem to get carried away by their critical aspirations toward the Azerbaijani government, at least as far as the state of the Internet and public policies on it are concerned.

I do not wish to play devil’s advocate point by point, but as a person who knows a little bit about the Internet in Azerbaijan, I consider some of the article’s conclusions to be flawed and the data used likely to be outdated.

A Data-Based Reality Check

Let me begin with the data. Ms. Kendzior and Ms. Pearce appear to refer to the Caucasus Research Resource Center (CRRC) annual households survey data. With all due respect to CRRC, I would propose consideration of another survey, one that was conducted in 2010 and 2011 by the Azerbaijan Marketing Society ICT Marketing Center. The activities of this Center are aimed at the development of the ICT sector, researching new world, regional, and national trends in this field.

The survey was conducted in eight regions of Azerbaijan among 5,865 households selected based on systematic random selection. In order to define the participation criteria, respondents were divided into two groups, as follows: living in the capital (Baku) and living outside the capital. This division was calculated based on data of the State Statistical Committee of Azerbaijan Republic and experts’ opinions on the population’s relocation dynamics.

Distribution of respondents by gender was 45% (male) and 55% (female). 40% of the respondents were employed on a regular basis. Distribution of respondents by age groups appeared to be as follows:

      * 18-24 (28.4%); * 25-34 (25.4%); * 35-44 (18.2%);

 

    * 45-54 (16.1%); * 55-64 (8.8 %); * 65-74 (3.1%).

Education level of respondents was incomplete or complete secondary 40.21 %; specialized secondary 14.96%; incomplete or complete higher 44.68 %; primary or no education 0.15%.

Comparing the 2010 and 2011 surveys reveals a 16% jump in Internet usage, from 29% of households in which at least one member used the Internet at home to 45%.of such households. Internet usage via mobile phone increased from 17% to 39% in the same time period. As for Internet usage in general, the percentage went up from 40% to 68%.

In 2011, the share of households in which at least one member used Internet anywhere was 69% (73% in Baku; 59% in the regions). 42% of respondents indicated broadband fixed line as the type of Internet connection used at home. 94% of computer users responding claimed to access the Internet at least once a week, and 51% indicated that they used it every day. Users indicated that they used the Internet mostly for downloading music and movies (63%) as well as for sending and receiving e-mails (52%).

So just a cursory examination of differences between the 2010 and 2011 surveys indicates that there has been progress in Internet usage in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani government has played a role in this development by taking steps aimed at decreasing prices and improving ICT infrastructure, developing e-services, and so forth.

It is not just the Azerbaijan Marketing Society that tells this story. The latest Networked Readiness Index NRI of the Global Information Technology Report (GITR), released in April 2012, includes 142 countries of the world. Azerbaijan ranked 61st; Georgia, 88th; and Armenia, 94th. It is worth mentioning that in the last 5 GITR rankings, Azerbaijan regularly has been in the top 3 among the CIS countries.

The NRI is made up of 4 sub-indices, as follows: Environment, Readiness, Usage, and Impact. These categories reflect key policy action areas enabling measurement of the overall preparedness of a country to use ICT. Azerbaijan is ahead of its Caucasian neighbors in all but one, Environment, on which Georgia is just three ranks ahead.

As for the Readiness sub-index, Azerbaijan is far ahead of its neighbors, demonstrating more readiness to utilize ICT in terms of infrastructure, affordability, and skills. In general this sub-index reflects the level of relevant infrastructure development—easy access as well as knowledge to utilize key infrastructure.

GITR also includes a specific indicator for Use of Virtual Social Networks, which measures the use of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other such virtual social networks for professional and personal communication in a country. According to this indicator Azerbaijan is ranked 44th in the world; Georgia 60th; and Armenia 113th.

So, back to the Slate article: Who is demonizing Internet and preventing the population from social networking now?

Moreover, according to Facebook statistics for the last 3 months byhttp://www.socialbakers.com/, Azerbaijan is ranked 86th with 780,340 users, while Georgia is 87th with 779,980 users and Armenia is 115th with 283,460 users.

And according to Social Bakers, Azerbaijan actually has the highest growth rate—11.26%—among the Caucasus countries for the reported period of time and even much higher growth for 6 months—48.30%.

Strange dynamics for a country accused of keeping its population from social networking! The statistics contradict the propaganda that has appeared throughout the media.

Another important factor for understanding the role of ICT in the South Caucasus countries is ICT Price Basket Index. This index is calculated based on three main sub-indices, as follows: 1) Share of costs of fixed telephone services in average income per capita; 2) Share of mobile/cellular services in average income per capita; and 3) Share of fixed-broadband Internet prices in average income per capita.

Azerbaijan ranks 53rd overall and third among the CIS countries; Armenia is 102nd overall, and Georgia is 111th. It is worth noting as well that in the last ICT Price Basket Index, in 2010, Azerbaijan made a tremendous jump forward, moving 46 ranks from 99th in 2009 to 53rd in 2010.

According to this report, Azerbaijan, with its 81.7% relative change, leads the Top 10 countries with the highest relative change. A closer look at the sub-indices reveals that this significant change in Azerbaijan was achieved due to dramatic price reduction in broadband services (88%) and mobile communications (21%).

Summary

Even this brief examination of relevant surveys and reports provides striking comparisons of the performance and development of Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia in terms of Internet penetration and overall ICT development.

So, as a matter of fact, Azerbaijan is an evident leader in the area of Internet development and usage. Healthy criticisms that are surfacing as a by-product of Eurovision-Baku can help Azerbaijan to continue to develop along positive lines. But I do not see any objective point in blaming the Azerbaijani government for something that something that actually represents a noteworthy accomplishment.

Dr. Fuad Aliyev
Fulbright Scholar
The Johns Hopkins University
School of Advanced International Studies
Central Asia–Caucasus Institute

Sources:

Global Information Technology Report (GITR), World Economic Forum
http://www.weforum.org/reports/global-information-technology-report-2012.

Measuring the Information Society–2011, International Telecommunications Union
http://www.itu.int/net/pressoffice/backgrounders/general/pdf/5.pdf .

Social Bakers Facebook Statistics, http://www.socialbakers.com/facebook-statistics/.

More analysis on ICT in Azerbaijan and neighboring countries:

http://ada.edu.az/biweekly/issues/vol5no9/20120517113242952.html.

http://www.turkishweekly.net/news/136220/development-of-the-ict-sector-and-competitiveness-building-challenges-in-azerbaijan.html.

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