In 2013 the growth of the number of Internet users was due to the development of infrastructure of broadband Internet access, which is a priority of Internet policy. The necessary quality of access encounters obstacles connected with the state monopoly for telecommunication networks and external channels: with one of the lowest speeds of data transmission in the region, Internet access cost in Belarus is higher than in neighboring countries. Statements of representatives of state structures and acts adopted in 2013 testify to the general tendency of restrictive policy in the sphere of management and development of Internet use. In case the priorities concerning the Internet stay as they are one can forget about the termination of lagging behind in the sphere of effective use of the Internet.
- The government policy concerning the Internet has a restrictive character and is defined by bureaucratic priorities;
- Possibilities of extensive development of infrastructure are nearly exhausted;
- Preservation of monopoly for Internet access slows down the improvement of its quality as well as its reduction in price;
- Belarusian users still visit mainly foreign resources.
Interests of bureaucracy dominate over strategic planning
In the Republic of Belarus the functions of management and use of infrastructure, resources and services of the Internet are carried out by: the president and the Council of Ministers, the Council for development of information society under the president (an advisory body on policy development in the sphere of information society), the Council of the independent regulator in the sphere of information and communication technologies under the Operational Analytical Center (OAC). According to some experts, the number of regulators is superfluous. Nevertheless in December 2013 one more regulating structure under supervision of the Head ideological department of the Presidential Administration was created.
The abundance of centers with interrelated and often uncertain functions leads to duplication of coordination mechanisms and rule-making powers, which negatively influences the quality of the decisions made. The bureaucratization of the political process actually excludes the possibility of multilateral partnership. In particular, the Council for development of information society which theoretically could provide a coordinate development of decisions taking into account the interests of all parties concerned actually is just one more command and control mechanism. The absence of the private sector 1 and civil society associations in the Council is a serious obstacle for the development of effective policy.
It is not a surprise that in Belarus there are no policy documents defining the priorities of the development of the Internet. The acts that in a way raise ‘some questions’ in this sphere (e.g. presidential decrees On measures for improvement of the use of a national segment of the Internet (2010); On the concept of national security of the Republic of Belarus (2010); On some questions of informatization (2013), and also numerous resolutions of the Council of Ministers essentially do not change the situation.
At the legislative level the policy in the sphere of Internet management is regulated by legal acts: the laws On information, informatization and information security; On population register; On Mass Media; On copyright and the adjacent rights; On the fight against terrorism; On counteraction to extremism, and also by civil, administrative and criminal Codes of the Republic of Belarus 2 and by some other normative documents. Shortcomings of the law On information, informatization and information security noted by experts (including the changes made to the law in January 2014), the absence of special laws on the access to information and protection of personal information allow the conclusion that the process of formation of legislative grounds of state policy in this sphere is far from being completed.
The agenda in the field of the use of Internet potential as in previous years includes such aspects as infrastructure development (telecommunication networks), administration of a national domain zone, creation of state Internet resources (electronic government, telemedicine, electronic education, etc.), development of ‘national content’ controlled by government institutions, regulation in the field of electronic business and electronic trading, access and content control. Issues of human rights and freedoms in the digital environment are eliminated from strategic documents in spite of the fact that the developers of the strategy refer to the international principles established by the Charter of the UN and decisions of the World Summit on the Information Society.
Though the number of successful initiatives in the field of the electronic government increases, the systematic effect is not obvious both to civil servants and to citizens and representatives of business. 3 The Ministry of Economics and the Ministry of Communications, which on a regular basis carry out monitoring of the quality and availability of electronic administrative procedures, do not inform citizens on the results of their researches. The independent monitoring of the online representation of information of governmental bodies organized by the Center of Legal Transformation showed that none of 45 republican executive authorities fulfill the legislation requirement concerning the information online placement: the maximum value of the coefficient of representation of information is 52%, and the average – 31%. The experts also pay attention to the fact that the rating of productivity of the Belarusian projects, estimated by UN Department on Economic and Social Problems, is lower than its average value across Eastern Europe. 4
Ensuring Internet access
The Belarusian government still did not develop a program to overcome digital inequality on the basis of providing free Internet access. Though the Ministry of Communications of Belarus declares that “destruction of the digital barrier between the village and the city” is one of the most important tasks, the launching in 2013 of 163 nodes of paid collective access (as a rule, in BelTeleKom and Belpochta offices) can hardly be considered as a serious break in this sphere. The introduction of new technologies of Internet access is carried out mainly in Minsk and Minsk region. BelTeleKom and secondary providers do not plan to distribute the Ethernet and PON projects for rural areas, referring to the high cost of the technology. As a result, in 2013 the share of users in Minsk and Minsk region was 36% of all Internet users.
Positive tendencies concerning the overcoming of age inequality continue: the number of users who are over 55 increased – from 270,000 in 2012 to 405,653 in 2013. For the previous three years this group has been marked by the most significant growth. Among Internet users the share of people with secondary vocational education also increased – from 28% in 2012 to 48% in 2013. This tendency is however connected not with the purposeful policy of the government, but is a consequence of Internet penetration into everyday life. Representatives of business and civil society work actively to increase Internet literacy of users. The Belarusian association of social workers realizes the project ‘City University of the Third Age’ including programs for development of skills of working with information and communication technologies. The mobile operator MTS carries out the projects ‘To Internet all ages surrender’ and ‘Children on the Internet’.
However in the country there is no state program on the increase of computer literacy of citizens, there are no state projects of open education at the national level. As far as these directions are not included into the subprogram ‘Electronic training and development of human capital’ of the National program of the accelerated development of services in the ICT sphere for 2011–2015, it is obvious that in the nearest future there will be no essential changes in this sphere.
Various restrictions of the development of the Internet market lead to the fact that the greatest part of the Belarusian Internet users adheres to foreign resources whereas the government does not manage to stimulate activization of ‘creation of national content’. The most visited resources continue to be: google.com (67.0%), mail.ru (62.0%), youtube.com (56.4%), vk.com (56.2%), yandex.by (52.0%), tut.by (42.9%), ru.wikipedia.org (37.9%), odnoklassniki.ru (29.8%), onliner.by (28.7%), and a Ukrainian video service called megogo.net (23.0%). Thus, the tendency of lagging of Belarusian resources in popularity in comparison to Russian ones also continues. As well as in 2012, only tut.by (the 6th position) and onliner.by (the 9th position) entered the top ten.
Statements of representatives of governmental institutions and acts adopted in 2013 testify to the general tendency of restrictive policy in the sphere of Internet management. The new edition of the law On information, informatization and information security contains prerequisites for obligatory registration of non-state information resources and systems (including electronic mass media). If earlier it was a question of registration on a voluntary basis, now the corresponding articles (24 and 26) contain the phrase “unless otherwise stipulated by acts of the Republic of Belarus”. 5
The use of various technologies of supervision and censorship on the Internet increases. 6 Governmental structures continue to block certain resources. At the same time the principles according to which the so-called ‘black list’ of Internet resources is formed, remain unclear. In the legislation there are still no norms defining the order of decision making on blocking of sites that promote violence, cruelty and other acts forbidden by law. As a result the blocking is carried out without judgment, on the basis of internal decisions of officials of Operative-Analytical Center or the Belarusian State Telecommunications Inspection. There were cases of prosecution of founders of Internet resources and online content. 7
Last year the increase in the number of Internet users was provided first of all due to the development of infrastructure of broadband Internet access, which is a priority in the policy concerning the Internet. During 2013 the number of Belarusian Internet users increased by 223 thousand people (the growth in a year is 4.8%). In December 2013 in Belarus there were 4,847 million (in 2012 – 4.62 million) users at the age of 15–74; the level of penetration of the Internet in the country was 65.7%. 83.12% of Belarusian users use the Internet every day (in 2012 this number was 80.0%). The main age group of users is 25–34 years (29.49%). More than half of households have a personal computer (55.0%, in 2012 – 46%) and Internet access (52.0%, in 2012 – 40.0%).
In 2013 the main policy direction of BelTeleKom was the development of national infrastructure of telecommunications on the basis of broadband networks of data transmission. The priorities were: the construction of a multiservice network (288,154 users are connected); introduction of optical network technologies (xPON) and Ethernet (the increase in GPON users was 100,513 people); organizational preparation for creation and development of networks of mobile broadband access including the use of WIMAX and LTE technologies; construction of fiber-optical communication lines (2,786,684 km of lines were launched); modernization and development of networks of stationary broadband Internet access (ADSL); increase in capacity of external lock (in 2013 it grew by 100 Gbit/s compared with the previous year and was 450 Gbit/s). 8 The network of broadband access develops mainly in Minsk – 2.2 million out of 4.689 million ports.
|Type of access||2010||2012||2013|
|Fixed location, dial-up||18.7||4.9||4.6|
|Mobile line (GPRS/EDGE/CDMA)||5.6||11.97||10.53|
|Other, I do not know||23.03||14.29||14.12|
The attempts to launch infrastructure LTE which have been made since 2011 are still no success. Belarus considerably lags behind its neighbors regarding the number of Wi-Fi access points. 9 As of November 2012, there were 1300 Wi-Fi access points in the country, of which 699 in Minsk. Generally hot spots work in hotels, shopping centers, student dorms and higher education institutions. At the same time access to the wireless Internet is provided mainly for a fee. 10
In 2013 the total number of ports of broadband access (3.59 million) exceeded the number of subscribers and users (2.6 million people), which testifies to the fact that the possibilities of extensive growth of infrastructure are close to exhaustion. Large providers exhausted their subscriber base and are reoriented to keeping the subscribers by providing better services and services in demand. However the ensuring of the necessary quality of access encounters obstacles connected with the state monopoly for telecommunication networks and external channels (that is actually the access to resources and services of the Internet). 11
The data transmission speeds from the end user to the global network and loadings of data increased a little bit. In particular in 2012 Belarus lagged behind Lithuania sevenfold, in 2013 this figure decreased by 2 points. The data transmission speed in all neighboring countries, including Ukraine and Russia, is higher than in Belarus. 12 In comparison to 2012 the cost of a domain name increased – from USD 11 (2012) to USD 14 in 2013. Since May 2012 till October 2013 the number of domains registered in the zone .by increased from 55 to 93 thousand. The leaders of registration of domains are again Minsk and Minsk region which constitute 77% of all domain names in the .by zone. 13
Despite some activation of the government in the sphere of the Internet (adoption of decrees, amendments to laws, creation of new coordinating structures), in 2013 all negative tendencies of previous years continued. The main reasons are connected with lacunas in basic documents – Strategies of the development of the information society and The National program of development of electronic services; with a restrictive nature of regulation of development and use of resources and services of the Internet; with the excessive and unproductive system of bodies of development and policy realization in the sphere of information technologies (which, in particular, does not include all the mechanisms of involvement of the interested parties); with the preservation of the state telecommunication monopoly. If the priorities concerning the Internet stay as they are, Belarus will keep lagging behind in the sphere of effective use of the Internet.