Last week, the Internet Society together with our Kyrgyz chapter and the wider local community held discussions about Internet connectivity in remote areas in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Approximately 35% of the Kyrgyz population use the Internet (ITU data, 2017) and most users are located in cities and urban areas.
In cooperation with its Kyrgyz chapter, the Internet Society is piloting the community networks approach in the village of Suusamyr, located some 150 kilometers south of the capital city Bishkek. We had an opportunity to visit this village of about 4000 people, tucked away in a wide valley surrounded by high mountains. The economic activity revolves around farming, horse and cattle keeping, and tourism.
While the final phase of the Suusamyr community network is still under implementation, we can already draw some lessons learnt from the preparatory and testing phases.
As a starting point, the Internet Society Kyrgyz chapter consolidated a partnership with the government, Internet Service Providers (ISP), and the local community in Suusamyr. The Kyrgyz government saw the opportunity for local economic development. Two ISPs agreed to lease their existing backbone infrastructure to connect the last mile. And most importantly, the local community embraced this initiative with a hope that it will provide new opportunities for the people in the community. It is important to have the backing of the key stakeholders.
Licensing and permissions
As in most countries, building Internet infrastructure requires licenses and permissions. While it was relatively simple to get the network operator license, the rules for spectrum licenses in Kyrgyzstan involve costs and time-consuming application processes. Our project team partnered with a regional ISP to share their existing spectrum license. Permissions for land use and power supply for masts can also be complicated. Following discussions with landowners and the national electricity company, the permissions for the Suusamyr project were agreed on by a case-by-case basis. An enabling policy framework is necessary to make progress with connectivity in remote areas.
During our visit to Suusamyr, it was clear that there was enthusiasm and demand for the Internet within the local community. The largest school in Suusamyr had a computer lab, but no Internet connection. The municipality headquarters, the local hospital and small businesses would surely benefit, too. However, the municipality does not yet have concrete plans on how to use the Internet to boost local economic development. There is a need for a local “action group,” which could raise awareness and provide skills training amongst the village population.
The President of the Kyrgyz Republic has named 2018 a year of rural development. This ambition is perfectly aligned with the Internet Society’s goal to connect everyone to the Internet, with a focus on the communities in the hardest to reach places. We aim to have a fully operational community network in Suusamyr in a few months’ time.
Senior Manager, Regional Affairs Europe