Internet in Georgia
Free access to Internet explicitly shows the level of democracy in the country. In a recently published rating Freedom House “Index of Internet Freedom 2019”, Georgia with its 75 points entered TOP-10 countries, which certifies the high level of public freedom. The report states that the government of Georgia treats digital rights of people with respect and protects them. Also, experts of Freedom House had analyzed quality and availability of Internet. This information will be useful for businessmen who plan to open IT company in Georgia and obtain the certificate of “Virtual zone person”, as it allows evaluating the degree of maturity of the Internet-infrastructure, availability and quality of Internet.
Parameters of evaluation of Internet in Georgia
The analysis of Internet freedom by the public organization Freedom House was made by three criteria:
- available obstacles for access – 19 points out of 25;
- limitation of content — 30 points out of 35;
- violation of user’s rights — 26 points out of 40.
As result, Georgia received 75 points out of 100 potential points. As the evaluation was made during the presidential elections, experts marked a high level of trolling and disinformation on the Internet related to politics.
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Obstacles when accessing the Internet in Georgia
In last few years the number of Internet users, including mobile Internet, had significantly increased in Georgia. Nevertheless, high prices for services, undeveloped infrastructure and low speed of Internet limit the public access to the “global net”. The government of Georgia had many times declared solving these problems, but as it was marked by experts of Freedom House, the progress is insignificant yet.
Poorly developed infrastructure still limits citizens of Georgia in their access to the Internet. Meanwhile, according to the report of the International telecommunication Union, the number of residential premises connected to the Internet in Georgia continues to increase. Already in 2018, 69,6% of them obtained the access to the “global web”. Facts characterizing the development of the infrastructure in Georgia:
- level of penetration of the stationary broadband link made 13%, mobile link – 45,3%;
- according to the information of national-level query made by the Caucasian Research Resource Center, in 2018 54% of population used Internet every day;
- the most active Internet users live in Tbilisi;
- as of 2018, approximately 35% of population of Georgia had never used Internet;
- in May of 2019, the number of connections of fixed broadband Internet made 868 thousand customers (for comparison, in May of 2017 the number of connections was 684 000). In the second quarter of 2019, the number of users of fixed Internet in Georgia reached 900 000, which in comparison to previous year is 11% bigger. Let us remind that the population of Georgia is approximately 3,7 million people;
- level of penetration of mobile network in recent years had increased for 133,4%;
- the number of mobile phones greatly exceeds the number of landline ones. Meanwhile, using mobile phones the access to the Internet is available all around the country, including rural regions. 4G is available in the territory of Georgia since 2015;
- in 2018, the government of the country with support of the European Committee began to work out the strategy for development of the broadband Internet. Earlier, the attempts to create a high-speed fiber optic mainline and infrastructure for servicing 2 000 residential areas of the country before the end of 2020 were unsuccessful. In 2015 the company Open Net, which obtained sponsorship in amount of 150 million USD for realization of this task, was created. Still, its works brought no result, and the project was declared fail by most mass media.
- most cafes, restaurants and other public places provide access to Wi-Fi. Already in 2013m within the scope of realization of the plan on improving the infrastructure, the Public Service Development Agency began to promote social centers where citizens were provided with access to the Internet and online resources, including state services. As of May 2019, 64 such centers are functioning in the country;
- despite an open access to the Internet, users often complain of low quality of connection;
- testing in May of 2019 showed that the average downloading speed for a fixed Internet connection was 22,1 Mbit/s, which is lower than in Armenia, Russia, and Ukraine; speed of mobile Internet connection was higher – 27,6 Мбит/с;
- in March of 2019, the platform Check was launched, which helped to check the speed and quality of the Internet connection and submit claims on providers. Previously, users were often disconnected from the Internet, now Internet providers have reserve international channels and cable damage does not anymore influence the quality of connection to such extent. But the speed of connection to the content located in Georgia is higher than on the global Internet.
Development of the Internet-infrastructure in Georgia was evaluated by experts as 5 out of 6 points.
Effect of price and geographic location on the access to the Internet
When evaluating the availability of the “global web” for an average citizen, experts paid attention the cost of the Internet and national income. Experts marked the available access to the Internet in almost the entire territory of Georgia using mobile devices, and a low quality of the infrastructure in the rural area.
The main parameters that were considered when evaluating the availability of the Internet (information on prices from May 2019):
- average monthly payment for the mobile Internet is 5 lari for 1 Gb (1,67 $, rate of 22.11.2019);
- average cost of the fixed broadband subscription for 20 Mbit/s – 35 lari (11,71$). Meanwhile, since 1 July of 2019 the Committee on Telecommunication Issues had 4 times downgraded the price of the global Internet – to 9 lari for 1 Mbit/s; also, since 1 August of 2019 small- and medium-size operators obtained the access to the cached content of YouTube, Google, etc., just for 0,5 lari for 1 Mbit/s. Now small providers may use the local content which is in the network of other operators. It was also decided to cancel the upper limit tariff in 24 tetri for voice retail services;
- average salary in Georgia according to the information of Sax Stat in 2018 – 1100 lari (400 $);
- only 84,5% of Georgians in the rural area use the Internet; for comparison, in cities this index is 92,2%;
- fiber optic infrastructure is poorly developed in regions, which negatively impacts the quality of connection. The development of the infrastructure is confused by a low profit potential of projects and complicated bureaucratic procedure, which extend the time for obtaining the permission for works on cable laying.
The maximum number of points under this parameter is 3; Georgia was given only 2.
Evaluation of state technical and legal control over the Internet infrastructure with the purpose of limiting the possibility of connection
Regarding this issue experts were unanimous – the Georgian government does not impose any restrictions on customers (6 points out of 6). All Internet providers are private companies which are not under the state control.
Subject to the Constitution of Georgia, the right for the Internet may be limited only if necessary for provision of national and public security, or protection of rights of the third parties. Besides, the government may take under its control the internal Internet in case of imposing the martial law or emergency.
The main regulator of the communication sector is the Georgian National Communications Commission. This department provides licenses for television and radio broadcasting. Experts evaluated the progress in the sphere of freedom, independence and competitiveness on the market of communication technologies as 2 points out of 4.
Evaluation of competitiveness among providers
Experts noted that only several companies dominate on the market of information-communication services of Georgia. Although the aggregate number of registered legal entities engaged in this sphere makes 166 and all of these are private-owned, just two of them control 2/3 of the market of fixed broadband connection:
- MagtiCom – 46%;
- Silknet – 33%.
Practically similar situation had established on the market of mobile Internet. In this segment, only three operators of mobile connection are working in Georgia: Geocell, MagtiCom, and Veon Georgia (previously – Mobitel). These all are private-owned as well. It should be noted that MagtiCom and Silknet together control around 70% of the market of mobile Internet in Georgia (in 2018 Silknet bought out the mobile operator Geocell for 152 mln. USD).
The availability of just several big players on the market speaks of low competitiveness. Moreover, experts of Freedom House marked a great influence of the company Silknet on the market, which is a big conglomerate highly powerful in the sphere of broadband, cable, fixed and mobile connection.
Limitation of content in Georgia
Experts marked a high level of content freedom in the country. Their report stated:
- government of the country does not block the access to sites or social media.
- Georgian customers have full access to the content practically with no limitations;
- few cases of blocking were related to private life of politicians and protection from pro-Islamic propaganda;
- during the period analyzed by Freedom House, there were found no cases of content removing by the governmental request;
- low level of censorship, but according to the Index of mass media stability (IREX), in 2019 journalists working online and owners of certain mass media were subjected to censorship during exposure of elections in 2018;
- government does not fiddles with content to form the public opinion;
- Facebook is the most popular social media;
- according to the study performed in 2018, 18% of respondents consider the Internet the main source of information, while another 25% consider it the main important one. The palm among sources of information is still carried by television.
Absence of any restrictions on placement of information and its total availability on the Internet was evaluated by Freedom House as 30 points out of 35 possible.
Violation of the Internet user’s rights in Georgia
Digital rights of people in Georgia are protected by the Constitution and other legislative=regulatory acts, but experts have doubts on independency of the judicial power. Freedom House had also given positive feedback on laws providing administrative and criminal responsibility for disinformation, slander and instigation, promotion of controversy, but it needs elaborations.
The report also states that in Georgia people may freely use instruments for anonymizing and encrypting online; at the same time, selling of SIM cards is only made after provision of a passport of a driver license. Experts had also marked weaknesses during investigation of cyber attacks on sites of organizations, banks, and television and radio companies.
As result, Georgia had not received almost half of points under this parameter – its estimate is 26 out of 40.
How citizens of Georgia usually use the Internet
According to the recently published report of Sax Stat, for 2019 the number of Internet users had increased for 6,7%. Meanwhile, in cities the “global network” is used more – approximately 78,8% of the population, in rural areas – 58,6%.
The study also showed that Georgians go online using mobile devices (smartphones, laptops, tablets) more often — 92,8%, and only 60,8% of customers use PC to go online. The most interesting is that citizens of Georgia at age 15 or older use the mobile and stationary Internet:
- social media browsing – 96%;
- listening to music and watching videos – 85,6%;
- reading news, newspapers and magazines — 55,4%;
- electronic communication (e-mail) – 53,8%;
- searching information on health – 51,7%;
- searching information on goods and services – 38%;
- Internet banking – 29,8%;
- downloading programs (except games) – 19,9%;
- job search and CV forwarding – 17,4%.
According to researches, 84,8% of Georgian citizens older 6 years use mobile phones, which is 2,3% more than in the last year. Computers are available only in 62% of the local population, mainly in urban citizens. By the number of computers among people, Tbilisi and Batumi are leading with indexes of 79% and 69,3%, respectively.
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