Tags: Coronavirus | Cybersecurity | Emerging Threats | broadband | covid | penetration | usage

Indispensable Internet Under Threat During COVID-19

Indispensable Internet Under Threat During COVID-19

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By Saturday, 17 October 2020 07:16 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Never has the necessity for high-speed internet been as recognized as it has during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Globally, workers have been forced to adjust to a new normal ever since the first lockdown measures were introduced in March of this year.

With this change came the big demand for superfast broadband, necessary for the simultaneous use of internet-enabled devices and telephony services like Skype and Zoom, often among several people living in the same household.

The Caucasus and Central Asia have not been spared from the effects of lockdown restrictions either: In a bid to halt the spread of the virus, schools, kindergartens and universities shut, while employees were forced to work remotely and the use of e-prescriptions and access to telehealth became standard practice, overloading conventional broadband networks.

This issue becomes even more relevant when considering high internet penetration rates across countries like the Republic of Georgia, where 82% of households consumed fixed internet in Q1 of 2020.

Additionally, the average Georgian customer has more than one mobile number, with the average mobile internet usage having passed 3.4 gigabytes per month in the period before COVID-19 — a figure which can only be expected to rise further.

Adjusting to this new reality, companies all over the world have begun to innovate and are stepping up with solutions. One such company is NEQSOL Holding, which has ambitious plans to upgrade the existing fiber optic network in the South Caucasus and Central Asia as part of its Digital Silk Way project.

Their idea is to bring faster internet to millions through the building of submarine cables connecting Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, leading the way for data centers and other crucial broadband infrastructure.

Once completed, the Digital Silk Way will alleviate digital disruptions, while connecting more people to the Internet Age, especially in rural areas in Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan.

For projects of this scale to be brought to life, however, companies like NEQSOL need the buy-in from those states which will benefit from the investment.

Sadly, local politics and business rivalries can block major developments to the detriment of civilians.

This is what has been happening for months in Georgia, where the government has moved to expropriate NEQSOL’s purchase of Caucasus Online, Georgia’s largest internet service provider and sole owner of the Black Sea cable.

After initially approving the transaction, the Georgian government rushed through a law which then allowed it to appoint an external administrator of the company, effectively expropriating it.

The reason for this unexpected reversal is unclear; especially since the Digital Silk Way project does not seem to jeopardize the strategic interests of Georgia but, quite the opposite, has the potential to transform the country into a regional mega-hub for digital commerce and a base for hyper-scalers like Amazon, Google and Netflix.

When considering the project from a geopolitical angle, however, it becomes clear not every nation is interested in a new fiber optic broadband network.

This claim could be particularly true for those who have nothing to gain from closer integration of the South Caucasus and Europe. In the end, the Digital Silk Way will establish a new fiber optic network and provide better internet and faster connection speeds to the former Soviet countries, for the first time by bypassing Russia and ultimately decoupling Georgia from the Kremlin’s influence.

The coming lengthy and expensive arbitration process around Caucasus Online will show whether the dispute in Georgia will be resolved for the common good, to help nations in their response to COVID-19 and linked transition to a new normal, or whether outside pressure will lead to another destiny.

The truth is that unreliable internet is still widespread in many parts of Central Asia, particularly for rural people.

Limited wired internet and cell phone services render children vulnerable, as they cannot access online classes and tools needed for home schooling.

Without broadband infrastructure, we will likely see the deepening of the digital education divide — which leaders across the public, private and social sectors have worked so hard to bridge even before the pandemic.

Like anywhere else in the world, the coronavirus pandemic has drastically transformed life in the former Soviet states of Georgia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan.

Without high-speed internet it will be very hard to cope with the prevailing challenges there and prepare for the post-viral era without increasing the divide in household income and other inequalities within society.

*The writer is an International Relations Professor at New York University and the Chairman of the Charney Forum for New Diplomacy.

Ambassador Ido Aharoni serves as a global distinguished professor at New York University's School of International Relations in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Ambassador Aharoni is a 25-year veteran of Israel's Foreign service, a public diplomacy specialist, founder of the Brand Israel program and a well-known nation branding practitioner. He is the founder of Emerson Rigby Ltd., an Israel-based consultancy firm specializing in non-product branding and positioning. Ambassador Aharoni, who served as Israel's longest serving consul-general in New York and the tristate area for six years, oversaw the operations of Israel's largest diplomatic mission worldwide. Ambassador Aharoni joined Israel's Foreign Service in the summer of 1991 and held two other overseas positions in Los Angeles (1994-1998) and in New York (2001-2005). He is a graduate of Tel Aviv University (Film, TV, Sociology and Social Anthropology) and Emerson College (Master's in Mass Communications and Media Studies). At the Hebrew University in Jerusalem he attended the special Foreign Service program in Government and Diplomacy. Read Amb. Ido Aharoni's Reports — Click Here Now.

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Like anywhere else in the world, the coronavirus pandemic has drastically transformed life in the former Soviet states of Georgia, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan. Without high-speed internet it will be very hard to cope with the prevailing challenges there.
broadband, covid, penetration, usage
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2020-16-17
Saturday, 17 October 2020 07:16 AM
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