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Russia's Internet Lags

(Washington, DC--August 3, 2001) A financial analyst who follows information and communications technology issues in Central and Eastern Europe says that Russia lacks a coherent government policy and national strategy to promote the Internet, and thus lags behind neighboring countries in its use of the Internet.

Svetlana Issaeva, a senior analyst with Pyramid Research, a subsidiary of the Economist Intelligence Unit, told an RFE/RL audience that, before 1998, the Russian government largely ignored the Internet. This has changed over the past two years, as revenue levels for internet service providers (ISP's) have increased and the government looked for ways to tax that revenue and control access to Internet content.

Issaeva said that Internet regulations are currently set by five national agencies, seven Duma committees, the President's office and the federal security agency, the FSB, which all claim jurisdiction over the Internet in Russia. At the same time, as in other countries trying to set rules for the information superhighway, few legislative or regulatory proposals have in fact become law, and many of the adopted laws seem to be an attempt to "contain the natural, market based development of the Internet" seen in Europe and the U.S.

Last year the government, at the urging of the FSB, adopted rules known as SORM 2, which allow federal police to track private communication on the public Internet. Local ISP's are required, at their expense, to provide a dedicated line for the police to use in monitoring Internet activity. Issaeva expressed concern that, while the U.S. and Europe have tended to treat Internet issues in a liberal manner, Russia to date has not, and that this could hinder future growth.

According to Issaeva, there are 30 million users or potential users of the Internet in Russia at this time, on the basis of a survey conducted that found that 20 percent of adults in Russia had heard of the Internet. That survey further showed that 72 percent of Internet usage takes place in offices and only 28 percent in homes, because of the prohibitive cost of local Internet access for private citizens. Issaeva said that 35 percent of Internet users in Russia are looking for news on-line, and that e-mail and chat rooms are extremely popular.