Last Mile Initiative Team Assesses Central Asian Republics & Starts eCenters Project

In April 2005, Last Mile Initiative (LMI) coordinators Michael Tetelman and Steve Rynecki of AED’s dot-ORG team conducted assessments in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. The focus of this regional assessment was to examine the condition of telecom access in rural areas and small towns, the usage of e-services (such as e-procurement and e-commerce systems by small businesses) and to determine the potential for new LMI projects in the region.

Mike Tetelman talks to staff at Kyrgyz Telecom's Cholpon-ata office

This was a dramatic time to conduct this assessment. Kyrgyzstan had experienced a revolution and ousted its president only three weeks before the LMI team arrived. Many people encountered by the team were interested in how information and communications technologies (ICTs) could help mitigate conflict and catalyze more equitable economic growth.

Contrasting Findings
The assessments revealed contrasting findings. Kazakhstan, for example, is experiencing rapid development thanks largely to significant oil revenue. Major construction and infrastructure projects are well underway throughout the country. The capital city, Astana, rises from the steppe with an impressive array of modern architecture and clearly looks like a city of the future. There are two major fiber-optic networks offering enormous potential and the country plans to launch its own regional telecom satellite (KAZSAT) by 2006. The team recognized that to liberalize Kazakhstan’s telecom sector effectively, many regulatory and policy changes are needed. However, the government’s rollout of an e-taxation and e-procurement system is setting Kazakhstan apart in the region as a leader in both ICT access and application service delivery.

In Kyrgystan the picture contrasts greatly. Without the advantage of oil revenue or other marketable natural resources, Kyrgystan’s development has been modest in comparison to neighboring Kazakhstan. Recent political turmoil underscores the need to create better communication linkages between rural areas and larger cities. Over 60% of Kyrgyzstan’s population lives in rural areas where many subsistence farmers struggle to find potable water.

The assessment revealed that social tensions could be relaxed if reliable and affordable communications were created between the central government and rural constituencies. The dot-ORG team determined that LMI resources could be used to great advantage in secondary cities (e.g. 20,000 people and above) to support such efforts as conflict mitigation, improving SME and citizen awareness about laws and taxation issues, and enabling citizens to use new payment mechanisms (e.g. for utilities).

Given recent events and the need to bridge urban and rural areas, the assessment suggests that an LMI pilot project should be launched to establish a minimum of four public ICT access fee-for- use “eCenters” in secondary cities. The project will, via a competitive and transparent national selection process, establish four eCenters across Kyrgyzstan. Municipalities will be encouraged to propose public / private partnerships that include land grant privatizations in support of local eCenters and community microvoucher initiatives.

Working with Partners
In July 2005, AED/dot-ORG selected US-based project partner Openworld to develop and provide toolkits and model business plans for local private and public sector champions on structuring land-grant-enabled projects to promote high bandwidth telecommunications access (using such potential affordable technologies as VSAT earth stations and extended-range Wifi links) to the designated land grant areas, to endow local microvoucher funds for grassroots access to new telemedicine and eLearning resources, and to increase the ability of public sector bodies to connect directly with Kyrgyz citizens.

AED selected the Civil Initiative on Internet Policy (CIIP), a Kyrgyz based NGO, to coordinate the project during its initial 18-month pilot phase. The project partners will organize Kyrgyz and international providers of affordable telemedicine and online skills development and certification opportunities on an introductory basis in affiliation with the selected Kyrgyz eCenter initiatives. The project will also implement strategies to ensure the sustainability of the eCenters. For example, the eCenters will receive guidance on forming an association to share best practices, aggregate their procurements, help coordinate technical support, and serve as the eCenters’ collective voice in important forums. The eCenters will also be encouraged to deploy innovative uses of connectivity – e.g. acting as a reseller of connectivity via wireless to small businesses and local governments, donor agencies, etc.

Identifying potential local partners, locations and focus areas
AED’s Steve Rynecki and Openworld’s Mark Frazier went to Kyrgyzstan in July to evaluate potential project partners and locations. Visits to the Chui, Osh, Jalalabad and Naryn oblasts indicated that there was sufficient local know-how and interest to move the project forward. Rural tourism was one of the highlighted areas where the project could make a strong impact. Other areas identified include agribusiness and improved government delivery of social services using Internet applications.

These actions can help move the country forward in offering an improved business climate for local and international private sector growth, strengthen understanding of democratic and accountable public sector institutions, and help ensure the spread of skills valued in the global marketplace.

See the accompanying Photo Presentation.

For More Information, Contact:
Michael Tetelman
Acting Director, dot-ORG
Academy for Educational Development
Tel: 202 884 8856

Steven Rynecki
Senior Program Officer, Academy for Educational Development
Tel: 202-884-8948

Related DOT-COM Activity
Kyrgyzstan eCenter Project
Related DOT-COMments Newsletter Articles
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