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Central Asia, comprising Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, serves as a strategic link between Asia and Europe for terrestrial Internet connectivity. Many international and regional organizations are recognizing the potential positive economic and social impact of a regional connectivity infrastructure. 

The Internet Society was excited to announce recently that it is collaborating with several high-level stakeholders in the Kyrgyz Republic to develop Internet infrastructure in the region. Collaborating with the Internet Society European Regional Bureau are the National Institute for Strategic Studies of Kyrgyzstan (NISS), the Central Asian Research and Education Network (CAREN) and the National Information Technology Center of the Kyrgyz Republic. The Kyrgyz Republic goal is to become a high-tech hub for online communication and the virtual movement of services.

As an initial step in sharing ideas with the local stakeholders, the Internet Society European Regional Bureau hosted its first Central Asian Symposium on 10 December in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. The program addressed topics on the Internet as a platform for economic growth, creating an enabling environment for local Internet development, and building sustainable Internet infrastructure. 

Reflecting back on the Symposium, there are a few points I would like to highlight:

First, the build-up towards the Symposium was from the very beginning a bottom-up process in the true sprit of the Internet. The initial dialogue, started by the Kyrgyz technical community stakeholders, quickly turned into a multistakeholder effort with the support of the government and the business community. In the end the Symposium brought together a knowledgeable and enthusiastic group of both local and international Internet stakeholders, who are now better placed to work together on the next steps of Internet development in the Kyrgyz Republic and the wider region.

Second, the strategic importance of improving regional connectivity of Central Asia became abundantly clear during the Symposium.

See opening video message from Vint Cerf, Chief Internet Evangelist for Google and co-founder of the Internet Society.

For many centuries the Silk Road was the main route for trade and communication across Central Asia linking Asia and Europe. Today the Internet provides the only real alternative for the Central Asian Republics to integrate into the world economy. The geographic position of Central Asia and the lack of direct access to submarine cables have played their part in slowing down the Internet development in the region. Ermek Niazov, Vice-President at Kyrgyz Telekom, called for a mindset shift “from land-locked to land-linked” and a number of speakers highlighted potential solutions and scenarios for improving international connectivity of the Kyrgyz Republic.

Finally, both Deputy Prime Minister Elvira Sarieva and Deputy Minister of Transport and Telecommunications Ernis Mamyrkanov acknowledged the crucial role of the Internet for boosting the Kyrgyz economy and stated the government’s intention to revise the country’s ICT strategy. The Internet provides countries with a platform for economic and societal development, and both aspects were addressed at the Symposium. Siddhartha Raja from the World Bank alongside local business community speakers emphasized the importance of the Internet for jobs, trade, services, innovation and entrepreneurship. A lively debate followed on how best to educate and equip the Kyrgyz decision-makers, technical community and citizens with the right skills and qualifications to fully embrace the Internet opportunity.  

The Internet Society European Regional Bureau looks forward to working together with the NISS and other partners on Internet infrastructure development and deployment in the Kyrgyz Republic.  Through knowledge sharing in the technological, capacity building, and policy areas, we hope to contribute not only to Internet development in the Kyrgyz Republic, but also to share these experiences to encourage Internet expansion across the region.

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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