Digital Silk Road in Central Asia: Projects and Reality

Digital Silk Road in Central Asia: Projects and Reality

The 3rd Central Asian Internet Governance Forum will be held in Astana on 21-22 June 2018.

The main purpose of the 3rd Central Asian Internet Governance Forum is to strengthening of the existing public platform for the discussion of policies regarding Internet governance in Central Asian countries. The Forum will address issues related to cybersecurity, Internet freedom and regulation, development of the DNS industry and access to the Internet as well as global and national approaches to Internet governance.

Information and communication technologies have dramatically changed the nature of modern relationships in society, turning our century into a digital one. Today, governments, businesses and citizens are increasingly interacting with each other online.

Governments around the world are seeking to expand online governance by introducing digital tools into public services, thereby opening up new advantages in contacts with citizens. People get education, trade, create communities and civil movements on the Internet, which leads to the coordination of ideas and thoughts from different parts of the world in real time. Companies are actively building their business on the digital field, communicating with the most remote consumer markets.

Even washing machines, refrigerators and other household appliances have learned to use the Internet of things and communicate with service centers through the global network.

In short, despite its abstractness, the possibilities of cyberspace are limitless.

Compared to 2005, the current cross-border traffic has increased 45 times. Given the unique socio-economic context of the Central Asian region, which has a relatively low population density and a vast territorial area, the challenge of digitalization for Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan may open up another area of common effort.

The first attempts are made at the national and regional levels. For example, Cambridge University has initiated a common platform called “Digital dialogue for Central Asia”. The first meeting of this platform “Making Inroads into Digital Transformation” with the participation of experts from five countries was held in Astana in April 2018.

Addressing at the forum, the head of Internet Society-Kyrgyz Chapter, Talant Sultanov, expressed the idea of building a Digital Silk Road in Central Asia under the slogan “free movement of ideas, people, creativity, technology and innovation”. As the representative of Kyrgyzstan noted, Central Asia with its favorable geographical position in Eurasia can become a global digital center, a virtual window for the entire Eurasian region, connecting different continents.

This can be achieved by expanding the network of fiber-optic communication lines connecting East and West Central Asia. At the same time, the World Bank is promoting South-North connectivity through the Digital CASA project, aimed at establishing a regional cross-border broadband telecommunications network to improve Internet connectivity in Central Asia and parts of South Asia.

The optimization of Internet connections (higher data transfer speed and cheapness) would bring many economic and social opportunities to the region in terms of sustainable economic development. Central Asia, which in the era of the Ancient Silk Road was famous as a cultural and scientific center, acquires with the help of modern ICT a chance to revive ties through the digital Silk Road.

Turkmenistan is also moving in step with the digital time – Internet networks are being modernized and the quality of telephony is improving, high-speed communication channels will connect ministries, departments, capital, provincial, district administrations, subscriber coverage by 4G, Wi-Fi, IP-TV networks is increasing.

In September last year, the country adopted the Concept of development of the digital educational system, according to which the center of innovative information will be opened in Turkmenistan. It will develop e-learning methods, including digital textbooks, manuals, video and audio materials, interactive and multimedia software.

In February this year, President Berdymuhamedov asked the Academy of Sciences to develop a State Program “Digital Turkmenistan”, which will lead to total transition to e-management.

As for the access to external networks, the country has taken a number of steps in the communication area of the general concept “Turkmenistan – the heart of the Silk Road”.

At the end of February, the construction of fiber-optic line Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan (TAP) was inaugurated, which will bring the IC-network between the three nations to a new level of development and strengthen their position in the Asian telecommunications market. In the future, TAP will be connected to the Caspian sea through the port of Baku and further to the European network.

In addition, specialists of “Turkmentelecom” is working to increase the capacity of backbone fiber-optic lines based on the technology of Dense Wavelength Division Multiplexing (DWDM) in areas bordering Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Iran and Afghanistan.