[At-Large] Trip to Caucasus - Chapter 3 - Georgia

Roberto Gaetano roberto_gaetano at hotmail.com
Fri Jul 5 12:33:41 UTC 2013

Hi all.

Following up my previous reports on Armenia and Azerbaijan, I would like to
continue with Georgia. I will also have some final considerations on the
region, and some recommendations, but that will be part of a future message.

My main contact in the country was Ramaz Kvatadze, from the Georgian
Research and Educational Networking Association (GRENA -
http://grena.ge/eng/). I had a very good meeting with him, and other short
occasional conversations with other folks.

The main points that came out from the discussion with Ramaz were (to the
best of my recollection, in random order, after validation by Ramaz):

.         There is an ISOC chapter, not member of the At-Large, some groups
are participating in ISOC Community Grants programmes.

.         The infrastructure is in average good, but there are substantial
differences between big cities and remote villages.

.         While the main problem in the countryside is connectivity, that
must be improved, the main complaint in big cities is compliance of the
operators with the promised quality of service.

.         The government has undertaken efforts for developing eGovernment,
as of today there are many applications that allow citizen and organizations
to obtain certificates and make declarations online.

.         The scientific and research community is not active on ICANN
matters because there is no benefit associated to its participation.

.         The scientific and research community has strong collaboration
with similar communities in other Caucasus countries as well as other
geographical areas worldwide, but the main interest and efforts are devoted
to cooperation with Europe.

.         Although Georgia feels strongly more European than Asian, the
current location in AP as ICANN geographic region is not felt as an
obstacle. However, the main goal of Georgia is to become real member of
European community.

.         The adoption of new technologies (mobile telecommunication,
internet) have been slowed down initially by the monopoly situation, but now
the competition among operators favours rapid development and strong
improvement of the infrastructure.

.         The main obstacle for further improvement of the ICT
infrastructure is lack of financial resources, as private business is unable
to invest in development in rural/mountain areas as these are scarcely
populated and there will be not enough return on investment.

.         Georgia has good relationships with both Armenia and Azerbaijan,
organizing regional meetings in Georgia is easier than in the neighboring
countries. In fact almost all regional meetings are organized in Georgia.

To this, I would like to add some personal considerations.

I have travelled extensively, in cities and in rural areas, and have found
fair to good internet connectivity. I have experienced a difference between
cities and countryside, which confirms the feedback I had from Ramaz.
However, the improvement of the connectivity seems no simple task, and other
comments I have gathered from different sources, mainly individual internet
users, is that the overall connectivity is not the first priority. From a
different source, I have learned that Georgia is planning to lay down a
second backbone cable that should connect east and west Georgia running
close to the southern border (unfortunately, I was unable to get
confirmation of this from other sources). It seems that addressing the risk
of a cut in the intra-Georgian communication (between east and west Georgia)
is a higher priority than addressing the connectivity in remote areas. The
reason might appear obvious to people who know the recent history and the
current threats of the region.

I am under the impression that tourism, that is a flourishing business in
Georgia, and rightfully so, can be an incentive to the improvement of the
internet infrastructure. For instance, my last day was in Batumi, touristic
area on the Black Sea, close to the border with Turkey. I have found a large
number of bars, coffee shops, restaurants, that were offering free WiFi. On
the other hand, I compare this with Mestia, in the Svaneti, another place
with high touristic potential, but on the Caucasus mountains, where no B&B
offered WiFi, and I was unable to find any establishment included it. My
assumption was, although it was difficult to verify this with the local
people, that the limited bandwidth in some areas was the limiting factor.
But, as I said, it is just my personal speculation.

I had another example of the situation in remote areas travelling to the
Tusheti area (in the Caucasus mountains, north-east Georgia). The electric
and telephone lines, installed in Soviet times, were abandoned because the
cost of maintenance was too high, leaving the whole area without power and
connectivity. It has to be said that the road itself to Omalo, the largest
village in Tusheti, is passable only by 4x4 vehicles and the Abano pass
itself is closed from October to May because of snow. However, the
population got organized: almost every household has solar cells and is
therefore autonomous for electrical power, and there are GSM (solar-powered)
cells that ensure mobile phone connectivity to the valley. I was impressed
by this, and thought that this could be an example for other parts of the
world, where laying cables is too costly. Incidentally, at about the same
time I heard the recent news about the experiments on internet connection
via satellite in New Zealand, which shows that new ways are being explored.

Talking about mobile phones, there seems to be excellent market penetration.
While it is true that the monopoly situation has slowed down the progress,
my observation, in cities and also in remote areas, is that the initial
delay has been caught up. There is a wide offer, and if you get a local SIM
card you can reload it also at ATM-like machines that are widely available
for different types of payments.

The last comment is about the geopolitical collocation of Georgia. I have to
say that travelling through the country I had the impression to be in
Europe. Just the signs in Georgian alphabet reminded me that I was in the
Caucasus. As a matter of fact, this proximity to Europe made me forget to
inquiry about another topic I wanted to get information on: the need, or
not, for IDN. However, I have the feeling that, while this is probably an
issue in large cities, the main problem in scarcely populated areas remains
the connection.

Best regards,


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