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Review 2000

Author: Mikhail Doroshevich

Population: 10,366,719 (July 2000 est.)
GDP - per capita: purchasing power parity - $5,300 (1999 est.)
Per 100 inhabitants 25,5 telephone lines
Cellular Mobile subscribers: 60000

In 1999 the French non-governmental organization "Reporters without Borders" published a list of 45 countries, which restrict Internet access. In this list Belarus was mentioned among 20 countries defined as "bitterest enemies of Internet"

1. State of Telecommunications Infrastructure and Internet Development

The only telecommunications carrier in Belarus is the government owned Belarusian Telephone Company ("BELTELECOM"). According to the agreement signed by the government of Belarus and the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development in 1992, in 1995 EBRD invested approximately $ 30 mln. into creation of the largest telecommunications enterprise in Belarus- "BELTELECOM". As a result BELTELECOM has definite obligations of contract and therefore should have permanent consultations with the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development. Governmental officials often use the argument of repayment of the credit when having talks with the representatives of private telecommunications companies.

According to the order issued by the Minister of Communications on July 3, 1995 BELTELECOM is the legal owner of the whole interlinked communications network of the Republic of Belarus. BELTELECOM is the monopoly telephone company in Belarus. In 1994 the governmental program for telecommunications development (1995-2000) was adopted by the Council of Ministers of the Republic of 'Belarus.

In 1996 BelPack (a Beltelecom divsion) - the national network of data transmission was put into operation. At present there are 18 nodes. The central node is in Minsk, the nodes of 5 regions are connected to the central node. Belpack has its nodes in Brest region (Baranovichi, Pinsk), Vitebsk region (Novopolotsk, Orsha), Gomel region (Zhlobin, Mozyr), Grodno region (Lida), Minsk region (Borisov, Molodechno, Slutsk, Soligorsk), Mogilev region (Bobrujsk). That makes BelPack the largest regional provider.

Total volume of outer BELTELECOM channels equals 11Mbit/s, All the other - "secondary providers"- are connected up to BELTELECOM through leased lines and pay from 800 USD/mo (stream speed 14.400 kbit/s;) to 13000 USD/mo (512 kbit/s stream speed). That prevents non-governmental organisations and small business from having leased lines. Being a provider of dial-up access and of leased lines, BELTELECOM promotes ISDN access and access without password. That restricts technical opportunities of the company and cuts down the number of users. But by the end of 2000 BELTELECOM is planning to have 480 ports. The number of users is 13000 - 15000. Besides BELTELECOM develops the Internet-cafes network, using its advantages as a monopolist and government-owned company.

BELTELECOM and Ministry of Communications are anxious about the fact that the outer telephone traffic decreases. To prevent that BELTELECOM's lisences for IPs prohibit to provide IP-telephony services.

Though all the outer channels are owned by the government, there is no strict control over the outer traffic. Due to the absence of technical possibilities, government cannot censor all the providers. But in 1997 some IP addresses were annulled because there was information unfavorable for the administration of the Republic.

Telephone lines

BELTELECOM modernizes and develops telephone communication. Time rate was introduced in 1998. But still the quality of telephone communication leaves much to be desired. Since November 2000 it became possible to make telephone international calls via coin-box telephones.

Mobile phones

There are two operators of mobile phones BELCEL (a joint-venture), http://www.belcel.com working in the analogues standard NMT-450i. It has about 16000 users. And Velcom (a joint-venture) http://www.velcom.by, working in the GSM-900 standard. It has about 30000 customers.

Both operators cover only large cities and regional centers. The range of services is limited. There are plans to start up another GSM standard network in March 2002

Internet-providers

29 organizations have obtained licenses to provide Internet services. But in fact only 13 of them function. The most active are:

Because of the low quality and high prices of BELTELECOM lines all the providers use a skew access: a request-out goes via BelPack and returns via satellite. The average price is 1-1.5 USD/hour, for an unlimited access -100 USD/mo.

IP differ greatly in the quantity and quality of services. They use various hardware units (equipment) from a couple of simplest modems to the latest server models.

Unibel - educational network
The first Unibel node was started up in Minsk in 1993. In 1996 in the framework of an International Scientific Foundation (Open Society Institute, the USA) project - "Minsk Internet Project" the Unibel network ring in Minsk was created. The Unibel network is a technical basis for the realization of UNDP Internet project. Open Society Institute (the USA) and Nice (The European Community) support the project as well. At present Unibel network is supported by Computing-Analytical Center of the Ministry of Education. Unibel has 7 main nodes in Minsk These nodes are connected through channels with band-width 2-10 Mbit/s, These nodes make the backbone. And 6 regional nodes, connected to the backbone via digital channel (64 kbit/s) international connection to Internet is provided by BelPack (512 kbit/s.).

At present more than 200 organisations are connected to the network. Since 1999 the network had to collect license fee for all the services.

Domain policy

The first level domain was registered in 1992 by a Soros Foundation substructure. After the Soros Foundation withdrawal the domain has been controlled by the "Open Contact" company. During the last half of the year the control over the domain distribution is exerted by the State Information Security Centre (http://www.tld.by). The second level domains became accessible only in 2000. A one year domain charge is about 110 USD. As some providers use opportunities to influence domain policy all domains which are of commercial interest are taken. Obtaining of a domain name is very complicate and not transparent, so the majority of new commercial resources are registered in other domains than .by. The low quality of telecommunications causes the situation when the majority of resources are placed outside of the Republic of Belarus. Besides, some resources of the .by domain are situated outside Belarus as well. That makes impossible to give precise assessment of the hosts number on the territory of Belarus.

Number of customers
The number of customers according to different assessments ranges from 20000 to 60000. Such a wide range of discrepancy is due to tha fact that all corporate networks connected through licensed lines have proxy-servers and dial-ups are used by a number of customers. 60-70% of users are in Minsk, they are generally university students. But because of the low speed of connection these customers use mainly The Unibel network resources. Unibel has special service -leased lines connection exept to Unibel.

Peering agreement of major secondary providers opene up new opportunities jfofJthe customers. But Belpack-Beltelecom didn't join the agreement, though it was proved that such an agreement would cut budget expenses.

According to the experts there is a limited amount of content in Belarusian- for about 10%.

In the end of October a conference on e-commerce took place in Minsk. The government showed great interest to the Conference, some parlament members hold the view that e-commerce will bring economical boom. But speaking of e-commerce they generally mean electronic katalogues of Belarusian goods.

Non-governmental organizations
In 1999 the state authorities inspired foundation of the non-governmental organization Information Society". But it turned to be only a formal structure. In March 2000 Association of Information technologies Companies was registered. 12 leading computer companies are the members of the new organisation.

2. Policy Environment: State of the Legal and Regulatory Framework

Belarusian "Law on Communications" was adopted on October 5, 1994. Article 3 provides:" Both governmental and private ownership of telecommunication networks are acceptable". Article 6 is dedicated to the licensing and certifying of telecommunication activity, providing a detailed regulation of the conditions for granting and revoking licenses. It is stated that competition in some spheres of activities can be restricted through reducing the number of lisenses. Article 7 provides that juridical persons and natural persons have the right to create their own kinds of connection according the rules fixed for state-owned enterprises, institutions and organisations. Departmental networks and communications, networks and communications of juridical persons and natural persons may be included into the state telecommunication network". Article 11 provides the secrecy of correspondence, telephone conversations and other messages.

On September 6, 1995 the Law on Informatization was adopted which regulates formation and usage of information resources, rights and obligations of agents of informatization processes and provides protection of information resources. In the beginning of 2000 the Law on Electronic Document was adopted. Though the Law intends to define legal basis for the usage of electronic documents in all the spheres where software and technical facilities for creation, processing, storage,

transmitting an receiving information are employed, it is obvious that the main objective of the law is to regulate banking activities. Thus the law just confirmed and consolidated principles which have been in force during five preceding years.

The Government Regulation On the Registration of Information Resources #1344 issued on August 28, 2000 has become the most alarming document adopted in the Republic of Belarus. It says that information resources funding by the government and information resources of national importance not funded by the state are subjected to obligatory registration. All the other information resources may be registered on the voluntary basis. According to the law all modern Internet resourses are to be registered.

Lisensing of IPs is regulated by Provisional Regulation adopted on July 6, 1993. Documents requered for getting a lisence are ennumerated in the Regulation, but there is a statement than "some other documents may be obtained on demand of the official". That statements creates basis for corruption among sate officials.

The term "Internet" does not appear in any Belarusian law on telecommunications.

3. Opportunities for reform

It is widely agreed that it is necessary to develop a legislative basis for Internet usage in the country (regulation of e-commerce, licensing, free competition, investments guarantees)

A primary goal of reform policy should be to find a way to eliminate or modify the governmental ownership telecommunications and of the monopoly of BELTELECOM.

The state should take away restrictions for outer telecommunication channels, should encourage and support promotion of the Internet in Belarus.

It is also necessary to create regional infrastructure.

Establishing of non-governmental organizations directly engaged in Internet promotion issues would also contribute to the reforms in the sphere.



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