Russia’s Lame excuse for an Internet
A recent article on the Lenta.ru website (Russian language link) confirms that two-thirds of Russian households have no access to the Internet (only 0.1% of Russians use Twitter). That’s not news, of course, we’ve often reported on Russia’s puny level of Internet penetration, and it’s no surprise: In a country where the average wage is $3/hour, but where Internet access costs the same as it does in the West, paying for Internet access is a luxury few can afford. And as we’ve said before (click the “Internet” category in our sidebar to read our extensive reporting on this subject), the one-third figure is a gross overstatment of Russia’s true level of Internet access, because it includes as “users” those who may go online as rarely as once a month and then only for a few minutes.
But the Lenta article did report a surprising fact: It stated that half of all respondents who could access the Internet were doing so by means of their cell phones.
This means that no more than about 15% of Russians access the Internet by means of a computer, the only way of course to fully make use the resources of political information that the Internet has to offer. It goes without saying that the abbreviated Internet on offer via cell phones is hardly likely to provide anyone with sufficient information to judge the performance of the Putin regime. You can hardly, for instance, peruse the New York Times on your Liliputian cell phone screen.
So what’s accurate to say about the Russian Internet is that, if ten years ago only one in ten Russians ever accessed the Internet, now perhaps one in ten regularly does so. Still, about 90% of the population is unable to consider using the Internet as a political weapon against the KGB regime.
The Lenta article seemed to feel it was a signficant achievement that Russian Internet penetration has increased by a “factor of 30” in the past ten years, since in 2000 only one in a hundred Russians had Internet access. But what that that really means that when Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, nobody could find out a thing about this proud KGB spy by any means on than government-controlled TV.
Clearly then, any growth in the Internet, the last bastion of real opposition to the Kremlin, is a matter of great concern to the Kremlin. Little wonder, then, that Putin is now scrambling so furiously to persecute and jail bloggers, control providers and create government-sponsored blogs full of shameless propaganda. His backup, of course, is simply to shamelessly rig the elections themselves by blocking opposition candidates and stuffing ballot boxes.
It’s not hard, of course, to improve upon a figure that is so woefully small as Russian internet after the fall of the USSR. The question is whether as much as half the Russian population will ever have routine access to the Internet’s Kremlin-critical Internet by means of a desktop or laptop computer at any time in the near future.
And the answer to that question is a resounding NO!