How, and Why, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan Shut Down the Internet

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March 9, 2023

The difference between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in using localized short-term internet shutdowns and in approaching control over the internet results from the peculiarities in the development of the telecommunication sector in both countries, and how authorities defined the utility of the internet on the strategic level in relation to governance, politics, and the economy.

In Kazakhstan, the government has aimed to improve its reputation in the international arena to ensure sustainable partnerships with main foreign economic partners, particularly to attract foreign investment.

Expanding the coverage of communication networks and ICT infrastructure was established as one of its main objectives; however, the process needed a stable internet connection throughout the country. While expanding its coverage in distant villages, residents of larger cities started to encounter localized shutdowns, in instances when the government sought to contain anti-government protests at the places of their origin.

Compared to Kazakhstan, the Turkmen government has continuously pursued rigid and centralized control of the internet through a bundle of offline and online measures to keep a highly sterilized online environment. To seal off the domestic online space, the government has used state-owned Turkmentelecom, the country’s only authorized internet service provider, to control the flow of information through a centralized hub. Internet access has been deliberately kept slow and unreliable compared to global standards, and expensive in relation to the income of the local population. The infrastructure outside of major urban areas has remained significantly underfunded and underdeveloped; roughly 50 percent of the population lives in these areas.

Although in recent years the situation has significantly improved, Turkmenistan still has the lowest internet penetration rate in Central Asia at 38 percent of the total population. Furthermore, Turkmenistan has one of the world’s most expensive mobile internet systems and one of the world’s slowest average internet download speeds. 

VIA The Diplomat