Kyrgyzstan can become an Internet hub on a digital Silk Road from China to Europe

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BISHKEK (TCA) — Kyrgyzstan is a politically and economically liberal country, and it can become an Internet hub for the Central Asian region. Freedom of information in the country is very important for the Internet, IT expert Talant Sultanov said at an international conference “Information technologies, a new way of economic development” held on May 23 in Bishkek.

To bring this idea to life, it is necessary to build a network of fiber-optic communication lines (FOCL) and create data processing centers in Kyrgyzstan. However, Internet companies have to wait at least a year to obtain permits and licenses to lay FOCL cables. To save money and time, experts suggested laying cables during the construction of roads, and the cost of building fiber-optic lines will be much cheaper.

To build a digital society, several components are needed including legislation, a favorable environment and human potential. Kyrgyzstan lags behind in the legislation on the digital economy development, experts say. Meanwhile, some positive steps have already been taken. A bill on amendments to the law on electronic digital signature is being discussed. With the electronic digital signature, it is easier to manage the workflow.

The information technologies are now a necessity not only for business but also for the state as a whole, as many issues can be solved through communication means. According to the draft long-term development strategy, Kyrgyzstan should enter the world market as a highly developed state by 2040.

Reducing migration

The population will benefit greatly from the introduction of information technologies, because it will create jobs and reduce migration.

According to official data, a quarter of Kyrgyzstan’s able-bodied population is now in migration. Kyrgyz people who work in Moscow as waiters earn on average $250 per month, while some IT specialists earn from $3,000 to $6,000. Modern information technologies would allow working remotely while living in Kyrgyzstan. If Kyrgyzstan creates favorable conditions for the IT development, good specialists will not have to leave their homeland to work abroad, Sultanov said.

Economic development and the Internet are closely interrelated. In Kyrgyzstan, the cost of broadband Internet is higher than in Russia and Kazakhstan, to compare the cost of the Internet with the average income of the population. In Kyrgyzstan, this indicator is 26%, while more than 10% is considered a big barrier to the economic development.

Combining two concepts

Speaking recently at the One Belt, One Road international forum in Beijing, Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev suggested delivering Internet from China to Europe through Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyzstan is ready to combine the One Belt, One Road concept with the national Taza Koom (Clean Society) project aimed at improving the quality of public services for the civil and business community, Atambayev said. He suggested implementing two tasks — FOCL expansion passing from China to Europe through Kyrgyzstan and the construction of high-tech logistics centers to develop joint electronic commerce. “If FOCLs pass through Kyrgyzstan, the data transmission speed will increase ten-folds from Hong Kong and Shanghai to Bern and Rome, Budapest and Brussels, to Prague and Madrid,” he said.

Local IT experts supported the idea of Kyrgyzstan’s participation in the creation of a digital Silk Road. The country has the potential for its implementation, they believe.

Earlier in May, Consul General of the Kyrgyz Republic in Guangzhou Maksat Tentimishov and representatives of the Chinese IT company, ZTE, discussed attracting company’s capital and technologies in economic and social projects in Kyrgyzstan.

The Consul told about an economically promising project, a High-Tech Park in Kyrgyzstan, which will specialize in introducing the latest information, communication and innovative technologies.

Hi-Tech Park development

According to one of Kyrgyzstan’s Hi-Tech Park founders, Chairman of the Kyrgyz Association of Software and Services Developers, Azis Abakirov, the HTP programmers who are working in Kyrgyzstan are carrying out projects that connect the West to the East. Recently a Japanese company opened a call-center in Kyrgyzstan and started selling its goods here.

Local IT companies are working with the countries of America. Therefore, they will be able to work in the project of the virtual Silk Road proposed by China.

Due to tax incentives provided to the HTP companies in 2011, it has been actively developing and increasing exports. In 2014, 60 programmers produced IT products worth 80 million soms, 110 programmers exported products worth 130 million soms in 2015, and in 2016, the HTP companies exported IT developments worth 241 million soms produced by 250 programmers, said Abakirov.

On one hand, these are small amounts, but on the other hand, each programmer generated almost one million soms ($14 thousand) while the average GDP per capita is $3,500 only, he added.

This year the structure of IT exports has changed in Kyrgyzstan. Earlier the HTP exported its products mainly to Russia and Kazakhstan, but there was a breakthrough in the first quarter of 2017. More than 36% of IT developments were exported to the US, 24% to Ireland, 19% to Kazakhstan, 6.2% to Japan, and 3.2% to the UK.