Eurasianet reported on January 31 that Tajikistan’s leader has slated head of the state communications service agency for the dismal state of internet provision in the country.

Speaking at a government meeting on January 24, President Emomali Rahmon singled out Beg Sabur for criticism for his handling of the telecommunications sector.

Sabur has since that time reportedly been dispatched to the remote Murgab district in the Gorno Badakhshan Autonomous Region (GBAO), where internet users still have to rely on glacially slow second-generation cellular connections, to begin tackling the problem. 

During an address to a joint meeting of both chambers of parliament on December 23, President Emomali Rahmon drew a direct correlation between the difficulty of getting online and the sad state of the tourism industry.

“Basically, where do tourists go?” he asked.  “Where there is good internet.”

According to Eurasianet, tourist operators weary with the glitchy e-visa system, the lack of international transport connections and what industry insiders overwhelmingly agree is the lackluster quality of the government’s tourism officials might offer a more elaborate explanation, but that Tajik internet is appalling is certainly a fact.

Tajikistan routinely ranks toward the bottom of international standings in terms of value for money offered by internet providers.  Peer nations where it concerns mobile connections typically include the likes of Cuba and Venezuela.  One gigabyte of data can cost anywhere around US$3.  Things are a little better, although not much, with landline connections.  The problem cannot be blamed on geography either. Neighboring Kyrgyzstan can boast of internet that is both cheap and fast, Eurasianet noted.

Remedying this impasse is going to be complicated, though, since the cash-strapped government has repeatedly stung service providers for windfalls through spurious tax-related fines.

“In the past, the Tax Committee has fined mobile companies and [internet service providers] for large sums.  They got US$20 million from Tcell, for example, and about US$70 million from Babilon,” a telecommunications service official told Eurasianet on condition of anonymity.  “Now mobile companies have no money, or they are not interested [in making investments].  They are entrepreneurs, you can’t push them too much.”

Eurasianet notes that where Tajikistan’s privately owned mobile telecommunications service providers were racking up revenues of around US$500 million in 2013, that figure had dropped to around US$282 million in 2022.

Beg Sabur has served as head of Tajikistan’s telecommunications regulator since 2011.

A World Bank report published in August 2019 found that once a promising sector, Tajikistan’s telecommunications sector has languished.

“Despite modest improvements to international bandwidth (to about 6-8 Gbps), Tajikistan’s data transmission speeds remain the slowest among regional peers and other small, landlocked countries,” the World Bank report stated at the time.  “Such slow international bandwidth speeds cannot support significant increases in trade in services, the development of a knowledge economy, or reposition Tajikistan as a regional hub.”