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Moldova: Slow, Steady Progress Improves Internet Access

Washington, 2 June 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Moldova is making slow but steady progress along the information superhighway, largely with help from foreign organizations but also with a firm commitment from government officials, scientists, scholars and non-governmental agencies.

Moldova established permanent Internet access in 1995 via a leased line to Bucharest, Romania. The nation has had non-permanent, dial-up Internet access since 1992.

In October 1995, Moldova joined the Central and Eastern European Networking Association (CEENet), an organization formed in 1993 by representatives of seven countries in the region who wanted to establish and promote academic and research networking.

It was an important step for Moldova which, until that time, had not been involved in many international networking programs and had encountered difficulties in establishing contacts abroad. By joining the network, Moldova was able to effectively begin exchanging operational, directory and technical information with other nations, establish and attend technical working groups, and be involved in CEENet's proposals to international and European organizations for funding to promote network developments within CEENet.

The government of Moldova has been vocal in its support for improving the telecommunications system in the country and building a strong networking infrastructure.

In October of 1993, the Moldovan Ministry of Informatics, Information and Communications created the Republican Center of Informatics (RCI), announcing that it intended to develop the Center as the main node of a future national network.

The main goals of RCI are listed as: research and design in the field of informatics (information science); the spreading of advanced information technologies; the designing of legislative acts in the field of informatics; and information services.

Valerian Levinsky, head of the data networks department at RCI, says the center has a number of complex projects oriented toward developing and improving Internet services in Moldova.

Private Western organizations have also been active in helping Moldova improve e-mail capability, network infrastructure and Internet connectivity.

The Open Society Institute (OSI), a private grant-making foundation funded by Hungarian-American financier George Soros, has provided significant technical and financial support towards achieving these goals.

The Soros Project, called the OSI-Regional Internet Program (OSI-RIP), was responsible for sponsoring the first high-speed local Internet connection to universities in Moldova, connecting five campuses -- including the State University, the Technical University, and the Academy of Economical Studies -- to the State Academy of Sciences, the Soros Foundation Information Center, and RCI.

In 1996, OSI-RIP provided funding to permit these organizations to connect to the Internet via satellite. It also paid for 50 secondary schools and 25 non-governmental organizations to connect to the Internet.

OSI-RIP says that throughout 1997 they plan to extend Internet connectivity to more universities, secondary schools, and non-governmental organizations by providing modems, e-mail and Internet services to those institutions accessing the satellite connection.

Another organization, ISAR (formerly known as the Institute on Soviet-American Relations), is also helping to improve e-mail capability, to train users, and to provide technical assistance to Moldova. ISAR, a U.S.-based, non-profit organization, is currently working exclusively with non-governmental organizations with environmental concerns in Moldova.

Irina Belashova, ISAR's program director for Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, says that more than 60 percent of their grants contain some provisions that support e-mail connection, the installation or purchase of computer equipment, technical assistance, training, and maintenance.

Recently joining the other organizations in Moldova is the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), a U.S.-based non-profit organization.

Through a program called the U.S.-Eurasia Internet Access and Training Program (IATP), the organization is working to provide Internet access and training to thousands of users across the former Soviet Union.

In 1996, IATP established public Internet sites at 25 universities and libraries in Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan, provided training and communications assistance, and brought thousands of users on-line. According to Bruce McClelland, IREX's Director of Internet Programs, similar IATP programs have just begun in Moldova.

Currently the main Internet and e-mail providers in Moldova are RCI, the Soros Foundation, Relsoft, and Apriori.

Apriori is one of the newest providers, having started its activities in Moldova just this spring. But they have apparently been quite busy.

Apriori's technical director Ruslan Buyukli says the company is providing coveted satellite access to the Internet for its customers, and has already signed up 70 percent of Moldovan banks -- including the largest one, the National Bank of Moldova.

However, there are still several major obstacles in the way of improved Internet connectivity in Moldova:

Poor telecommunication infrastructure. Most lines are analog (designed to support voice) and not digital (designed to quickly exchange data).

Expensive telephone tariffs and the high cost of telephone lines.

An insufficient number of telephone lines for residential use.

The high cost of computer equipment.

Language difficulties -- the preferred languages in science are still largely Russian and Romanian, not English.

A dependence on international funding, which makes long-range planning difficult.