Friday, September 3, 2010

Russia's State-Subsidized, Text-Only "Social Internet Plan"

(Outdated info-graphic via Clarification)

Recently, Russia has started regulating monthly costs for internet access providers. In addition, Russia is launching a state-run, subsidized internet plan.

According to Shchegolev, the speed of the “Social Internet Plan” will be 64kbps. The price of access will vary between 250-500 rubles ($8-$18) monthly. However, in the Far East the “Social Internet Plan” will be much more expensive due to infrastructural problems.
The “Social Internet Plan” is not the only state initiative to reduce the digital divide. A few days earlier, a presidential working group for Aerospace and Telecommunications approved a “Social Plug“ project. The “Social Plug” is a special panel that will include access to three radio channels, eight public TV channels and limited Internet access to “socially important” websites. Furthermore, it will have an “emergency” button (112 service, which is the Russian analogue of 911) and a loudspeaker for emergency situations that can be used by authorities for notification of the citizens (a picture of “social plug” can be viewed here). The monthly cost of the plug will be 50 rubles (less than $2). For additional payment, it will also be possible to get broadband Internet access via the “Social Plug.”
The “Social Plug” project was first introduced to president Medvedev in 2009 by the Moscow Municipal Radiobroadcasting Network (MGRS) and was approved by the Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov in a special order “On organization of Moscow’s population notification in peace and war emergency times”. However, the current project goes far beyond the Russian capital. The system is to be established in 39 biggest cities. According to some estimates, some 30 percent of the Russian population are supposed to have “Social Plug” in the next five years. The project's budget is 50 billion rubles (almost $2 billion). MGRS has already launched a pilot version and installed the plug in 560 Moscow apartments.
“The ‘Social Plug' is a real step towards information society, aimed at reducing digital inequality. It is a sure way to provide e-government services for citizens”, said the general director of MGRS Vyacheslav Ivanyuk.

But like most discounted things, there are some limitations.

Indeed, it appears that the subsidized Internet will provide access to a very specific, limited segment of the Internet, which is based in Russia and has primarily text content. Moreover, some of the official statements confirm that the project is approached as a way to ensure the success of e-government development plans. It’s not clear if the limitation of access will be done only through the limitation of access speed or through the limitation of available websites as well.
To better understand the “Social Plug” project, one should recall its historical predecessor: a radiotochka. The Soviet radio broadcasting services were based on a network of wired radio and&sound devices. The device, called a radio plug, could broadcast several governmental radio stations (depending on the number of buttons it had). Usually, every Soviet kitchen was equipped with a “radiotochka.”

A cheap, state-run Cryllic language internet might appeal to some, but if present-day internet providers in Russia are left alone by the government, then this initiative is probably a waste of time once private internet providers become more widespread and internet plans become more competitively priced. Then again, Russian authorities have never really been opposed to media crackdowns...

Armed and masked Russian police raided an opposition magazine on Thursday, pressing journalists to hand over interview recordings used in reports on alleged abuse of authority by the much-feared OMON riot police.
The New Times is one of Russia’s few prominent opposition media outlets and has published exposés of high-level corruption. Media rights groups say Russia is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a journalist.
A handful of police entered the magazine’s Moscow office seeking recordings of interviews and other material used in a February report that cited police sources saying OMON officers are permitted to commit abuses when breaking up protests.

While Russia isn't blatantly pro-internet censorship in the way China is, something tells me you won't find any of these news links on the "Social Internet Plan" search engines...

Plus, there's a reason Russia's best and brightest leave the country in favor of Silicon Valley.

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