Fans of low-cost communication in Uzbekistan celebrated on May 23 as Skype and Viber, two popular online chatting software programs, began to function normally once again.
An initial clue about this development arrived on the previous day’s evening news, which carried remarks by the director of national telecommunications operator Uztelecom announcing that technicians had got to fixing the issue.
“A few days ago our engineers began working hard on fixing problems with Skype, Viber and WhatsApp and other voice apps. Now everything works. You can use it,” said Farhod Roziyev.
When Roziyev made the remarks at a conference in Tashkent on the development of IT and telecommunications, the hall broke into applause, a moment shown on state news channel Uzbekistan 24.
Skype suddenly stopped functioning properly in Uzbekistan in late July 2015. Other similar forms of free-of-charge communication worked only sporadically, if at all. Uztelecom claimed at the time that this interruption was due to repairs, although few were in any doubt the suspension had been forced by the security services.
Uzbekistan has for the past 15 years desperately been trying to create its own domestic alternatives to well-established international messaging services and social media websites. These have rarely had any success, however.
Alexander Suchkov, editor of IT-focused magazine Infocom.uz, said that a key reason that local alternatives never took root is that between the expense of buying and maintaining servers and databases, they simply proved to costly to operate.
“To maintain a national messaging service you need a large investor, and we don’t have those yet,” Suchkov said. “Skype, WhatsApp, Viber and Telegram are all seen as needed for doing business in Uzbekistan, so that is why they brought them back.”
For all that, Uztelecom is still not deterred and is developing yet another local messaging service, Uzphone. Its developers claim it will be preferable to foreign peers in that it will use less data.
Sign up for Eurasianet's free weekly newsletter.