Tajikistan’s telecommunications service is rapidly forcing through the monopolization of yet another area of the sector under its purview — this time the provision of wireless internet services.
As things stand, the main financial beneficiary of this exercise appears to be the son of that same regulator.
Last month, Asia-Plus news website reported that the head of the State Telecommunications Agency, Beg Sabur, had ordered an inspection of Wi-Fi spots in all public locations, including shopping centers and cafes. The agency explained that the checks were motivated by a desire to promote public wellbeing.
"Sometimes we are seeing the use of Chinese routers that are harmful to people’s health. Our responsibility is to prevent this,” said one unnamed telecommunications service official cited by Asia-Plus.
The telecommunications agency then launched an assault on universities. On April 22, officials without explanation sealed the offices of Tajik Academician Research and Educational Network Association, or TARENA, an entity responsible for supplying connections to all the country’s universities.
TARENA was established in 2002 in a joint project between Tajikistan and the European Union. The TARENA-supplied internet halls in universities are often one of the few ways in which students, many of whom do not own their own computers and laptops, are able to check email and do online research free of charge. Researchers formerly plugged into international academic databases are now likewise bereft of those resources.
But universities in the capital have these past few days been seeing the installation of Wi-Fi terminals covering a radius of 30 meters. A 100-megabyte package costs 1 somoni (around $0.10), which is much cheaper than other commercial providers but not free and often barely affordable by cash-strapped students.
And who might be profiting? The son of the head of the State Telecommunications Agency, as it turns out.
RFE/RL’s Tajik service, Radio Ozodi, reported on May 17 that the terminals in question are operated by Oshno-Group, a company belonging to Siyovush Zuhurov, a son of Beg Sabur. The State Telecommunications Agency has since 2009 been run as a de facto fiefdom by Sabur (né Beg Zuhurov). Siyovush Zuhurov's older brother is the husband of one of President Emomali Rahmon’s daughters.
One catering outlet in the center of Dushanbe informed Eurasianet that although they still rely on their existing internet service provider, all such businesses are being told they will soon have to source their internet from one company. And that company would presumably also be Oshno-Group.
The telecommunications service is no stranger to such anti-competitive practices. Last June, authorities effectively halted the services of several popular courier companies, such as TNT, UPS and DHL. The companies were informed they would be required to obtain new operating licenses, but those permits were never issued.
Those intending to send or receive packages must now instead rely on Express Mail Service Tajikistan, a unit within the national Maily Tojik postal service controlled by the telecommunications service.