Drazen Pantic on Thu, 24 Apr 1997 16:18:50 +0200 (MET DST)

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<nettime> From Baku hotel to London train

Impressions from non-virtual Internet trips: from Baku hotel to London train


One Thursday in April Sasa Vucinic from Media Development Loan Fund and
myself started for Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea.
The reason of the visit to that distant country was an attempt to help on
broadening the Internet access there to the scale that NGO's and ordinary
people can get it. The host of the visit was an Open Society Institute (OSI)

Baku is located on the western shore of the Caspian Sea and is Azerbaijan's
largest city with up to 3.5 million inhabitants. The region is very rich in
oil and in fact the first oil boom has happened in Baku at the beginning of
this century. Azerbaijan used to be the primary supplier of oil and related
equipment to the states of the former Soviet Union. The special relations
with Russia are still very alive and the Russian company Lukoil is the major
exploiter of oil sources there. But all other big world companies are
present working and investing there.

Baku has one TV station, three radio stations and two Internet providers.
When it comes to independent media there is just one local independent radio
station ("sellers of democracy" they call themselves), and an Internews TV
station if that could be addressed as independent. 

Providers are Intrans, that is connected to Glasnet (Moscow) and the state
PTT that is connected to UUNet. In both cases it is a satellite connection
of 64 kbts.

Users dial-up to providers and have options of using mail as uucp or on-line
services. The prices are out of reach of individuals. An hour of on-line
usage is $6-$8 and the minimal uucp rate one can pay is $600 per month plus
additional charges per Kbyte. That is expensive by European standards, but
for ordinary Baku people totally out of reach. PTT also sells a 64 kbps
Internet service for $12000 monthly. So, the exclusive users there are oil
companies and their employees. There very few local people that can afford
even email.

It is rumored that both providers sell private mail of their users to
interested parties, so anybody sending mail to or from Baku should take this
possibility. I have just heard the story of selling people's mail, but no
personal evidence. I did not asked for prices. 

Local telephone lines are very bad, even by Belgrade standards. On the other
hand no one can get license for satellite connection because there is no law
for telecommunications and even harder any leased ground telephone line
towards any foreign country. They have some government that is more or less
a mixture of old Soviet style and Islamic one. The standard of living is
very low, salaries 
for local people are up to $200 a month, with very few exceptions.

But the most astonishing thing there was a hotel. This is considered to be
the second best hotel in town, next to Hyatt (that charges $270 per night).
The room has everything usual hotel room it to have, but somehow when you
enter it the oldness and dirt of things inside makes you think about a jump
through the window (that also has a broken glass).


Two weeks later Adrienne van Heteren, director or Radio B92's Rex Theatre,
and myself started for Liverpool, England. The reason for the trip was LEAF
97 conference.

And the necessary step was a train from London to Liverpool. We had the
opportunity to taste the benefits of English public transportation on the
Friday afternoon. The train was enormously overcrowded and just tree nice
skinheads save our souls, giving us their own sits. Everybody was busy
drinking beer and reading some of numerous newspapers Murdoch owns, with all
the consequences those activities produce.

Conference offered us the very clever Geert's thing on independence of
media, Kathy's series of recipes, presentation of VideoMedeja festival, some
totally unnecessary examples of advertisements of computer companies,
Boyadjiev exhibition, Litva radio RealAudio experience. It was obvious that
some people have read Forbes article on Soros. I expected to see Vuk Cosic
there but he had visa problems with UK. Internet access was mainly platonic,
but apart from that conference was a master piece of good and smooth

At the end there was a Syndicate meeting. Andreas Broechman put us in a
circle and asked to think about our involvement into Syndicate. Some very
important issues on financing were discussed, and the conclusion was that
maybe we can use Syndicate to discuss strategies.

Then I got back in Belgrade, and after a few days DFN started blocking
XS4ALL.  So, we had to win again.


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