In Armenia, Internet is Free

28.10.2015, Newsroom

Journalist

Freedom House has awarded Armenia a total score of 28 out of 100 (0 = best, 100 = worst) in its Freedom on the Net 2015 report.

Compared to 2014, this figure has not changed.

The study includes the period from June 2014 to May 2015.

According to Freedom House, during this time there were two key developments in Armenia:

  • In May 2015, an episode of the satirical web series SOS that mocked the police response to protests in Yerevan was removed by YouTube due to a copyrighted clip contained in the video.
  • Amendments to the Law on Personal Data Protection were proposed that, if passed, would create an agency with the authority to oversee government decisions with regard to accessing personal data, which would increase protection of personal privacy. 

According to the report: "The internet penetration rate in Armenia has continued improving over the past few years, alongside improvements in the stability of the internet’s infrastructure and relatively few restrictions on online content. Additionally, citizen groups and NGOs have made use of online communication tools to promote and organize campaigns, particularly surrounding the protests in Yerevan against hikes in electricity prices in mid-2015."

Freedom House notes that "[i]nternet access in Armenia continues to grow, although the internet penetration rate remains below 50 percent, and the average access speed was only 3.2 Mbps by the end of 2014. […] The fastest growing ISP is Rostelecom, with 26,208 new subscriptions, an increase by 18,993 subscribers in one year, while Armentel, the largest ISP providing mostly ADSL broadband internet access, is losing ground."

Mobile internet is also growing. "Based on reports provided by mobile operators, approximately 1.6 million mobile phones out of a total of 3.35 million were connected to the internet as of February 2015.

"According to official information from mobile operators, 3G services are available to almost 100 percent of the population, covering 90 percent of the country (excluding mostly unpopulated mountainous regions)," reads the report. 

Freedom House remarks that "[t]here are 33 companies in the Armenian telecommunications sector providing services including wired and wireless telecommunication services. Within the market for ISPs, 46 percent are foreign-owned companies.

"While the ISP market is relatively diverse, 96 percent of the total revenue from internet service in Armenia is produced by the five largest ISPs, one of which is Armenian, while the other four are foreign-owned." The sector is regulated by the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC), the members of which are appointed by the president of Armenia. The PSRC is accountable to the National Assembly. 

As of June 2014, Freedom House has no reports of restrictions on internet access imposed by the government or temporary disconnections from the internet.

"The most common incidents of censorship of online content relate to blocking and filtering of platforms and websites by the Russian regulatory authority, which affects access to the same content for some internet users in Armenia, since Armenia receives its web traffic from Russia. However, these cases are promptly resolved by internet service providers once reported by users," reads the report.

On the matter of media diversity, Freedom House said: "Armenian internet users are able to access a wide array of content online, though online media outlets based within the country are subject to financial and political pressures. 

"Currently, self-censorship is not a widespread practice in the online sphere. The Armenian government and the ruling political elite have not applied extralegal measures to prevent political opponents or independent internet resources from publishing online content. However, similar to traditional media outlets such as television or printed press, Armenian internet news resources are exposed to political pressure. In some cases, for example, journalists of a particular online media outlet are not allowed to deviate from the editorial policy of the outlet, which is often linked to one of the political parties. Such pressure has the potential to affect the overall situation of freedom of speech in the country […]" 

Freedom House notes that there is a diversity of opinion in social media. No cases of violence against online journalists were recorded during the period of this study, though there were 9 known cases of physical violence against print or broadcast journalists in 2014.  

Anna Barseghyan

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