Russia has experienced an enormous growth of Internet penetration during the last 10 years. But the quality of Internet connection isn't the same for everyone. Quality, price and accessibility of the broadband Internet differ a lot throughout the country with some territories (like Sakhalin [EN]) still being beyond the digital divide. In this article, I'll present the results of the study of broadband prices of the Internet in the Russia's 90 largest cities (with the exception of Moscow and Saint Petersburg). The study was conducted as a part of my Ph.D. thesis for the Moscow State University. More detailed version will be published in the Russian magazine “Internet v Cyfrah” [RUS] in April, 2010.
The analysis focused on unlimited Internet access at the speed of 1 megabit per second (mbs). The original dataset included 810 providers. Then the city median mean was counted. The result of the analysis showed that Russians pay for the same service very different prices. 1mbs unlimited Internet access plan costs from $180 per month in northern Norilsk [EN] to $12 in Yoshkar-Ola [EN] in central Russia. In some cities, there are no 1mb unlimited plans at all and the highest speed people can count on is 256 kbs (if this happened, the special coefficient was used).
Another problem is that in many towns in Siberia and Far East there's no decent broadband and people use satelite Internet which is much more expensive. Below is the table of the cities with the cheapest and the most expensive Internet in the country:
Table 1. Cities with the cheapest broadband prices (November 2009)
($ per month)
|Number of providers|
Most of the cities in the top-10 are from the Volga region (Yoshkar-Ola, Naberezhnye Chelny [EN], Kazan [EN] and others) where the cheapest prices were found. As a general rule, the cheapest Internet is prevalent in the biggest cities with developed universities (Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and others). The railroad connection is also of critical importance due to the technology of the construction of the broadband telecommunications, many of which are constructed along with the railroads.
On the other side, the most expensive broadband can be found in two types of cities: industrial and/or company towns [EN] and in the cities of the North Caucasus. People of the cities with developed oil industry (Surgut and Nizhnevartvosk) do not usually “suffer” from high Internet prices due to higher than average salaries. Both types of cities represent the “risk groups” where the digital divide is present. Poor infrastructure tied with low salaries turns into backwardness on a digital level.
Table 2. Cities with the most expensive broadband prices (November 2009)
($ per month)
|Number of providers|
Different prices of broadband in the cities lead to a serious differentiation on a regional level. Below is the map of the broadband prices in different Federal Districts [EN] (super-regional administration territorial divisions).
While in the Center, Volga and Urals federal districts the situation with the Internet is rather normal (about $30 for broadband, which is about 5-7 percent of the average income in 2007 and even less in 2009), the situation is much worse in the Far East and North Caucasus where Internet is not only expensive but also less accessible.
Role of government in promoting broadband is positive but not everywhere. Government companies (Center – Domolink, North-West – Avangard, Volga – JDSL, N.Caucasus – Disel, Urals – Utel, Siberia – Web Stream, Far East – Disly) that work in federal districts usually offer the lowest prices and the best conditions. At the same time, in the “problematic” regions like Far East and North Caucasus, government ISP often face monopoly accusations (like it happened with Dal Svyaz). At the same time, government ISPs are expected to be more likely to violate users’ rights and less eager to stick to Net Neutrality principles.
Another dimension of digital divide is the size of the city. The analysis shows that the bigger city is the better conditions users have. Internet in smaller cities is usually more expensive and there is less provider competion.
Table 3. Share of broadband price in relation to the average salary
|City inhabitants||Share of broadband price in the average salary|
|500,000 – 1,000,000||5,2%|
|400,000 – 500,000||5,6%|
|300,000 – 400,000||7,4%|
|200,000 – 300,000||8,8%|
Although Internet penetration rate growth in Russia is impressive, more detailed picture shows there's a lot to be done. As in other parts of the world, there are several factors influencing digital divide: location near main telecommunications arterias, size of the city and it's specialization.
Soviet-era industrial company towns turn out to be less competitive in the post-industrial era. Cities of the unstable and underdeveloped North Caucasus experience the lack of both telecommunications investment and provider competition. Majority of population in smaller cities and towns might have passed the digital divide but still live in the “pre-broadband” world with little or no access to YouTube and other traffic-sensitive online services.
While government officials in the United States and European Union raise the question of the country-wide affordable 30 mbs (or even 100 mbs) in the next decades, Russia's aim should be at least 1 megabit per second.