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Resume: In July 2016, the Open Net non-commercial non-entrepreneurial legal entity was commissioned to carry out Georgia’s internetisation project (as a result of the project, over 90% of the country’s population would have internet access). As stated by the organisation, work is currently in progress on the infrastructural component. As part of this work, state procurement has been announced for projecting/building a fibre optic cable. On the website of the State Procurement Agency of Georgia, however, a procurement announcement made by Open Net cannot be found.

In addition, the installing of the fibre optic cable has not begun in any Georgian villages. Open Net is unable to answer the question of whether or not the installation of an internet cable in any of Georgia’s villages will be completed by the end 2019. The completion date for village internetisation is also unknown.

Analysis

On 8 September 2016, the Georgian Dream presented its election programme during the election campaign period. Infrastructural development was announced as one of the key priorities and the ruling party promised full internetisation to the population as a part of this action. The programme states: “8,000 kilometres of infrastructure will be built and as a result 800,000 people will gain access to the internet.” This project is part of the 2016-2020 government programme as well as being in the 2018 budget law.

In July 2016, the state programme on the development of a broadband fibre optic infrastructure was approved at the session of the Government of Georgia. In accordance with the information published on Open Net’s website, the Open Net non-commercial non-entrepreneurial legal entity was established on the initiative of the Innovation and Technology Agency of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development and with the financial support of the Cartu International Charity Foundation in order to carry out the project. As a result of the project, 90% of the population should have access to at least 15mb of internet by 2020. However, of note is that in accordance with the National Agency of Public Registry’s data, the Open Net non-commercial non-entrepreneurial legal entity was registered on 21 July 2015. Information about Open Net’s activities prior to the official launch of the internetisation project cannot be found on the internet. In accordance with the procurement data uploaded in the State Procurement Agency’s electronic database, Open Net has been carrying out procurement activities since August 2015. The company’s first procurement is related to a consultancy service about research and development whilst the rest is related to office equipment (purchasing office machinery and equipment, furniture, computer hardware and accessories, household utility items, etc.).

In September 2016, the launch of the first phase of the work for Georgia’s internetisation project was announced. Nino Kubinidze, Open Net’s Director, met with representatives of the banking sector and telecommunication operators. Consultation with the stakeholders was supposed to be finished by 30 September 2016 and a tender would be announced as soon as possible thereafter. A member of the Georgian National Communications Commission, Kakha Bekauri, was interviewed by the newspaper, Commersant, on this issue. As stated by Mr Bekauri, at the first stage, information is collected from the current operators (about their plans towards specific regions for the next three years) and the state will cover only those places where private business will be absent. Mr Bekauri also added that a map of Georgia was to be created and after that Open Net would announce tenders to start the infrastructure work. Information about Open Net’s announcement of such a tender cannot be found in the electronic database of the State Procurement Agency. In accordance with the information published on Open Net’s official website, the first phase of the project – the financial assistance component – has been completed and work on the second phase in the form of the construction of the network is currently in progress. However, this information dates to 2016. In accordance with the statement published on Open Net’s website on 10 May 2018, the Open Net non-commercial non-entrepreneurial legal entity announced a state procurement tender for projecting/building the fibre optic cables with 30 May 2018 given as the deadline. However, the latest updates in regard to this procurement project are not available in the electronic database of the State Procurement Agency. The latest update on the Open Net website was published on 11 November 2016 and it is about Director Nino Kubinidze’s participation in the 11th Regional Conference on Georgia’s Cyber Security and Information Technology Development.

On 7 August 2018, FactCheck inquired about the internetisation project through an e-mail to Open Net although we still have not received a reply. On 29 October 2018, FactCheck sent a similar letter to an address indicated on Open Net’s website but it was undeliverable to the addressee. Georgian Post indicates that an incomplete address is the reason for the delivery failure.

On 18 July 2018, the Association of Young Financiers and Businessmen issued a statement in regard to the universal internetisation project and its progress. Open Net responded that work on the infrastructural component was in progress and state procurement was announced for projecting/building the fibre optic cables as a part of this work. In addition, Open Net stated that installing the fibre optic cables had not been launched in any Georgian villages. Open Net cannot answer whether or not the cables will be installed in any of Georgia’s regions by the end of 2019. The date for the final completion of the village internetisation work is also unknown. Open Net also stated that no expenses have been incurred for two years with plans to spend GEL 19,050,000 to built the fibre optic infrastructure in four locations made thereafter. Netgazeti also contacted the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia in regard to the project. The Ministry responded that work was in progress to select the model although actual infrastructural work had not yet started. In accordance with the statement of the Ministry’s press service, the launch of building the infrastructure is becoming protracted because of the complexities of the project as both the state and private sectors are involved. In addition, the Ministry does not disclose information about the funds which were spent thus far for the project. Given the available information, it is clear that for two years Open Net was spending money only for salaries.

An analysis of the situation around the universal internetisation project shows that it is on the verge of failure. However as 2020 is given as the project’s completion deadline, FactCheck refrains from making a verdict and will revisit this issue in the future to see whether or not the promise was kept.


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