Infrastructural development was one of the key components of the Georgian Dream’s 2016 election campaign programme. As part of the programme, the party promised the people full internetisation. In accordance with the campaign programme, 8,000 kilometres of necessary infrastructure would be built by 2020 and 800,000 people would gain access to the internet. In total, over 90% of the country’s population would have access to the internet. The 2018-2020 Government Programme also outlines the full internetisation of the population.
With the aim of implementing the state programme on the development of a broadband fibre optic infrastructure in Georgia, the Innovation and Technology Agency of the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development founded the Open Net non-commercial non-entrepreneurial legal entity (NNLE) on 21 July 2015.
The main directions of Open Net’s activities are the construction and operation of a broadband fibre-optic infrastructure as well as support (a financial assistance component) for the private sector for the development of the broadband infrastructure.
The Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia is coordinating the state programme on the development of a broadband fibre-optic infrastructure whilst the Cartu international charity foundation serves as the source of the funding.
The state programme consists of two components – financial assistance and the construction of a broadband infrastructure. The targeted geographic area is determined by those inhabited localities of the white zone (the entirety of those inhabited localities without an operators-owned or operators-used fibre-optic broadband infrastructure within a radius of two kilometres which are permanently linked to the operators’ optical backbones) where the amount of inhabitants equals or exceeds 200 and where there were no plans to build a broadband infrastructure within a three-year period after the operators’ launching of the programme. As part of the programme’s first phase, 500 villages of ten regions of Georgia should gain access to the internet.
In accordance with the programme, Open Net builds backbone networks and then hands them over to private companies under their operational management following a competition process. The network will be rented at a cost-oriented tariff whilst utility payments belong to the scope of the local internet provider.
In September 2016, thelaunchof 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 and clarified the forms of permitted cooperation between the banks and the telecommunication operators. In accordance with the tripartite agreement and in the case when a bank gives a loan to an operator, Open Net would provide co-funding for the beneficiary’s loan’s interest rate in the amount of 10% of the accrued annual interest rate in a foreign currency and 12% in the national currency.
The latest update in regard to the project’s implementation was published in October 2016 on Open Net’s official website.
On 10 May 2018, Open Net published the necessary documentation required for state procurement on its social network in order to build the fibre-optic backbones.
In accordance with the statement, plans were to build a passive fibre-optic infrastructure in the directions of Zugdidi-Jvari-Mestia, Kutaisi-Tkibuli-Ambrolauri, Samtredia-Chokhatauri-Ozurgeti and Kutaisi-Tsageri-Lentekhi.
On 27 December 2017, the State Procurement Agency granted simplified procurement rights to Open Net. In accordance with the contract, Open Net had to purchase the construction of an open access principle-based broadband fibre-optic passive infrastructure. The value of the purchase was GEL 20 million. Based on this contract, a tender had to be announced in order to purchase the whole or partial construction work (category 452 00000) and engineer services (713 00000). However, such a tender, as announced by Open Net, cannot be found in the State Procurement Agency’s electronic system.
FactCheck attempted to contact the Open Net company through mail and telephone but to no avail. We have not received replies to our emails or our phone calls.
FactCheck also addressed the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia – a coordinator of the project – in regard to the implementation of the universal internetisation project. However, in spite of our numerous attempts, we have failed to receive a reply.
Instead, the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development published information about the implementation of the community internetisation project where Open Net no longer features. The Ministry, with the active involvement of the Small and Medium Telecom Operators Association of Georgia (TOA), has conducted negotiations with the Internet Society (ISOC) and obtained USD 25,000 in technical and financial assistance to implement the community internetisation project on the Pshav-Khevsureti and Gudamakari territories. GEL 246,805 was allocated from the state budget of Georgia; in particular, from the appropriations of the High Mountainous Settlements Development Fund whilst other funds required for the network construction will be raised by a variety of donors.
The local community organisation, Mountain Community Network, is a project beneficiary whilst the Small and Medium Telecom Operators Association of Georgia (TOA) provides support to implement and manage the project. As part of the project, the gorges of Pshavi, Khevsureti, Arkhoti, Shatili, Ardoti and Gudamakari - in total 76 villages, 496 households, 1,291 permanent inhabitants and four public schools - will gain internet access. In addition, a fixed IP telephone network will be set up for 50 customers.
In 2017, the NNLE Small and Medium Telecom Operators Association of Georgia, with the involvement of the Ministry of Economy and with the technical support of the international organisation, Internet Society (ISOC), completed work in Tusheti. As a result, 24 villages and four gorges in Tusheti currently have access to the internet with the NNLE Tusheti Development Foundation in charge of the network’s management.
FactCheck failed to obtain official information as to the current stage of the universal internetisation programme’s implementation. As mentioned previously, the project launch was announced in 2016. However, almost three years have passed since the announcement and there is no tangible result. In this period, the company in charge of the implementation of the project has not communicated official information in regard to ongoing work. Therefore, it is questionable whether or not that promise will be delivered. However, as 2020 is given as the project’s completion deadline, FactCheck refrains from making a radical verdict and will revisit this issue in the future to see whether or not the promise was kept.