The Armenian government claimed credit on Tuesday for the continuing rapid spread of the Internet in the country which it says bodes well for the future of the domestic information technology sector.
Karen Avagian, a parliament deputy from the ruling Republican Party (HHK), publicized the latest official statistics that show the number of broadband Internet users rising by almost 36 percent to 235,000 in the first quarter of this year.
According to the government, only some 70,000 Armenians had access to relatively high-speed Internet connection as of late 2009. The cost of the service has since decreased further thanks to growing competition and infrastructure investments. The number of Internet service providers has also risen since then.
The government data cited by Avagian also shows that at least 90,000 computers were sold in Armenia last year, sharply up from 28,000 such sales reported in 2009.
“The Internet has become accessible for our citizens, as a result of which the number of those able to use the Internet is growing day by day,” Avagian said in a statement made on the parliament floor. “This is the result of the consistent work and policies of our coalition government.”
The pro-government lawmaker also spoke of “quite big changes” in Armenia’s overall information technology (IT) sector.
Successive Armenian governments have declared the sector’s development a top economic priority. But it was for years hampered by a legal monopoly on telecommunication services enjoyed by the ArmenTel national telephone operator. The monopoly was lifted five years ago.
The Armenian IT industry is dominated by several California-based companies having branches in the country. The largest of them, Synopsis-Armenia, was last year short-listed for an annual U.S. government award given to American-owned firms around the world.
In a recent interview with the Panorama.am news service, a senior industry executive, Artak Ghazarian, estimated that output in the sector rose by 25 percent to $150 million in 2010. “The IT sector accounted for only 3.6 percent of [Armenia’s] exports in 2003. This proportion reached 8.5 percent in 2010,” he said.
A senior World Bank official cautioned last December, however, that the sector is still facing “major challenges” despite recent years’ “promising developments.” “The level of Internet penetration, or access to broadband, is currently insufficient to achieve the government’s aspirations of a modern Information Society,” Juan Navas-Sabater said.
Navas-Sabater sounded a cautious note in a statement that announced the release of a $24 million World Bank loan to Armenia designed to foster enterprise innovation and the spread of IT.
The bank said the loan will be used for improving Armenians’ access to affordable computers and high-speed Internet connection and helping local businesses to authenticate electronic transactions. The Armenian government will provide $6 million of its own resources for the same purpose, it said.