Date: Fri, 09 May 1997 20:06:03
From: Drazen Pantic

Impressions from non-virtual Internet trips:
from Baku hotel to London train

Drazen Pantic

Things are normal here at Radio B92ís OpenNet. RealAudio and newly introduced RealVideo services are working well. RealAudioís stream is of 14.4 kbps quality at the moment, but there is an idea to put it to 28.8. The service has established itself on the Net, so a lot of people use it. And what is very good, they send a lot of feedback via email. All the classical media have covered our RealAudio service, except regime owned "Politika" here. "Politika" published that "radio station from Moscow is the only radio 24-hour broadcasting on hour Internet via real audio service". "Politika" is just tree blocks from Radio B92.

Also, I am still waiting for nettimers to send some audio materials for "Nettime on B92" action. Announcement was accepted well, but after that moment I received nothing.

Baku

One Thursday in April Sasa Vucinic from Media Development Loan Fund and myself started for Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea. The reason of the visit to that distant country was an attempt to help broaden Internet access there to the scale that NGOís and ordinary people can get it. The host of the visit was Open Society Institute (OSI) Baku.

Baku is located on the western shore of the Caspian Sea and is Azerbaijanís largest city with about 3.5 million inhabitants. The region is very rich in oil and in fact the first oil boom happened in Baku at the beginning of this century. Azerbaijan used to be the primary supplier of oil and related equipment to the states of the former Soviet Union. The special relations with Russia are still very alive and the Russian company Lukoil is the major exploiter of oil sources there. But all other big world companies are presently working and investing there.

Baku has one TV station, three radio stations and two Internet providers. When it comes to independent media, there is just one local independent radio station ("sellers of democracy" they call themselves), and an Internews TV station if that could be referred to as independent.

Providers are Intrans, which is connected to Glasnet (Moscow) and the state PTT connected to UUNet. In both cases it is a satellite connection of 64 kbts.

Users dial-up to providers and have options of using mail as uucp or on-line services. The prices are out of reach for individuals. An hour of on-line usage is $6-$8 and the minimal uucp rate one can pay is $600 per month plus additional charges per Kbyte. That is expensive by European standards, but for ordinary Baku people totally out of reach. PTT also sells a 64 kbps Internet service for $12000 monthly. So, the exclusive users there are oil companies and their employees. There very few local people that can afford even email.

It is rumoured that both providers sell private mail of their users to interested parties, so anybody sending mail to or from Baku should consider this possibility. I have just heard the story of selling peopleís mail, but no personal evidence. I did not asked for prices.

Local telephone lines are very bad, even by Belgrade standards. On the other hand no one can get license for satellite connection because there is no law for telecommunications, and its even harder to get any leased ground telephone line to any foreign country. Their government is more or less a mixture of old Soviet style and Islam. The standard of living is very low, salaries for local people top out at $200 a month, with very few exceptions.

But the most astonishing thing there was a hotel. This is considered to be the second best hotel in town, next to Hyatt (that charges $270 per night). The room has everything usual hotel room it to have, but somehow when you enter it the oldness and dirt of things inside makes you think about a jump through the window (that also has a broken glass).

Liverpool

Two weeks later Adrienne van Heteren, director or Radio B92ís Rex Theatre, and myself started for Liverpool, England. The reason for the trip was LEAF 97 conference.

The necessary step was a train from London to Liverpool. We had the opportunity to taste the benefits of English public transportation on the Friday afternoon. The train was enormously overcrowded and just tree nice skinheads saved our souls, giving us their own seats. Everybody was busy drinking beer and reading some of the numerous newspapers Murdoch owns, with all the consequences those activities produce.

The conference offered us the very clever Geertís thing on independence of media, Kathyís series of recipes, presentation of VideoMedeja festival, some totally unnecessary examples of advertisements of computer companies, Boyadjiev exhibition, Litva radio RealAudio experience. It was obvious that some people had read the Forbes article on Soros. I expected to see Vuk Cosic there but he had visa problems with UK. Internet access was mainly platonic, but apart from that the conference was a master piece of good and smooth organization.

At the end there was a Syndicate meeting. Andreas Broechman put us in a circle and asked us to think about our involvement in Syndicate. Some very important issues on financing were discussed, and the conclusion was that maybe we can use Syndicate to discuss strategies.

Then I got back to Belgrade, and after a few days DFN started blocking XS4ALL. So, we had to win again.