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Internet Penetration in Armenia Tripled in Past 2 Years: Caucasus Barometer

After years of single-digit Internet penetration, in 2010, Internet penetration in Armenia tripled from nearly 6% in 2009 to 19% in 2010, according to Armenian technology expert Katy Pearce, based on the Caucasus Barometer, a nationally representative survey conducted every fall in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia.

Mobile Internet is most likely the reason for this, says Pearce. According to the Caucasus Barometer, 22% of Armenians have Internet access via their mobile phones, most of them beginning to use this service in 2009 or 2010. Three common ways that Armenians use mobile Internet are: (1) Accessing the Internet through a phone such as a smartphone, (2) Tethering, a method to share the Internet connection on a mobile phone with a personal computer through a USB cable or a Bluetooth connection and (3) USB sticks that are plugged into a PC’s USB port and pick up a cellular signal.

Home Internet Adoption in Armenia

2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
ITU 2.00% 2.90% 4.21% 4.41% 5.86% 5.86%
CB 4.30% 7.00% 5.80% 19.30%

(ITU is the UN International Telecommunications Union, CB is Caucasus Barometer.)

Contrary to expectations that early adopters of technology are young, rich, educated urbanites, Armenians adopting mobile Internet are regionally diverse: 37% of adopters are Yerevan residents, 29% are regional city dwellers, and 35% are rural villagers. They’re equally men and women. They’re young, but they are not teenagers. The average age of a mobile Internet adopter is 41. They’re better off economically than the average Armenian, but not extremely wealthy, according to Pearce’s analysis of the Caucasus Barometer.

Furthermore, Armenians owning personal computers nearly doubled from 15% in 2009 to 27% in 2010.

Home PC Adoption in Armenia

2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
ITU 6.77% 8.32% 10.23% 10.23% n/a
CB 10.80% 11.40% 14.70% 14.70% 26.70%

Why did this happen in 2010 after years of slow growth? Possibly due to the Computers for All program, which lowered the cost of computers for some Armenians. This government pilot program, launched in Sept. 2009, allows individuals to rent computers at a subsidized low cost. According to Armenpress, in early 2011, over 17,000 computers were rented through the program. Citizens of Armenia approved for the program can rent laptops for 11,400-18,300 drams (about $31–$50 US) per month and desktop PCs for 11,200 drams (about $30 US) per month.

Though the program met its goal of providing 30% of Armenian residents with PCs and expanding computers to Yerevan residents (48% of Yerevan residents had PCs in 2010 as compared to 33% in 2009), it cannot be said that the program was the only reason for the increased adoption of personal computers. The program also met its goal of expanding computers to rural Armenians: in 2010, 12.5% of rural Armenians had PCs, as compared to only 5% in 2009; however, again, it is not certain whether the increase was a result of the program.

One area, though, where the program clearly failed was in its goal of increasing computer literacy: According to the Caucasus Barometer, self-reported computer skill has not increased from 2007 to 2010, with nearly two-thirds of Armenians reporting no skill with computers.

Furthermore, 24.2% of PC owners bought their latest computer in 2010 as compared to 24.8% in 2009, according to the Caucasus Barometer, both possibly within the government subsidy program. Thus, although this program obviously does provide some computers to some individuals, it is still prohibitively expensive for most Armenians.  Despite the government subsidy program, personal computers are still only available to the wealthier in Armenian society.