Armenia Wary of Azerbaijani Internet Ownership

Armenia Wary of Azerbaijani Internet Ownership –

Silk Road Reporters – The Georgian newspaper Kviris Palitra recently published a bombshell story that sent reverberations through the Caucasus, reporting that Azerbaijan’s leading internet provider Azeronline is interested in purchasing the 750-mile fiber-optic cable of Georgia’s major internet provider, “Caucasus Online.” 

According to its website, “Caucasus Online LLC is one of Georgia’s leading telecommunications company. Caucasus Online was formed in 2006 by the merger of three major Georgian ISPs: Caucasus Network, Georgia Online and SaNet.”

The sale has set the Armenian media aflame, as the Caucasus Online fiber-optic cable, laid on the shelf of the Black Sea in 2008 supplies Internet access to South Caucasus countries, handling 85 percent of Armenia’s, 50 percent of Azerbaijan’s and 55 percent of Georgia’s Internet traffic. The previous month Georgia’s two leading internet and IPTV service providers, Caucasus Online and Silknet, sought merger approval from the Georgian National Communications Commission (GNCC) regulator. Given the Internet’s history, if the reports prove accurate, Armenian anxieties are well founded. 

The Armenian media is portraying the proposed sale as a potential security risk to its continued Internet access. Armenian computer security export Samvel Martirosyan, after noting that the reports might not be accurate, added that if the story proved accurate, Azerbaijan could begin regulating Armenia Internet traffic and, in the event of conflict, sever its connection completely, “So we must do our best not to let realization of such a business deal.” 

Seeking to allay public anxiety, on September 3 Armenian Ucom telecom provider press officer for Ucom Naira Karmirshalyan said of reports that Azeronline was seeking to acquire Caucasus Online these “rumors do not correspond to reality.” Furthermore, GNC-ALFA telecommunications network services operator, working under Russia’s Rostelecom’s brand in Armenia, commented that while Caucasus Online is their partner, it accounts only for 30% of Internet traffic delivered to Armenia, stating in a press release, “The remaining 70% of the traffic is delivered through Rostelecom’s fiber-optic network. Rostelecom’s corporate clients are major Armenian corporations, the Armenian government, public institutions, international organizations and commercial banks.” 

While the Internet is lauded for bringing the world together and creating wealth, the sad fact remains that it can also be used in warfare. Given the state of Azeri-Armenian states since the end of the USSR, few would bet on the eventual outcome of this story and whether commerce will triumph over military concerns. 

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