Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Internet and Cell Phone Use in Serbia

Cell Phones in Serbia
For the first seven months I was in Serbia, I resisted getting a cell phone. I didn't see it as a "must-have" and certainly did not base my self-worth or importance on having one. Finally I succumbed and bought one. Once the phone itself was paid for, I found that costs were quite low. There were no monthly fees and a $15 card lasted my text messaging (I had to learn how to do that on a phone) and calls for about 3 months. Try to do that in the US! The phone card minutes method also ensures that you cannot go over your purchased amount, hence no huge cost surprises from chatty teens’ phones. You can even send a text message to the parking service, taking money off your phone card instead of plugging a meter. The reasonable rates and ease of adding minutes, and capped spending amounts make owning a phone commonplace.
Everyone from gradeschoolers to grannies in villages seems to have one. In the congested busses where you barely have room to stand, people still manage to answer a call or send the ubiquitous text message. As soon as the plane lands, everyone whips out their phones and makes a call – as if it’s a mandatory thing. According to a recent newspaper article, Serbia has 5.2 million mobile phone users out of a population of 7.5 million.

Internet Usage
Contrast that to Internet usage. According to 2006 statistics, only 24% of Serbians use the Internet – or about 1.5 million people. This rate is below former Yugoslav republics such as Slovenia (55.6%), Croatia (32%), and Macedonia (27%). It is ahead of Bosnia (20%), Montenegro (16%), and Albania (3%). Compare that to Sweden and Portugal, where about 75% of citizens use the Internet. Connectivity in rural areas is rare (about 12%) and only 17% of women use the Internet. Of those connected, about 77% are still using a dial-up connection. Even here in Belgrade, there are areas of the city where dial-up is the only option. Thankfully I have a cable modem connection, although its speeds are nothing to brag about. Proposed solutions include liberalizing the telecommunications market, government reaching out to threatened social groups, and an improved legislative framework that will encourage Internet usage through various measures. A healthy dose of competition would certainly help – that and some training in western customer service standards/expectations.

I also found the types of Internet usage interesting. Top three types of sites accessed include: music, education, and science. Religion, pornography, and politics nearly tied for the lowest rank.

1 comment:

tombetz said...

South Korea plans to build a nationwide Internet access infrastructure capable of speeds between 50M bps (bits per second) and 100M bps by 2010. USA left in the dust. Maybe this is the real digital divide?