The APC European Internet Rights Project
Country Report Romania
By Mihaly Bako
The exponential growth of the Internet has become visible since 1995 in Romania. Despite progress made, the number of Internet users are far below the number of users in Western Europe and among the lowest numbers counted in Central and Eastern European countries.
About 680,000 Internet users (600,000 at work and 80,000 at home) were estimated at the end of 1999. With 2.8 users/100 inhabitants (1999) Romania is among the countries with the lowest Internet connectivity in CEE, together with Lithuania and Bulgaria, followed by Bosnia-Herzegovina, the Republic of Macedonia and Albania.1 Taking into account the dynamics of development we can estimate there are currently over 1 million Internet users in Romania.
Romania, Bulgaria and Lithuania have the lowest penetration rate in CEE regarding the number of computers, between 2.8 and 6 PCs per 100 inhabitants. The average rate is 12. Regarding growth, Romania is among the countries with high dynamics in this area, with 28% per year (the average in CEE is 22%).2
According to a study by International Data Corporation (IDC), in Romania there were 623,600 PCs at the end of 1999, 200,000 in homes and 423,000 used by businesses and administration.3 Over 30% of existing computers are connected to the Internet.
The number of registered hosts in the RNC* database has grown by 4.5 times between 1995 and 1996, from 1,739 to 7,815. The period of 1996-2000 was characterized by an average growth rate of 1.64 times per year, the number of registered hosts reaching 56,565 in September 2000. Analyzing the number of domains registered under the .ro root domain, we find an increase of 17 times between 1995 and 1996, from 24 registered domains in 1995 to 410 in 1996. The average growth rate between 1996 and 2000 was by 2.1 times per year, the number of registered domains reaching 8125 in September 2000.4
Telecommunication costs are among the highest in Eastern Europe ($0.034/minute local call, $0.12/minute long distance, peak hours, between 7.0016.00). Romtelecom has a monopoly until the end of 2002 and is controlling the market. Romtelecom on its own can not provide on time the resources to cover the demands of the needed development. 35 % of the Romtelecom was privatized, but the benefits of foreign investment are not visible at the moment. Therefore the growth of teledensity has been far below expectations, 22% per year.
In 1996, teledensity was 14%, compared to 10% in 1990. The Ministry of Communications estimates the penetration ratio to be only 3% in the rural areas; as of 1997, some 2,000 villages had no telephone service at all. This is of particular significance as a majority of the Romanian population lives outside urban areas.5
In 1999 teledensity reached approximately 23.46 total lines per 100 inhabitants, with an average growth rate of 22%/year since 1996.6
In rural areas Romtelecom installed automatic switching stations in more than 90% of the country. The proportion of digital switching is 54%. A large part of the rural phone lines are not reliable, therefore Internet access is difficult or sometimes impossible.
The mobile market is quite active, and represents real competition to Romtelecom. But Internet access possibilities are technically limited - high starting cost, low bandwidth, premium price. Between 1997 and 1998 Romania had the highest growth rate of mobile telephony in Central and Eastern Europe, 180%. The number of mobile phones increased from 50,000 in 1996 to approximately 1,350,000 at the end of 1999.7
One of the leading ISPs in Romania, Kappa, got its business start as a cable TV provider and is currently providing Internet via coax cable. Kappa started as an ISP in 1995/1996. According to Mona Stanciulescu, the company has targeted mainly other companies and larger organizations in Bucharest, drawing some 70 percent of its clients from that area and only 30 percent from individuals. Kappa also acts to host the online versions of various high-tech magazine titles from US-based IDG, as well as top Romanian publications including Adevarul, National, Jurnal National and Piata Financiara and the official site of the Romanian Government. In addition, the company is providing Internet Service for 25-30 Internet cafes in Bucharest. Nevertheless, Ms. Stanciulescu commented:
The Internet access costs are between $25-$60/month for full dial-up access, plus $2/hour local phone call (peak hours, 7.00 16.00) where the average salary is about $100.
The appearance of "freenets" will help dial-up access. EasyNet, started in 1999, owned partly by RomTelecom, is accessible in main cities at local call rate. The service is not well known, without technical support, and often of low quality, especially in peak hours, therefore users still pay to use local ISPs. CONNEX, one of the mobile phone services is complete with an Internet bonus pack available since year 2000, consisting of free dial-up Internet access accounts for CONNEX subscribers.
Part of the academic and educational community is connected to the Romanian academic network, called RoEduNet. RoEduNet is permanently facing financial problems, mainly because of the lack of understanding regarding the IT sector and the ignorance of the central authorities and Romtelecom. The whole national network has shut down several times, mainly because of unpaid debts to Romtelecom.
The high costs of IT education lead to lack of computer literacy. The "Computers for High Schools" program of the Soros Foundation for an Open Society (branch of OSI New York) between 1994-1998 was of great help in equipping high schools with computers. Smaller scale programs consisting of computer donations was run by commercial companies like Sun Microsystems, Compaq, Procter&Gamble, etc.
In order to address problems concerning IT development in Romania, a new governmental agency has been established, the National Agency for Communication and Informatics.
The central authorities reviewed the mid term development strategy of Romania, mainly because of EU pressure, to emphasize the development of the IT industry. A special commission was formed, nr.10, the Subcommission of Communication and Information Technology, in order to develop the Romanian mid term strategy of IT development.9
Currently there is no explicit legal problem concerning Internet use in Romania. On the other hand there are not any specific rights in relation to the new communications media, to guarantee the right to privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of communication via the Internet. Legal regulations concerning information are the Law of Copyright and Connex Rights, nr. 8/1996.10 Romania signed the Aarhus Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-Making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters.
"We do not have a culture of transparency, but a culture of secrecy", said the liberal senator Eugen Vasiliu. In March 2000, he announced in a press conference his intention to promote a law on access to information of public interest. Expressing his concerns regarding the project of the Law of State Secrecy adopted by the Chamber of Deputies, the senator said that, before this law, there must be adopted a Law on Access to Information of Public Interest. He elaborated a legal initiative on this matter in cooperation with the Romanian Press Club, the Government's Department of Information, the Independent Center for Journalism and the Helsinki Committee.11
In conclusion, the main obstacles to public Internet access in Romania are economic, educational and cultural. Romania has made the first steps to develop high-capacity networking infrastructure in order to achieve high quality public Internet access. However the high costs together with low living standards will still limit access in the near future. The regulation of legal aspects of information matters may lead in time to attempts to restrict or control the freedom of public Internet access.
*RNC: Romanian National Research and Development Computer Network
1 Source: European Survey of the Information Society, Institute for Microtechnologies, http://www.esis2.imt.ro/conferinta%20de%20presa%2022%20martie/CEEE-comp.htm
3 Source: Capital magazine Nr. 72 ( 386 ) 18th of May, 2000; http://www.capital.ro/preview/article.cfm?publ_id_x=78&sec_id=49&art_id=2866
4 Source: National Agency of Science, Technology and Innovation, http://www.rnc.ro
5 Source: CDT, Bridging the Digital Divide: Internet Access in Central and Eastern Europe, http://www.cdt.org/international/ceeaccess/countrydetail.shtml#romania
6 Source: ESIS II, Telecommunication Report Summary, http://www.esis2.imt.ro/conferinta%20de%20presa%2022%20martie/CEEC_telecom.htm
7 Source: Capital magazine Nr. 72 ( 386 ) 18th of May, 2000; http://www.capital.ro/preview/article.cfm?publ_id_x=78&sec_id=49&art_id=2866
8 Report on Internet censorship Romania, http://www.soros.org/censorship/balkans/romania.html
9 Details: http://www.rnc.ro/strategie2000/Dosar_10_1.htm
10 Published in Monitorul Oficial nr. 60, 26th of March 1996.
11 Source: "Senatorul Eugen Vasiliu propune o lege a accesului la informatii de interes public", Rodica CIOBANU, newspaper Adevarul - 15th of March 2000