How the Internet is Controlled in Turkmenistan: 100 Mbit/s for $35,000
We have often heard that China has almost exemplary control over the internet.
You can read about Internet censorship worldwide, here.
But there are other countries where the situation is also strict. For instance, Turkmenistan. How much do you know about this country and its internet accessibility? In fact, the situation with internet connection there is more serious than in China.
Today we’ll tell you what experience in the field of “Internet construction” can boast of freedom-loving Turkmenistan. We are sure that concerned citizens will be interested in the advanced internet developments of this state.
Ensure your personal internet freedom right now!
Part 1: Turkmenbashi
The internet has always been interesting and unusual in Turkmenistan. LTE was launched there a long time ago, but subscribers could afford only a few MBs every month. The nation’s leader reduced the cost of access to the network, but the internet there is still one of the most expensive in the world. Despite the high cost, the fastest speed is 2 Mbit/s, and it can be afforded only by citizens who can squeeze out their advance payment for access to the network.
And if you are a Turkmen, then one night, you may get a knock on the door and be asked why you do not respect Turkmenbashi (“father of the nation”) and seek to circumvent the blocking of media that threaten national security?
Stop internet tracking and follow the essential tips listed here.
Saparmurat Niyazov (the first president of the republic, who led the nation from 1985 until 2006) did not like the internet very much. Or rather, he didn’t like it at all. Therefore, unofficially, the leader ordered people not to indulge in overseas excesses. The few providers who managed to appear almost immediately disappeared.
However, the selected people, whose duty included a need to know the enemy (the internet) first hand, were given access to the global internet. Access points for visiting the World Wide Web were organized for officials and security forces. To avoid any liberties, the national telecommunications monopoly — Turkmentelecom was entrusted with keeping an eye on the threat and controlled all internet access.
Things went very differently when Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow came to power in 2007. In contrast to his predecessor, he favored the internet and managed to open the first two internet cafés in the country.
This was the beginning of the massive expansion of the internet in Turkmenistan. However, there were nuances.
Part 2: Home internet connection
Digital life in Turkmenistan is as simple as anywhere else:
– Do you want the internet?
Then come to Turkmentelecom with your passport and manats (the local currency).
– Do you want a mobile connection?
Go to the office of the sole mobile operator, “Altyn Asyr”.
Is it possible to create an independent and secure internet? We’ve discussed this topic here.
When a certain Turkmen family wants to connect to the home internet, they have one way to do it: go to the only ideologically reliable provider’s website and choose a package.
There are 4 packages. The most affordable one, with a speed of 256 Kbit/s will cost 100 manats (about $30). Well-heeled gentlemen can try 2 Mbps for $60.
Almost all citizens connect to the network using ADSL technology. Ethernet is carried out in some new residential complexes, but this does not mean that the internet speed — all the same, from 256 Kbit/s to 2 Mbit/s. To save money, citizens often cooperate and use one connection for two apartments, which they “share” via Wi-Fi.
One interesting thing is that the authorities of the country encourage citizens to hang out in online games. There is a state-approved list of 14 games, among which you can find the World of Tanks. For $6 a month, they promise an increased speed that will allow you to run these games. However, what exactly the speed will be not stated on the website of “Turkmentelecom”.
But the provider offers many other exclusive services. For example, a private foreign company is ready to access the network at a zippy speed of 10 Mbit/s for only $4561 per month. Renting a dedicated line at 100 Mbit/s will cost $35,702 per month for both private owners and state contractors. If you count each kilobyte, then, for example, you can afford 40 GB at speeds up to 2 Mbit/s for about $2730.
If you wish, you can check the available internet speed using the well-known resource Speedtest. According to this test, the average speed of access to the network in the country does not reach 3 Mbit/s.
Part 3: Mobile internet connection
The situation with the mobile internet is no less exciting. The most popular provider is MTS. However, the Turkmen authorities revoked the license to provide communication services after their first day of operation in the territory of the republic. As CNews recalled, it was possible to resume work after the operator promised to share 20% of the profit with the authorities.
In 2012, the license was revoked again. This time, they managed to agree on 30% of the profit. Five years later, the situation was repeated for the third time. After that, MTS left the Turkmen market. Since then, in fact, one mobile operator has been operating in Turkmenistan — Altyn Asyr.
Even today, they are more focused on voice services, rather than on mobile internet. One of the most popular plans is Sowgat 500. For the equivalent of $5, get 500 minutes for calls, 200 SMS, and 150 MB of Internet for everything. For a plan with 2 GB, you will have to pay $14 per month. You still need to pay a little extra if you suddenly need 3G Internet.
Part 4: Censorship
There is no censorship in Turkmenistan. At least, that’s what the local authorities say. As evidence, they cite the fact that no one has ever seen a list of blocked resources.
Nevertheless, almost nothing works on the Turkmen internet. While in Turkmenistan, no one can visit opposition websites and popular messengers. Access to social networks is also blocked. According to the “Chronicle of Turkmenistan”, only the IMO messenger is available ( and it seems that the special services can easily access the correspondence of its users).
The pros and cons of social media censorship worldwide.
Therefore, they made more than a hundred ideologically positive state sites (not all of them work), and at the end of 2020 they launched a national messenger (score 2.6 in Google Play), as well as mail and a single portal of public services.
However, the Turkmen have not yet appreciated these domestic analogues of resources and messengers, so they are trying to visit foreign resources with all their might. Almost everyone with internet access uses a VPN. There is a whole category of “IP specialists” who are ready to install and configure a VPN anywhere in Ashgabat (the capital city). From time to time, they are raided by employees of the Ministry of National Security in balaclavas.
What’s better: Tor vs VPN vs Utopia for daily usage? We’ve compared these popular secure tools and chosen the best one.
Once they even blocked Google Play, where people downloaded VPN applications. Here is what the founder of the Hide.me VPN resource Markus Saar writes about the fight against such services:
“Most actively, the authorities are fighting with tools to bypass blocking, including anonymizers and VPNs. Previously, in stores that sell mobile phones and service centers, users were offered to install VPN applications. The authorities took measures and began to regularly fine businessmen. As a result, service centers removed this service. Plus, the government monitors the sites visited by users. Visiting a prohibited resource threatens to call the authorities and write an explanatory note. In some cases, law enforcement officials may arrive on their own.”
The whole list of VPN services with free trial period is here.
It is alleged that the equipment and software for blocking unwanted resources is supplied by the German company Rohde & Schwarz.
“The software delivered from Europe analyzes speech and uses filters for recognizing words, phrases, and whole sentences. The analysis results are checked against the “black list”. If there is a coincidence, the law enforcement agencies enter into the case. They also monitor SMS messages together with messengers,” says Markus Saar.
According to Saar, a couple of private telecommunications companies that receive orders from the state are engaged in monitoring all this in Turkmenistan. The owner of one of these companies is a former employee of the state security agencies.
However, even despite attempts to automatically recognize VPN traffic, the fight against destructive infection is going on with varying success. Often, as a result of this struggle, the Internet “falls” all over the country.
Today, Turkmenistan ranks last in the world in terms of mobile and broadband Internet speed. Of the Turkmenistan population of 6 million, 26% use the internet, and only 1.2% of Turkmens manage to get to social networks through the means of VPNs. Only 2% of the population — slightly more — make purchases on the internet. But there are quite a lot of Internet cafés in Ashgabat. The cost of their services is about $2 per hour.
All in all, the best way to bypass surveillance is to use the best anonymous chat.