Notes From Hairenik
September 19, 2006


Freenet.am, the ISP providing free Internet access to thousands of users throughout Armenia, will finally be shutting down by the end of the month unless it receives immediate funding to carry on its services. This program was initially funded by a grant from the UNDP in 1997. Although the UN decided to cut off funding to the program at the beginning of the year, it allowed its servers to remain operating in a small closet space on the top floor of its Yerevan operations building, until now.

Unless someone steps in to save Freenet from permanently shutting down, a valuable resource catering to over 20,000 registered users across Armenia will simple come to a complete stop. Freenet is an important program. Tens of thousands of dollars have gone into providing free Internet access to anyone with a phone connection and a modem anywhere in Armenia over the last nine years. Additionally, registered users can open free email accounts and even launch their own Web sites. The cessation of this much-needed and in-demand service would be a devastating blow to communicational and technological advancement in Armenia. The fact that Freenet will most likely shut down effectively for good is a real shame.

It is extremely important that something be done to indefinitely perpetuate Freenet’s existence. Funding could come from the private sector given that most if not all potential philanthropic resources are not expressing interest, according to Freenet’s administrators. Or they can come from individual donors. The costs for maintaining Freenet are minimal. Basically there are about four main expenses to run Freenet: utility costs--namely electricity--office rent, broadband connection rent, and the administrator’s salary (part-time). Server maintenance may also be a factor, but for the most part all hardware as well as software is continually kept up-to-date by a highly experienced, meticulous systems administrator (who I personally know). Hopefully, someone will show interest in Freenet’s survival very soon.

For more information, write to Freenet-Daemon@freenet.am. Arthur Harutunyan is the main contact at Freenet.am.


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6 Comments:
Anonymous Nessuna said...
I think Freenet's time is gone. Yes it did play a huge(!!!) role when it all was just starting but for now it's role is minimal. OK, I have a freenet mail account (1 MB or was it 2?, but that's only because I'm lazy to shut it down and tell everybody I also have yahoo and gmail accounts (1 GB each or was it 2?). You can argue that freenet dial-up is free, but there are two issues in regard to that. First, it's not really free because you pay 8 AMD for 1 minute while connected to Freenet (when connected to any other ISP you pay only 1 AMD per minute). Second and most importantly, Freenet is only limited to Armenian websites, which we have to confess are not always the best of www out there. Is it not better just to get those pre-paid Internet cards for a small sum of money instead?

Blogger JLD said...
Great post! I put a link to this article on my blog. I had not heard about this story and could not believe that the UNDP would let freenet close down. I hope that something will be done to save it.

Blogger JLD said...
nessuna,
thanks for the clarification about freenet.am i remember using it while i was in Vanadzor with the peace corps. glad to see that access to the internet continues to grow...

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
I have to disagree with Nessuna as I think she's being a bit negative. I know for a fact that it is still a valuable resource because thousands of people are still using it throughout the country. There still is not steady Internet access everywhere, with the exception of Yerevan and perhaps other cities like Vanadzor, where there isn't 24 hour access outside your own home. Freenet is a great start to get people to use and understand the Internet, especially those who are not technologially savvy.

Anonymous Onnik Krikorian said...
Well, I agree with Nessuna. Firstly, Freenet users CAN NOT access web pages outside of Armenia although this of course could be addressed in any new project. However, it would cost a lot of money given the ArmenTel monopoly.

And this is the main problem. UNDP funding was given on the basis that those responsible for it make it eventually self-sustainable. However, after many years when they could have tried to do this, they didn't.

I also didn't know about that issue that Nessuna raises. If true, the fact that Freenet costs 8 drams a minute when a normal internet connection costs 3 drams a minute (1 drams a minute for the call, 2 drams a minute for the ISP connection) paints it's worth in a different light.

Anyway, sure, Freenet users gives people email access, but unless a viable business plan is drawn up it will fall victim to the same illness that affects almost everything here -- being dependent on hand outs when sustainability is key.

Also, I question whether it really has so many users now. I don't know anyone who uses Freenet anymore and I suspect that the number of users is made up mainly of inactive accounts.

Blogger Ara said...
The 8 dram per minute is only where Armentel has changed out the service hub equipment. There still are areas that have not been changed out, thus in those areas freenet is still free. I also would think that freenet could get their numbers changed so the user would only be charged 1 dram per minute.

Yes, freenet is limited as to where one can go on the internet, but for the most part those that use freenet do so for e-mail and just that is a huge service for those that can't afford to buy an internet card, which I'm sure are many.

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