My primary research interest is technology adoption and use, especially looking at digital divides (ownership and use patterns based on socioeconomic differences).
I’ve been studying these divides and patterns in Armenia for a long time. 2010 was a very exciting year for me (and Armenia!) because after many years of low adoption rates for personal computers and Internet, we saw some big jumps! Internet penetration tripled and personal computer ownership doubled between 2009 and 2010. Analysis and thoughts are below.
After years of single-digit Internet penetration, in 2010, Internet penetration in Armenia tripled from nearly 6% in 2009 to 19% in 2010, based on the Caucasus Barometer.
Home Internet Adoption in Armenia
(ITU is the UN International Telecommunications Union, CB is Caucasus Barometer.)
Why did this happen in 2010? Probably because of mobile Internet. According to the Caucasus Barometer, 22% of Armenians have Internet access via their mobile phones (although the ITU says trhat only 5.18% of Armenians in 2010 had mobile Internet), most of them beginning using this service in 2009 or 2010. The mobile phone companies have a variety of options for mobile Internet, some of which are at low prices. 3 common ways that Armenians use mobile Internet are: 1) Accessing the Internet through a phone that has the ability to access the Internet, such as a “smartphone” 2) Tethering, a method to share the Internet connection on a mobile phone with a personal computer through a USB cable or a Bluetooth connection and 3) USB sticks that are plugged into a PC’s USB port and pick up a cellular signal.
And who uses mobile Internet in Armenia? Contrary to expectations that early adopters of technology are young, rich, educated urbanites, Armenians adopting mobile Internet are regionally-diverse: 37% are adopters are Yerevantsis, 29% are regional city dwellers, and 35% are rural villagers. They’re equally men and women. They’re young, but they are not teenagers. The average age of a mobile Internet adopter is 41. They’re better off economically than the average Armenian, but not extremely wealthy, this is all according to analysis of the Caucasus Barometer.
Another major event of 2010 is that Armenians owning personal computers has nearly doubled from 15% in 2009 to 27% in 2010.
Home PC Adoption in Armenia
Why did this happen in 2010 after years of slow growth? Possibly because of the ComputerforAll.am program has lowered the cost of computers for some Armenians. This program that allows individuals to rent computers at a subsidized low cost. It was launched in September 2009. According to Armenpress, in early 2011, over 17,000 computers have been rented through the program. Within the program, laptops rent for between 11,400-18,300AMD per month and desktops for 11,200AMD per month.
According to the official website of the program: “The use of computers and the Internet access to each country’s economic development incentives are the most important and also have an important significance for the formation of information society. “Computers for All” program aims to significantly increase the level of use of computers in Armenia, offering software packages equipped with modern computers and buy them for the current credit solutions.”
The stated goals of the program are:
- expand the distribution of computer software packages in Armenia, equipped with accessible, but modern and reliable computers, creating an opportunity to buy in Yerevan, as well as regional residents,
- contribute to Armenia’s ICT sector by promoting the development of computer technology and software development markets development,
- prepare computer literate personnel, promoting the education of Armenian issues.
- to promote the spread of the Internet, increasing the number of users of electronic services and provide a basis for the introduction of government services, business sector, educational institutions within the framework, thereby contributing to the formation of information society in Armenia, and
- encourage the use of licensed software.
- And in a press conference, an involved party said… “The aim of the program is to provide 30 percent of Armenian residents with home computers” (Armenia Now 2009 HP article)
So did the ComputerforAll program meet its goals?
Has the Computer for All program met its goal of providing 30% of Armenian residents with PCs?
YES, but they said in 2009 that only 5% of Armenians had personal computers and that was not true. Also, since there was already an increase in adoption of personal computers, we cannot say that the ComputerforAll program was the only reason for more adoption of personal computers.
Has the Computer for All program met its goal of increasing Internet adoption?
YES – but could have been due to the mobile Internet increase.
Has the Computer for All program met its goal of expanding computers to Yerevan Armenians?
YES, in 2009, 33% of Yerevantsis had personal computers and in 2010 48% did. (But we cannot know if the increase was caused by the program.)
Has the Computer for All program met its goal of expanding computers to rural Armenians? YES – in 2009, 5% of rural Armenians had personal computers and in 2010, 12.5% of rural Armenians had personal computers. (But we cannot know if the increase was caused by the program.)
Has the Computer for All program met its goals of increasing computer literacy? NO – according to the Caucasus Barometer, self-reported computer skill has not increased from 2007 to 2010, with nearly two-thirds of Armenians reporting no skill with computers.
And according to the Caucasus Barometer, 24.8% of PC owners bought their latest computer in 2009 and 24.2% bought their latest computer in 2010, both possibly within the government subsidy program. Thus, although this program obviously does provide some computers to some individuals, it is still prohibitively expensive for most Armenians. Despite the government subsidy program, personal computers are still only available to the wealthier in Armenian society.