USAID-Sponsored Program Brings Internet to Georgia’s Remote Regions

Wednesday, July 31, 2019
Local residents receiving Internet access for the first time
Center for Civic Activities

Georgia’s alpine regions are defined by stunning landscapes and strong local identities. Located high in the Greater Caucasus mountains, much of northern and eastern Georgia is isolated from the rest of the country.

Some argue that this helps preserve the distinctiveness that attracts so many visitors to these areas. However, isolation presents a serious obstacle to economic development and social integration. Many communities remain without telephone or Internet connections. The burden this puts on families is especially difficult.

Lia, a resident of Ardoti village in Khevsureti region, spoke about being unable to communicate with loved ones. “The hardest thing is not being able to stay in touch with my son,” she said. “If I had an Internet or mobile connection, I would be able to talk to him, to see him. Sometimes a month will pass without us seeing each other.”

The problem confronting Lia’s family is common. In a recent survey conducted by the Center for Civic Activities (CCA), a civil society organization (CSO) based in Georgia’s Kakheti region, the lack of telephone and Internet connections in mountainous villages was cited as a leading factor causing local residents to leave. This exodus affects families and communities and deepens the country’s already wide gap in development between urban and rural areas.

“You Can Reach Out to the Entire World”

There is strong evidence that building Internet connections can raise living standards and help strengthen communities in rural areas. Most importantly, it can give people a voice. With the power to access information and communicate with their fellow citizens, rural residents can form organizations and participate in politics at the local and national levels.

With USAID support, CCA is spearheading efforts to empower people in the mountainous regions of Kakheti and Mtskheta-Mtianeti. Led by local journalist and human rights advocate Gela Mtivlishvili, the organization received a $15,000 grant through USAID’s Advancing CSO Capacities and Engaging Society for Sustainability (ACCESS) program.

Gela and his colleagues are using the funds to advocate for the rights and interests of some of Georgia’s most neglected communities. By coordinating the efforts of community-based organizations, they have achieved results far beyond what many expected.

This July, CCA announced its advocacy had brought tangible results: the establishment of Internet access in the sub-regions of Ukana Pshavi and Piraketa Khevsureti. While noting the achievement, Gela was quick to mention that it’s only one part of a larger effort.

“By the end of September, all villages of Pshavi-Khevsureti and Gudamakari will be connected,” he explained. Once the project is concluded, Wi-Fi will have come to 76 villages, providing Internet access to 496 households.

“You are somewhere in the mountains and you can reach out to the entire world,” said Nodar, a resident of the village of Vakisopeli in Ukana Pshavi. “You can receive education, you can inform your municipal authorities and other government agencies about your problems, you can promote tourism,” he said.

Collaboration to Connect

Connecting these communities to the Internet is not a simple task. In total, the project will cost GEL 400,000 (about $140,000). In addition to leadership from the CCA and financial backing from USAID, it requires the efforts of municipal authorities, the Small & Medium Telecom Operators Association, the Center for Training and Consultancy (CTC), and a network of community-based organizations.

The project is an example of USAID’s efforts to further Georgia along its journey to self-reliance. Given the prominent roles taken by local organizations, the Internetification work is one example of Georgian society taking ownership of its own development.

Gela spoke about the laundry list of activities and large number of stakeholders that have made it possible. Under his leadership, CCA advocated for Internetification with the support of a local youth organization. Together, they helped attract funding and technical support for the initiative.

“We recorded video stories about the local residents who were unable to call emergency services, speak with their family members living elsewhere, or stay informed about the developments in the rest of the world,” he said. “We raised grant and budget funds – nearly GEL 400,000 to start the Internetization.” 

Gela is also the director of Mtis Ambebi (“Mountain News”), a news portal for people living in mountainous communities. By providing timely information relevant to local residents, Mtis Ambebi shows how the Internet can make a tangible impact.

For his part, Nodar is confident that connectivity will strengthen his community. “Ukana Pshavi goes online!” he beamed. “In the twenty-first century, Internet is everything. It’s almost as essential as fresh air. And now we have both.”

Once the project is completed, 1,291 people will be connected to new economic opportunities and empowered to participate in political life. Most importantly, they’ll be connected to each other.

 

Last updated: December 11, 2019

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