The Internet presence in Romania
When Romania began evolving toward a market economy in December 1989, the country underwent a dramatic economic transformation. But after so many years of severe isolation, the most important step was realized in the information and media development, as an explosive opening to the world, and corresponding IT shortcuts. Since 1992-1993, Romanians began discovering the Internet, and the door to new ways of doing business and gathering and exchanging information was finally opened. The national .ro domain being introduced February 1993, while in April 16, Romania and Bulgaria were accepted together into NSFnet.
Although the number of hosts in Romania has increased from 20 in October 1993 to 8200 in January 1997, and 75000 in December 1999, while number of Internet users grows from 25000 in 1997, to 690000 in 2000, and two millions in 2002 (even there are different estimations, but any census), Romania still remains behind all the Eastern European countries concerning the Internet users per capita. Networking difficulties having financial as well as psychological explanations. The communist power was build through severe control of all media, with a lot of restriction in communication. It is a country where, up until ten years ago, it was safe to assume that any and all conversations were monitored. Even in 1995-1996 there were academic organizations controlling their staff’s email access.
Between 1993-94 and 1998 there were three distinct academic networks connecting main Universities, research centers, high schools, and other governmental institutions. The number of Internet Services Providers grows between 1993 and 2000 from 4 to 200, decreasing later, a bit. The costs involved by Internet access are still higher, as usually combined with the phone line fees, being prohibited for an average family. Also, the domestic PCs are yet very rare. As a consequence of the TeleCom high costs services, wireless connections increases. Therefore, the Internet clubs, as very profitable business, are much more frequent as bookshops (charging for a half an hour of browsing like for a cake with ice-cream). Only Romanian airports offer, since 2002, free Internet access to their passengers. It seams that the majority of Internet users in Romania gained access to the at the Internet from public places such as Internet cafes and education facilities.
While in 1997 the Romanian companies which had sites on the Internet represent less than 1% of the total registered companies, and NGO’s, less than 0.01%, in 2002 they figure more than 22%, respectively 14%. The Internet is therefore quite slowly becoming an integral part of the Romanian community.
Computer and telecommunication companies were among to first to have sites on the Internet, and their presence are vital in this new information era. Most of the universities and research centers are also present, and various Romanian embassies, government institutions, and chambers of commerce are starting to surface on the Internet. Furthermore, today all TV, and radio broadcasts, newspapers and weekly journals are present in the Net, too. Comparative with forty newspapers and magazines, six radio and four television stations, which were online in 1997.
The main benefit and interest seams to be the establishing of cooperation agreements with American and/or European companies. These were achieved mainly through the use of e-mail.
The number of domestic computers and Internet users in Romania is still very low (less than 1% of the habitants). This situation is usually used as an argument against e-learning, e-commerce, etc. And as a strange consequence, the Internet presence of the political power and administration, yet reduced, can be counted as visible since 2000-2001, only. Unfortunately, the number of web page developers is low, and its increasing is far too slow, to serve the necessary changes. Generally, Romanian people consider Internet access, e-mail, and personnel training on the usage of this new technology, to be very expensive, and express disappointment with the low quality of telephone lines between end users and Internet providers. Besides, with the price of personal computers at the present moment representing four to eleven months worth of medium salary, few Romanians are willing to start benefiting from the Internet on a personal level. Moreover, as a GfK 2002 study pointed out, 33% of Romanians say they have never heard about the Internet. (Europemedia at New Media Review, October 2002).
Quite on the same time, another study pointed out that the main dream of the Romanian adolescent is to have his own computer, and Internet access.
There is a lack of promotion and very few public courses about Internet (mainly at the computer science high schools), even the computer basics can be learned now at the secondary school. Each University is offering courses at Distance, partially using Internet as a delivery medium. Majority offered by the classroom professors, as an electronic version of the traditional course. Since 2001-2002 few companies begun to offer online courses, especially for training. A comprehensive list of Romanian websites with online courses, and other documents or materials regarding e-learning can be consulted at http://www.timsoft.ro/resurse.htm.
There is a need of a hacker ardent philosophy, to be activated somehow as an extension from NetAdmins to client users, and especially to WebMasters. Because the first step into the Information Society involves, in author’s opinion, two basic skills: answering to the e-mails, and the editing (and prompt revising) of the Web page.