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The State of the Internet in Russia

By Dmitry Epstein, Karina Alexanyan and Bruce Etling

The Public Opinion Foundation (or Фонд Общественное Мнение in Russian) recently released a new report from their quarterly series Internet in Russia (started in 2002) which places discussions of the booming Russian language internet in context and allows for both domestic and international comparisons. A few key themes emerge from the report. One is the significant disparity between Moscow and the rest of Russia. Another is the impact of socio-economic factors – age, education and income – on internet use in Russia and around the world.

The report (PDF in Russian), co-sponsored with the Russian search engine giant Yandex, is based on a massive nationwide survey of 42,000 respondents and 8000 face to face interviews, conducted in the first quarter of 2009. The report provides data and charts on internet penetration in Russia nationwide, as well as breakdowns by region, places of access and various socio- economic factors. The data is presented in numerous charts and graphs, including growth and changes since the reports began in 2002.

Russia Compared to the Rest of the World
Russia’s current internet penetration of 33% can be compared to Brazil’s (which is at around 29%), most of Europe (around 60%) and the US (70%). At the same time, internet penetration in Moscow is currently at European levels. As a comparison, in the US, internet penetration was at 35% in 1998 (remember the internet euphoria of 1998?) and reached 60% in 2004.

From another angle – Russia’s 33% internet penetration adds up to almost 38 million internet users – more than all of England’s internet users, yet far less than the US’s 200 million internet users (which is more than the entire population of Russia) and China’s 298 million. Moscow alone has 5.4 million internet users.

Another issue to consider is what constitutes a “user”. According to this report, anyone who has used the internet in the last six months qualifies. How would you define an internet “user” – at least once a week? Once a day? Weekly users in Russia number around 30 million or 27%, and daily users shrink to 20 million, or 18%. Again, in Moscow the figure is drastically different – 92% of Moscow’s users go online at least once a week, and 80% – over 4 million people – are online every day.

Moscow vs. the Regions
The disparity between Moscow and the “rest of Russia” becomes clearer when one looks at the regional data. Moscow has 8% of the country’s population, 14% of its average internet users and 25% of Russia’s daily internet users! The Central region, which includes Moscow, has 28% of the population and 32% of the internet users – almost 12 million people in all. The Northwest region, which includes St. Petersburg, has 10% of the population and 13% of the internet users- almost 5 million people in all (while an impressive 50% of those in St. Petersburg are online, demonstrating the importance of the urban-rural divide when looking at the regional data.) In the remaining 5 regions, the percent of internet users is generally slightly less than the percentage of the total population. The Volga region, for example, has 22% of the national population, but only 19% of its internet users – which is still over 7 million people.

Internet Users by Russian Region (Source: FOM Report)

These numbers highlight the danger of extrapolating from Moscow to “all of Russia.” Moscow holds a central position as the nucleus of political and economic power in Russia, but it certainly does not represent the country as a whole.

Internet Growth Impressive
While a national internet penetration of about one third may not seem very impressive – the rate of growth has been steady and exponential, especially in the areas outside Moscow. So, for example, during the seven years between 2002 and 2009, the percentage of internet users in Moscow more than doubled from 27% to 60%. During that same period, in most of the rest of the country, the pace of growth was even faster, with the percentage of internet users increasing almost six fold– from around 5% to around 30%. As a comparison, in the US during that same time period – 2002 to 2009, internet penetration increased only 10%. The US was experiencing Russian type growth during the heady 1990’s. In addition, the place of internet access has shifted dramatically, with far more people (almost 80%) going online at home, rather than at work or other locations (friend’s, internet cafes, school etc – the categories, are, of course, not mutually exclusive). In 2002, only 32% went online at home, while the number of people going online at work dropped from 41% in 2002 to 34% in 2009. This could be attributed to improvements to the quality of internet connections at home, and the increase in personal land lines, or other forms of access.

Who’s Online (and Who’s Not)
Socio-economic demographics – gender, age, education and income – contribute to the sense of an “internet boom.” In Russia, as elsewhere in the world, the higher the income and education, the higher the rate of internet access & use. The percentage of internet users with advanced degrees (about 17% of the total population) is significantly above average – about 65%. For roughly 70% of the population, those with a secondary education and a high school diploma, internet penetration is at or below the national average – from 33% to 24%. And of the remaining 12%, only 5% are internet users. In other words, for the relatively elite, it may seem that virtually everyone they know is online. For others, the internet may appear as a “luxury item” or even something that has no significant relevance to daily life.

In terms of internet use, Russia has achieved the gender equality much touted in Soviet times – the split between male and female users is roughly at 50%. This is especially interesting compared to users globally, where men are usually a significantly higher number of users, especially in the Middle East. In some areas, there are more male users than females, in others, the females outnumber the men. The average Russian blogger for instance, is female. This may be connected to the fact that women slightly outnumber men in Russia.

“Working woman are actively involved in all aspects of working and social life of the country!”

The breakdown of internet users by age reflects the usual assumptions – the younger age group (18-24) which accounts for only 14% of the population, has the highest internet penetration at 67%. In Moscow, as elsewhere, internet penetration decreases with age, but to a much lesser degree than in other parts of Russia. It is also interesting that while in the early part of this decade most users gained access to the Internet at work, now the vast majority (almost 80%) prefer to access the Internet at home.

Finally, as a sobering counterbalance to all this, it seems, from the report, that most of the people who are offline do not have any plans to change their status in the near future – in other words, less than 3% of those who are not online plan to start using the internet anytime soon. Maybe they have something else – like an economic crisis – on their minds?

(Hat Tip: Veronica Khokhlova, Global Voices Russia Editor)

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One Response to “The State of the Internet in Russia”

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