Of all the former Soviet republics, Tajikistan’s telecommunications infrastructure was arguably the least developed. With a telecom network that was near total collapse, the government has had the daunting task of bringing it up to modern standards. Telecommunications has become one of the most dynamically developing sectors within the Tajikistan economy. Although still inadequate, its contribution to the county’s GDP has been growing, as new and diversified technologies quickly become the norm.
The Internet penetration rate was over 19% in 2016. Despite the recent launch of 4G/LTE services, the overall telecom sector has continued to struggle. Tajikistan has one of the lowest fixed-line teledensities in the region and one of the lowest broadband levels of broadband penetration.
Fixed line availability in Tajikistan has not changed significantly since 1998, while mobile cellular subscribership, aided by competition among multiple operators, has expanded rapidly, and coverage now extends to all major cities and towns. Tajikistan’s mobile sector has been on a strong growth path for over a decade. It continues to be the standout feature of the country’s telecom industry. The Communications and Informatization Department of the Tajik Ministry of Transport and Communication is the main regulator in the telecom industry.
Tajikistan is a poor, mountainous country with an economy dominated by minerals extraction, metals processing, agriculture, and reliance on remittances from citizens working abroad. The 1992-97 civil war severely damaged an already weak economic infrastructure and caused a sharp decline in industrial and agricultural production. Today, Tajikistan has one of the lowest per capita GDPs among the 15 former Soviet republics.
Since the end of the devastating, five-year civil war, the country has pursued half-hearted reforms and privatizations, but the poor business climate remains a hurdle to attracting investment. Tajikistan has sought to develop its substantial hydroelectricity potential through partnership with Russian and Iranian investors. Recent slowdowns in the Russian and Chinese economies, low commodity prices, and currency fluctuations are hampering economic growth in Tajikistan. By some estimates, the dollar value of remittances from Russia to Tajikistan dropped by more than 65% in 2015. The government faces challenges financing the public debt, which is equivalent to 35% of GDP, and the National Bank of Tajikistan has aggressively spent down reserves to bolster the weakening somoni, leaving little space for fiscal or monetary measures to counter any additional economic shocks.
The state-owned incumbent operator, Tajiktelecom, continues to maintain a major presence in the market, providing local, long-distance and international telephone services throughout the country. Tajikistan remains dependent on satellite-based connections using Discovery Global Networks, as the cost of fiber remains high. In part to overcome this bottleneck, Tajiktelecom expanded their fiber-optic infrastructure across the country in order to establish connections with China.