Yesterday I read something, as I thought at first, totally ridiculous, but it seems to be happening for real. In Belarus from today it is forbidden to provide any kind of services or sell any kind of goods on the Internet from a website with any other top level domain than .BY.
Cnews.ru reports that according to the new law companies and individuals will be administratively punished for doing business with foreign sites. Even Internet cafes providing access to forbidden sites will be forced to pay fines. The fine for violating this law will be up to 30 “units”, which is currently 1,05 million Belarusian rubles, which is approximately 120 USD.
Interestingly, Belarusian citizens will not be charged for accessing foreign websites. I guess the government believes that the people of Belarus will abide the law and stop using beloved vkontakte.ru, Twitter and Facebook right away? What about watching YouTube videos? Nope! Send an email from @mil.ru? Nope! Seriously, how is this possible in 21st century?!
Belarusian Internet in numbers
Belarus is not a big country. It’s population is only 9 million people (compare with the Ukraine – 46 mln, Russia – 142 mln). Belarusian Internet (so-called ByNet) can be described with the number*s below:
3 500 000: Internet users
43 000: registered .BY domains (on 28.12.2011)
Up to 94%: percentage of traffic, generated by Belarusian users, routed to Russian web resources
$6 100 000: value of Belarusian online advertising market in 2010
18 000: registered Twitter accounts belong to users from Belarus
80 000: Belarusian blogs in LiveJournal
18,3%: of Belarusian population have access to broadband Internet
150-200 000 000: cases of law violation will have to be registered daily, because this is how much traffic is routed from Belarus to foreign websites every day.
Combining this with very low buying ability, is the market attractive enough to even bother creating Twitter.by or LiveJournal.by? Or will Belarusians be limited to browsing their 43 000 .by domains?
So what happens now?
The purpose of the law if, I suppose, is to attract more money into the country. Instead of buying products from abroad, Belarusians are now supposed to buy from the same Russian or European companies, but only those with physical offices inside the country. By this, money stays in the country -> Good for the economy. Will it work? I am not an economist and I won’t judge.
The officials of Belarus, after massive press pick up of these news, clarified: they do not restrict access to foreign resources for Belarusian citizens. Nether they forbid the citizens sell their goods and services on foreign resources. The restrictions apply to businesses operating on Belarusian territory via foreign sites. And that means what? Will an affiliate selling leads to Amazon.com be punished? Will ISP selling Internet access to this affiliate be punished?
These news gave me a strange feeling. We used to be one country, and now, at the same time as Russia becomes the largest Internet market in Europe and takes pride for it, this kind of laws emerge in Belarus. Of course, the access is not restricted for citizens, but where is a guarantee that mail.ru and Odnoklassniki, Facebook and Twitter won’t pull out from the country?
* Data sources for statistics: InterFax Belarus, MobWiki.ru