A Country Report on Tunisia: With Strong Governmental Encouragement, Tunisia Experiencing Exponential Increase in Internet Usage

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A COUNTRY REPORT ON TUNISIA: With Strong Governmental Encouragement, Tunisia Experiencing Exponential Increase in Internet Usage

The information highway is seen by Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali as one of the main roads that could lead Tunisia's economy to greater efficiency and better prepare the country's children to meet tomorrow's challenges. President Ben Ali, a strong believer in the advantages offered by new information technologies, has announced plans to connect all of the country's schools and public libraries to the Internet. He also wants Tunisia's business community to pursue the benefits of electronic commerce aggressively.

The figures show a remarkable growth. In September 1996, Tunisia had 86 subscribers to the Internet. By the end of this year, there will be at least 10,000 subscribers. And by the following year, there will be more than 30,000 individual subscribers. But the most important increase is expected to happen at universities and research institutions, where connection to the Internet has already become routine.

Tunisia was among the few Arab and African countries to connect to the World Wide Web back in 1990. Back then, its use was mostly in the realm of university and research institutions.

Investments in telecommunications infrastructure and the widening use of computers in homes and the workplace rapidly increased the demand for Internet connectivity. In April 1996, an Internet agency was established (Agence Tunisienne de l'Internet -- ATI) to manage Tunisia's backbone connection to the network. Last year two private Internet service providers started offering Internet access to the private sector and individual users.

Connection to the Internet is offered through six Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in Tunisia. One ISP manages connectivity to government and public institutions, and others service higher education establishments, primary and secondary schools, and medical and health institutions. Two private ISPs serve private companies and individual users.

In recognition of this growth, and the importance of the Internet in education and science, the Tunisian government announced last April further reductions in Internet access fees and special discounts offered through the telephone company for private users at home. Many ISPs offer family packages and free Internet initiation courses with every new account.

But the most important increases in Tunisian Internet use originate with educational institutions. …