Monday, June 19, 2006

A toll road from Almaty to Issyk Kul?

Several Kyrgyzstan news outlets, including the TV station NTS and the internet site, have reported that a Kazakh company called "Erkin TransService" has begun building a 117 kilometer toll road from Almaty to Issyk Kul. Apparently, this is a completely private enterprise, and the company building the road will reap the profits from the tolls. If the project is indeed successful in bringing wealthy Kazakhs from Almaty to Issyk Kul in under two hours, it will likely be a win-win situation for everybody. It would provide the urbanites of Almaty a chance to escape the smog easily on weekends, and it would be a boom for the Issyk Kul tourist business, which has been lagging since the events of March 2005. It would also likely start sending Issyk Kul real estate prices up...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Internet capacities just emerging in Central Asia

Internet use in Central Asia is still fairly low. Part of the reason for this has been the high price of internet access and even the relatively high price of computer hardware. That being said, there is a growing boom in internet capabilities in Central Asia that is likely to affect small business development and even general information access. The annual address of President Nazarbayev in Kazakhstan included promises to slash the price of internet provision, and moves are already being taken towards that end. The major internet service provider in Kazakhstan, Kazakhtelekom (now run by the state management company Samruk), has been unvieling a relatively affordable high speed DSL connection called Mega Line . While Megaline is still not affordable to everybody, it is within the means of the country's growing middle class. It includes a 128kbs/128kbs unlimited usage package for $50/month. Other services have traffic limits, but can also be used by small family owned businesses for a fairly affordable price. In Kyrgyzstan, where de-regulation of the internet has been even more pronounced, Aziia Info is even introducing a VOIP internet telephone service that will significantly undercut the state telephone company's control over long distance phone service by offering very cheap prices. These developments are likely only the beginning, but they could point to a tipping point in the regulation of telecommunications in Central Asia, much to the relief of citizens and businessmen who want information from the web and affordable phone connections with the rest of the world. Vested interests, of course, are likely to work to restrain this growth of affordable communications for various reasons.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Is there a housing bubble in Kazakhstan?

Around the world, housing prices have climbed in the last several years. Kazakhstan is no exception. In Kazakhstan, there are numerous reasons for this growth--the introduction of mortgages and the fast paced economic growth of the country are the most obvious. The question that many people are asking in Kazakhstan, however, is whether the rise in housing prices can continue. While the fast growth of housing prices is likely to flatten in the near future, it is unlikely that there will be a large burst in the bubble. More likely, one will see location take on a much more prominent role in urban home pricing. Already, analysis of Almaty by street shows significant different pricing.

There is one aspect of the housing market in Kazakhstan, however, that could cause general concern--that is the incredible boom in housing construction, especially in Almaty and Astana. The question is whether the demand can meet the new supply. In Almaty, the answer is probably yes, given the already developed center of the city and the lack of open land for new development. In Astana, however, the jury is still out. While the demand for apartments in Almaty is still higher than in Astana, Almaty reportedly only has eight major new apartment building projects on going at the moment (more will need to await the mass removal of old construction). In Astana, however, there are now 139 major new apartment building projects being undertaken!!! Even with the city as the capital of the country, can we assume that the tough winters and mosquito-ridden summers can muster that demand?

Thursday, June 08, 2006

A new era of U.S. punditry on Central Asia?

Some recent articles in Harpers have strongly criticized some of the scholars in the U.S. who comment on Central Asia. In particular, criticism focused on two centers for the study of the Caspian region at Johns Hopkins and Harvard respectively. Unlike in the past, people interested in Central Asia are watching more closely who is funding research and what other agendas they may have beyond increasing knowledge on the region.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Under Construction - your input requested

Welcome to the Roberts Report on Central Asia and Kazakhstan.

The site is presently under construction, but it should be fully operational by August. The site seeks to become an authoritative source for political analysis on the wider region of Central Asia. The intended audience includes private and public sector parties interested in Central Asia and Kazakhstan.

Presently, I am working on putting together the format for the blog and eventually for a bi-weekly analytical bulletin. I welcome your ideas as to what analytical information on Central Asia would be most useful to you. Please leave suggestions through comments to this post.

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