REVIEW #5: The Digital Side of Bulgaria

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As a Bulgarian economic researcher, it is my job to frequently compare my country’s performance in various aspects to the rest of the EU. Since the EU has 28 member states, bar charts are quite adequate when trying to visualize and explain a given issue. I have found out that once a chart has been created, my attention tends to drift towards its right side – the place where one usually finds a meager, well below average bar with the label “Bulgaria” below it. All things considered, this is hardly the case in regard to the development of the digital economy and e-government in Bulgaria.

BULGARIANS AND THE INTERNET

The story of the initial increase of internet penetration in Bulgaria is one of highly unregulated social and economic interaction. Most of the infrastructure and the client base in big cities were actually developed by small semi-legal neighborhood organizations, which one would find it hard to call “businesses” in any legally accepted sense of the word. Monthly payments were made in cash, usually after a visit from “the provider” with no documentation to certify transactions or obligations of any kind. This meant that once a significant (though informal) consumer market was in place, bigger companies could step in and buy it out without the need for significant advertising, human capital and infrastructural expenditures. From 2000-2006, most of these ventures were legalized just so that they could be acquired by cable TV operators, while others managed to keep “the big fish” away and gradually moved into the formal economy.

If ever there was an example of an unregulated free market approach to the development of a new type of social relations in Bulgaria – it is the spread of the Internet in the country. Bulgaria currently has one of the most developed broadband infrastructures in the EU and frequently makes it in the top 10 of various global connectivity speed rankings. However, all is not well when it comes to the significance of the Internet in the everyday life of an average Bulgarian.

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