This is the third part of my writing on Serbia case, which is a technological analysis of Serbian Internet technological system that enabled the use for nonviolent struggle.
3. ANALYSIS : Internet Technological Structure
From the technically structural fighting, both in term of employing techniques to release from the structural measure imposed by the state, and in term of establishing new cyber-organization, it should be useful to consider the technological structure of internet and other related media at that time and its development prior. This is to answer the question about how come the nonviolent movement can use the internet in overthrowing Milosevic. I will track back some key actor like Radio B-92, that used traditional media in collaboration with the new media, OpenNet, to unpack the domestic internet structure and its linking structure to international internet community. Other agencies like Otpor might be used to give more precise picture. The internet backbone, internet café, modem line, might be studied here.
Serbia internet can be said as beginning during 1995-1996. Two big agency supported by the government were National Academic Network, based at University of Belgrade, and Telecom Serbia. However, OpenNet—which was established by Radio B92 that opposed the government—set their own operation independently both abovementioned operators. OpenNet was established by using foreign ISPs named “XS4ALL” (internet slang for ‘access for all’) which was the third-oldest ISPs in the Netherlands. It seemed that one reason why XS4ALL helped OpenNet to set up itself under Milosevic repressive regime was rooted in its organizational culture. XS4ALL was found by the former hacker groups and was well-known as its willingness to take on many controversial issues. [ref. “XS4ALL”, wikipedia; and http://www.xs4all.nl/en/%5D
OpenNet connected to XS4ALL firstly by modem dial-up technology, and few months later it changed to analog leased line connection plus six local dial-up lines in order to set itself as mini-ISPs for other internet users in Serbia. Radio B92 in collaboration with Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM)—a consortium of more than thirty independent broadcasters throughout Yugoslavia—used OpenNet as internet channel to disseminate their information to the world outside Serbia and also rebroadcast back into Serbia by other international broadcaster like BBC and VOA.
Its live audio stream can be transmitted through the internet by using ‘real audio’, the digital audio format, supported by the US internet media provider named RealNetwork, Inc. This is the sophisticated routes that Radio B92 can escape from the authority control to indirectly reach the Serbia audience. [ref. “B92”, wikipedia; “B92, About US”]
Serbian ICTs in every sector grew rapidly after democratic transition in 2000 (UNECE 2002; Tunnard 2003b; Surculija 2003). But in Milosevic period Serbia’s internet and related telecommunication infrastructure was under Telecom Serbia’s control. This organization was the sole monopoly of telecommunication infrastructure which shaped internet and other communication usage a lot. Fixed-line telecommunications like telephone, ISDN, and other leased line were very few and high cost for individual usage. (Tunnard, 2003b) The development of cable connection—e.g. coaxial or optical fiber—that uses normally for cable TV and can be used for internet communication, was also blocked. Since late 1980s, Radio Television Serbia (RTV), the national broadcasting corporation that played the major propaganda media for Milosevic and hold the exclusive right on cable TV distribution, signed agreement with a Canadian company. This company decided not to invest in developing this kind of technological system due to the war (UNECE, 2002: 19) just hold the exclusive rights from the other competitions.
From ITU data, in 2000, there were about 300,000-400,000 internet users in Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), around 376 users and 226 PC computer per 10,000 inhabitants. (Surculija, 2003) In many war-torn areas, including Kosovo, the fixed-line telecommunication infrastructure was destroyed by NATO bombardment—cost around $250 million. So, mobile phone usage was popular among the people due to its cheaper price and SMS service was still free of charges (Tunnard, 2003b)
One thing that Telecom Serbia had contribution to Serbia’s information infrastructure was its main project on installation around 3,000 km of national information backbone with speed 2.5 Gbps during 1997-1998. (see the picture above) However, it was doubtful that how many people would have got into such speedy information highway.
Generally, internet connections from home users at that time were in very poor conditions. According to Tunnard, the users have to dial the modem about 5-10 times to establish one connection, and with speed of 33 Kbps. So, normally, many people tended to use the internet from internet café, public library or university computer that provided leased line speed more than 2 Mbps. Especially, under Milosevic suppression to the media, this kind of internet usage was the major exchange of information among the resistance communities and contact to the foreign outside the country. (2003b, p.14) The almost sole ISPs that had capacity enough for these activities was Belgrade University Academic Network. That may be a reason why the major active internet resistant group, Otpor, was the students from Belgrade University. Now, let talk about this Belgrade University Academic Network.
At the heart of Serbia internet infrastructure is Academic Research and Education Network of Serbia (AMREJ) which is located at University of Belgrade and operated by Belgrade University Computer Center (RCUB) since 1996. It also provided international link. All universities and other kind of academic institutions connected to AMREJ. Serbia information network structure put University of Belgrade as a central exchange node, while some other universities as regional hubs.
Though network connecting structure shown in the picture (above) is the year-2005 version, but it may reflect, more or less, some general pattern of information infrastructure of Serbia. There is no precise information on AMREJ infrastructure during Milosevic regime. All information available is that in late 1990s, three universities had 2-Mbps speed connections to AMREJ. These were University of Nori Sad, the second node acted as the regional hub in the north; University of Nis, the third node acted as the southern hub; and University of Kragujevac in the central region of Serbia. Before 2000, except these three universities, all the rest were connected to University of Belgrade in low speed by modem on leased telephone line. (ref. “Chronology of AMRES”) And before 2002, there were 63 institutions connected to AMREJ. (UNECE, 2002: 42) While in 2005, AMREJ had connection with 150 academic institutions and around 100,000 individuals with permanent infrastructure. (SIEPA, 2005: 30-1)
From this information, it can be guessed that there was no many internet users during Milosevic period. At the website of the resistance group, there were around 10,000 people that subscribed to Otpor website. But, this small number of 10,000 was enough for bringing more than 100,000 people to rally into the street almost unnoticed by the government in the early days of resistance, as Tunnard remarked (2003a : 113)
- “B92, About US”
- “B92”, wikipedia
- “Chronology of AMRES”,
- “XS4ALL”, wikipedia
- AMRES, “Topology Map,” Belgrad: Academic Network of Serbia.
- SIEPA (2005) IT Industry in Serbia, Belgrad: Serbia Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SIEPA)
- Surculija, Jelena (2003) “Internet Regulation in Serbia and Montenegro : Country Report”, Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe, Mission to Serbia and Montenegro.
- Tunnard, Christopher R. (2003a), “From State-Controlled Media to the ‘Anarchy’ of the Internet: the Changing Influence of Communications and Information in Serbia in the 1990s”, in Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, Vol.3 No.2, May. pp.97-120. London : Frank Cass.
- Tunnard, Christopher R. (2003b), “The Role of Technology in the Development of a Modern Serbian State.” Cambridge: Kokkalis Program, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
- UNECE (2002), Towards a Knowledge-Based Economy – Yugoslavia. Geneva: United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.
- USIP (1999) “Preserving the Free Flow of Information on the Internet: Serbs Thwart Milosevic Censorship,” Washington, DC: United States Institute for Peace.