Turkmen People Joining the Internet Revolution

ASHGABAT, Turkmenistan -- Turkmenistan has begun allowing private citizens to connect to the Internet in the latest sign that the country is opening up to the world.

The country's only Internet provider, Turkmentelekom, said Thursday that it has been connecting up to 20 homes daily since the start of the week, mainly in the capital, Ashgabat. It said it had a waiting list of 2,000 people.

"As of this week we have begun connecting customers, regardless of their professional status," a Turkmentelekom statement said.

Since becoming president, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has reversed some of the most draconian restrictions imposed by his eccentric predecessor, Saparmurat Niyazov, who died in 2006.

Last year, Berdymukhammedov allowed the country's first Internet cafe. Until then, Internet use had been restricted solely to government employees, diplomatic posts and offices of major international companies.

But the average monthly salary in Turkmenistan is $200, so it was unclear how many people will be able to afford home connections. Nor is it known whether the government will block certain web sites.

Surfing the net will cost around $1 per hour, on top of a monthly charge of $8. Initial hookup costs are $42. Most of the few Internet cafes that have opened in the past year charge up to $2 an hour and are closely monitored.

Turkmentelekom also is offering exceptionally slow dial-up connection speeds, which may frustrate web surfers.

Under Niyazov, people were largely cut off from the world. State-run television broadcast persistent paeans to Niyazov and devoted extensive coverage to his travels and ceremonies.