Why is Internet speed so high in Romania?

I just published a nice chart which lists average Internet connection speed across Europe: Romania holds the first place with 55.67 Mbps, leaving many highly developed countries behind. How can this happen?

I found in a Reddit discussion on the matter an exhaustive explanation of the phenomenon given by a Romanian user: piracy and competition are the answer.

Serious short answer? Piracy.

We started out like any other country, with dial-up lines and 14440 or if you were lucky, 56k modems. The state company that owns the landlines, Romtelecom, had crazy expensive internet during the day, but after 10PM it was 10 times cheaper. This period lasted about 2 years and a few people got to experience what internet actually meant.

The first real networks we had did not have access to internet, were basically big LANs within an apartment complex. This way, most of the people could play Diablo2, Quake2, or Starcraft via LAN – even if the game was pirated, direct connection via IP worked.

People realized that being in a network was cool, you could download a song on dial-up (took about 1 hour with a 14400dial up connection) and share it instantly with your neighbor. He would download another song and you would get that one from him.

The flats stated to link up with each other and created “neighborhood networks”. Still no internet, we are now in about year 2 of dial-up being available in Romania.

ADSL made an appearance but it was too expensive for most people, so it all but vanished in leas than a year.

These networks had to be maintained by someone (keep the switch plugged in, repair the cable that someone from the 6th floor cut because it look bad hanging near his window, link the network with others, etc) so the local sys admin job was created. Since they were getting regular, small payments, they decided to bring the real internet and make more money. You could pay “x” for LAN, or “x+y” for Lan and Internet. Since the target customer was the kid on the next floor, the prices had to be reasonable.

More and more people started to get 2nd hand computers and needed software (windows, office) so they would pirate it. Yeah, its not nice, but back then, a licence for win95 was the equivalent of about 2 monthly salaries for a teacher. Or that of a policeman. So no one, and I mean it, no one cared that the software was pirated.

People loved the internet because you could download movies and watch them at home. You had software like DC++ that allowed you to download with 10MB/sec from others within your network. And when I say download, you can read pirate. I honestly think that there’s not one person in Romania who used a computer at least once and never downloaded anything illegal.

By this time, there was at least 1 of these networks for every 50-100 people. The networks started to link with each other via optical cable and would promote their speed with slogans like “100mbs within the city, 1mb outside” or “download a movie in minutes”. Just in my neighborhood we had about 5 of these firms.

Then the torrents got popular and the shit hit the fan. People switched from DC++ to torrents within months and the networks had to keep up. So they added more capacity and advertised better upload speeds and by this time most of the cities were connected via fiber so you could download almost anything with around 10MB/sec.

All in all, the switch from 56k to 100mbs took less than 2 years in the big cities. Extreme levels of piracy -literally, you didn’t knew anyone who had a licence for anything back then – meant that the police did not care, they were pirating stuff as well.

tl;dr Romanians love movies, we needed a way to download them and fiber was the answer. Much cheaper than copper, no risk of the cables getting stolen.

OMG I just wrote a novel!

edit: Thanks for the gold🙂. Also, RIP my inbox.

BTW, I’m not saying software piracy is great. I own a lot of software now and I’m happy to pay for what I like because now I can afford it.

I’m just explaining how things got started here. And honestly, the companies never lost a penny because we got to download stuff for free. No one could afford to legally buy the content. There was never a choice between buying and pirating it. This is something most people in the west dont get – we were never like “hey, I can buy this new game, but screw it, I’ll just pirate it and keep the money” – back then most of us did not have the money in the first place. In 2003 the GDP was 2.700$. That’s the median income for the ENTIRE year. So less then 250$ per month. If you think with that income people had the option of spending 50$ to buy a game or 15$ to buy a DVD, you are dead wrong. People had more pressing matters that needed money, like food and bills.

Even now, the lowest income salary is at around 250$. Do you honestly think people who make so little are able to spend 150$ for Windows? Buying the software is simply not an option for them.

Also, to the people saying that this wouldn’t work in US due to the huge size difference: who says you have to blanket the entire nation with fiber on day 1? I agree, that’s impossible. You start with areas that have a high population density and then fan out to lower and lower population density zones.

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