Internet Development in Turkey: A Case Study

Tolga Yurderi <>
SoftCom Technology Consultancy Inc.


This paper discusses the trials and tribulations we experienced during the development of the Internet in Turkey and will show the effects of telecommunication on humankind and on our evolving century. In 1990 a vast percentage of the population, including government entities, had no idea of the Internet's existence. Today, almost six years later, recognition of the Internet has changed tremendously. In the past year or so, the popularity of the Internet has been widely seen in the media, be it magazines, newspapers, or television programs. One of the reason may be the current demographics of Turkey (32% of the population is made up of 10- to 24-year-olds [1], who are growing up in the age of technology).

The future of the Internet in Turkey depends largely on the realization of its advantages/benefits to the private sector as well as to the general public. Right now, this opportunity is farfetched because there is only one provider, TurNet [2]. Of course, the lack of competition in any field leads to higher prices and limited, if any, freedom to choose.

Keywords: Turkey, Istanbul, development, regional, access, Europe, history, example, control.



This paper provides a story of how a young entrepreneur's experiments took him on the magic carpet ride of telecommunications and further on to connecting worlds through the Internet. A step-by-step development of the Internet will be outlined in this paper and guide you to ideas and suggestions for improving it in less developed countries (as they are sometimes known).

The modem and BBSs

It all started about six years ago in Turkey with a small modem. We could never have thought that it would lead us to this point when we began using modems to exchange files with each other and to connect to bulletin board systems (BBSs) abroad. The magical part of telecommunication has a tremendous effect on humans. Unlike other means of communicating, electronic communication systems give more freedom to individuals. When I say freedom, I mean that an individual has more chance to communicate using electronic means of communication. You can write an e-mail independent of the time differences, even if you are writing to a friend who lives on the other side of the world. And of course, when you use e-mail, it travels much faster than snail mail and gives you the chance to communicate more in a shorter time. Not to mention that it is cheaper and does not pollute the environment.

The electronic way of communication is an innovation. In most areas, universities are the best places to work with new technology. As in other countries, it started at a university here too: Bosphorus University, known as the best academic institution in Turkey. Maybe the university's history as the first American college outside of U.S. borders had something to do with it. And again, as in other countries, the initiative came from the students rather than the faculty. It was my good fortune to be one of those students.

Developing SoftCom

We built the SoftCom (Software & Computing) computing club in 1990 by installing an internal 2400-bps modem into a 286 PC. Something that seems so simple now changed the vision of many people involved and led us into a new age, the age of electronic communications.

It didn't take long for us to discover how to download, upload, and chat using the modem. Since it was illegal to use modems at that time in Turkey, we really had a hard time finding new hardware. One day the miraculous moment arrived when I found a BBS software program in a local computer shop and paid $50 just to copy it! Actually the computing club paid it, because I managed to convince the board members. I was telling everybody that this new tool would change the way we live, but it was nonsense to my friends and professors, who knew only punch-card computing. I even recall a heated discussion I had with the director of the computing center. I was claiming that there would soon be modems faster than 2400 bps and that we would be able to do client server applications over telephone lines; he gave me, his young student, a lesson about why modems faster than 2400 bps were impossible to build. I'm glad I was stubborn and didn't abandon my pursuit of electronic communications. Now we are using 33,600-bps modems over simple phone lines.

Turkey's first BBS

After the 1980s many home computers came on the market. With modems, people started using their computers to communicate with each other. Then came the BBSs. These were simple software that ran on home computers that had a modem. They allowed other computers to dial in to the system and exchange files and electronic messages. This is exactly when the electronic communication breakthrough occurred because this gave the public the ability to communicate in a way that before was only possible for governments and big organizations. Actually, ordinary people were the ones who understood the importance of these kinds of systems.

A BBS community is a grassroots community, which actually brought the Internet to where it stands now. Unfortunately, a majority of the population thinks that the Internet is something invented in a laboratory and served by high-tech companies to the public. In fact this is not the case. The sysops and simple users of the BBSs purchased modems and communications software, which caught the attention of the software and hardware companies. No one was willing to open up an academic network (Internet) to the public to let them exchange pornographic pictures.

It is a bit strange that there were similar effects in Turkey as in the U.S. People had many computers at home or at work but no one came up with the idea to communicate with each other using them. In order to understand why this occurred we might have to look deeper in to the cultural specifications of the Turkish society. Contrary to the above statement regarding communication, Turks love to talk. Indeed, they love to chat so much that most of the time spent at work or at home is preoccupied with talking.

My conclusion is that being a Mediterranean society has a big influence on the way we communicate. We like to express ourselves when we talk and we especially like to use our body language and the tone of our voice. Another factor to note is that in Turkey it is very hard to be rude to someone when you are face to face, because this can start a fight very easily between the hot-blooded Turks. So, when you read some messages on a hot subject, for example in a Turkish newsgroup, it is rather more direct than everyday life and a bit rude. I think the human race is learning how to use this new toy. Therefore, one could make a simple assumption that the Internet opens up new and polite or, in other words, controlled ways to communicate.

Anyway, soon after SoftCom was set up, Turkey's first BBS attracted many members. To be exact, in just two months we had all of three members! And two of those soon became sysops of their own BBSs. It wasn't an easy task to set up BBS software without a manual and with no experience at all. We spent many days and nights on this project, only because we believed that it was great fun. The only example we saw was the Sierra Online's BBS for game hints. It gave us big enthusiasm to build our own BBS. Think of the power of a single person who runs a BBS. You can share your information with many hundreds of people even when you sleep. Doesn't this remind you of something else? The Internet, of course!

Our next project was to communicate with BBS systems in other countries. We came up with this idea after finding some BBS numbers in a few shareware forums. The idea of communicating through a single BBS was fascinating enough and we couldn't even think about how great it would be to connect every single BBS in the world. Well, some guy named Tom Jennings thought of the same thing when he came up with the idea of FidoNet.

Although there is a stereotype in the media that Turks and Greeks dislike each other, we received the most help in joining FidoNet from Greek sysops. With FidoNet we discovered that electronic communication wasn't just about bits and bytes, but also about politics and more. Sysops and users from many different countries exchanged ideas long before the Internet was to be widespread. When people were using snail mail to communicate we had many friends from different parts of the world that I've never seen. In those days, the people who knew about e-mail were a small group of academicians at the universities who used Bitnet. FidoNet's management was formed by master sysops who were called regional coordinators, one in every country. In every continent there is a zone coordinator who is elected by regional coordinators.

After the zone coordinator for Europe changed there was not much fun left in BBS networking, so we switched the channel. I must say that CompuServe had a big influence on us. CompuServe was just an online service for mostly new users. Or was it? CompuServe was more than that, actually. Because they originally had their own X.25 network and the user interface was designed to be used through text-only terminals, CompuServe was reachable worldwide. It was easy and cheap for us to use our nationwide X.25 network to reach and use CompuServe. I found lots of things I was looking for there. But it was too commercial; I was in need of a friendlier and less commercial place. After meeting a guy in their BBS forum, I was convinced to join the WELL community.


Because the WELL had a gateway from an X.25 packet switching network that was free to international users, it was easy to communicate. Weirdly, Turkish Telecom had X.25 service in every city in Turkey and it wasn't that expensive. It shows that telecom companies can sometimes make mistakes, like providing a low-cost, nationwide data service. Of course, it didn't take long for them to realize their mistake. Now X.25 is the most expensive way to communicate in Turkey, and only when it works.

The WELL was a Unix box on the Internet. People who use it now know it as, but it wasn't that way back then. Then it was called, and it reminded me of the geographic location to which I was connecting every time. With that I never lost my way! That community led me to the world of the Internet. I even met Peter Norton there; at least I thought it was he until I understood that cyberspace can handle many people with similar names.

In fact it was more difficult to ride with the Well than CompuServe. And when you do not know anything about the Internet, having full access to it doesn't mean much. I think people who just started to surf the Net had feelings similar to mine in those days. But I must admit I was lucky to jump into a system like the Well because I had to learn everything from scratch.

Telnet, Gopher and FTP (File Transfer Protocol) were our toys to play with, I believe new users do not know what the first two terms mean. A program called Hytelnet was especially useful. It was a menu-driven index system that guides you through the Internet. It mainly pointed to the Gopher and Telnet resources.

At this point, we acquired further knowledge on BBSs, FidoNet, CompuServe and a bit of Internet. We thought that we could combine all these into one box and make it useful. It could be possible with the BBS software and hardware. We only needed quick and dirty programs to act as gateways. Getting an online access to a BBS box was both very expensive and hard to implement. So we chose the easy way, UUCP. Those were the days when we first established a UUCP connection to the U.S. and started using Internet e-mail from our BBS.

Establishing UUCP

UUCP means Unix-To-Unix-Copy. It was developed for Unix-based systems to communicate with each other. It allowed the users of single systems to exchange files and e-mail in an offline way called store and forward. The main advantage of using UUCP for BBS systems is that the concepts behind UUCP and FidoNet are nearly the same. They are both store and forward networks, which means you store the data, which is supposed to be transferred, and then you transfer it at certain times. The routing mechanism also works in the same way. In FidoNet there are certain routes that your e-mail can travel. UUCP systems also use that kind of map, to route mails.

I would like to thank to UUNET Technologies Inc. because they provided free UUCP connectivity to us as well as to other foreign countries.

Also on the Well I met the famous "Cursor Cowboy" Dave Hughes, who brought me to the U.S. to learn about NAPLPS graphical terminal emulation and the Internet. When I talk about Dave it is a long story, so I will cut it short here. This retired army colonel lives in Colorado Springs. We had a common understanding about the Internet. We both felt that it is a grassroots thing rather than a big corporate game.

NAPLPS is a very interesting system that allows graphics to be transferred through Internet with 7-bit ASCII characters, which means that you can send and receive graphics using 7-bit e-mail. Today we use MIME to encode and decode binary files. At that time, we had the power to send and receive complex graphics pages attached to e-mail as plain text. Native Americans used this technology in their BBSs to communicate with each other. If you ask me where NAPLPS is right now, honestly I don't know. Maybe we should ask the Cursor Cowboy, It is not always true that the right and easy gets to be chosen, of course.

Cyber24 experience: connecting worlds together

I didn't experience the true power of the Internet until I received an e-mail message from Eduard Shevardnadze, the president of the former Russian republic of Georgia, and was able to relay it to the United Nations and the White House. The Soviet Army forgot to cut the Internet connectivity of the Georgian Space Center, which enabled him to send an e-mail to me. After helping the scientists to set up their Internet connectivity, it was a surprise for me to receive such a message. That day I understood that the Internet could change lots of things in the world. Visit to find out more in detail.

Demographics and infrastructure of Turkey

Turkey is a country somewhere between the East and the West. The population is affected by both European and Asian cultures, and that makes the Turkish telecommunications sector very interesting. We are the fourth fastest growing GSM mobile phone market in Europe. We have our own satellites, TurkSat1b and TurkSat1c, and our PSTN system is 90% digital. And we don't ride camels, FYI. In Turkey earnings are $2,500 per capita. (For more statistics about Turkey you can visit

These essential elements of the communications sector have not been enough for the Internet to achieve widespread recognition in Turkey. Why not? The answer is simple, if one looks at China. As in China, the Turkish government wants to control the Internet. Currently government control is impossible, but what about in the future? It would be completely nonsense to try to control such a complicated communications system. It is nearly impossible to track every individual, and even if there were a way to do this it wouldn't be possible to track encrypted messages.

Current status of the Internet in Turkey

Turkish Telecom now has a service called TurNet. TurNet is a three-city Internet backbone with 2-Mbps (megabits per second) lines between cities and 512-Kbps (kilobits per second) international connectivity to US Sprint. There are ISPs (Internet service providers) controlled by Turkish Telecom but who cannot compete freely with one another because of the international connectivity bottleneck. Not surprisingly, Global One (US Sprint, France Telecom, German Telecom) is supporting this monopoly, because AT&T, MCI, and UUNET cannot do business in Turkey. Some free-world companies can get nasty if they are not in their own country.

Today, nearly all Turkish universities are connected to the Internet, and about 50 ISPs are offering services via Turkish Telecom's TurNet monopoly. Four other companies are trying to override the monopoly by using satellite technology but Turkish Telecom doesn't let them. Other developing countries must see this as an important example, because when authorities recognize the Internet's power, they will try to control it. It is not just the control of the power. It is also the control of the way that the population lives.

The question is simple: Do we want to be ruled, or are we going to rule ourselves? The Internet age is a chance for all world citizens to decide about this. When we see on the Internet the way we can live, we question the way we are forced to live.

Future of the Internet in Turkey

Other challenges to Internet enthusiasts include the proliferation of misinformation about the Net. Some companies are trying to fool less-knowledgeable users by talking about technologically impossible or unnecessary solutions. The best example is the problem of secure commercial transactions on the Net. Whoever says they have software that makes the Net 100% secure is lying, and whoever says that using credit cards on the Net is less secure than using them in a restaurant is also lying.

We at the Istanbul Chapter of the Internet Society ( are trying to teach facts about the Internet to the general public and are also doing our best to keep the Internet as a free platform in Turkey. We have a duty to tell users their rights and help them to defend them. Also, we are developing and proposing technical solutions to some problems we face. Most countries have similar problems, such as connection to their neighbors over networks that are thousands of kilometers away. To prevent this, the European Union is supporting a pan-European network instead of using the U.S. Internet infrastructure as the main backbone.

But the main problems in Turkey are the ISP monopoly and the speed of international connectivity. It takes nearly half an hour to receive 10 e-mails from an out-of-country mailbox. This means that it is practically impossible to use the Internet in Turkey.


As a final thought, I would like to add that the Internet gives developing countries the incredible opportunity to catch up with more developed countries, and any governments that try to control or ban the Internet will be giving up this chance.


  1. Statistics Institute of the Government of Turkey (
  2. Turnet (