Euro users revolt against high online costs

European online users in 1998 found a way to tell incumbent carriers that they were fed up with the high cost of surfing the Net: the Internet strike.

In separate events across Europe, online users in Spain, Switzerland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, Poland, the UK and France staged 24-hour boycotts to protest the high cost of local phone calls. High local rates, they said, makes using the Internet for long periods of time too expensive. In some cases, users were joined by ISPs (Internet service providers) who fear they will lose customers or have to swallow the cost themselves if local phone charges rise further.

Although strike organisers claimed that thousands if not millions of people participated in the boycotts, it was hard for them to prove they had made a serious impact on Internet traffic levels. But the symbolic value of the strikes was high. They garnered international media attention, trumpeting the message that monopoly carriers are impeding the Internet's acceptance as a mass market phenomena.

On top of monthly Internet access fees which consumers pay to ISPs, most consumers across Europe are also paying high per-minute telephone charges for the time they spend online.

Recent figures released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) bear out the fact that online costs in Europe are, on average, higher than in the US. The figures cite the cost of 20 hours online a month at off-peak rates, based on both the fee charged by the top ISP in each country, and the local phone charges.

Czech citizens suffer Europe's highest online costs, according to the OECD, paying $US74.60 for 20 hours online, compared to $39.58 in the US. Second most expensive is Germany, according to the OECD, where users pay $67.62 for 20 hours online. The Scandinavians have it better than their US counterparts, however, paying only $19.72.

"High phone rates are a major problem in Europe," said Jean-Pierre Aubertin, an analyst with Frost & Sulllivan. "It is not encouraging people to go online, especially in the consumer market." For those who do use the Internet, Aubertin sees the cost influencing the amount of time they spend online.

"They are conscious of the clock ticking, they have in the back of their mind that the bill will be big," he said.

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