Greeks love mobiles but not the Internet

By Fotis Kollias - Kathimerini

Greek planners are hampered in drawing up the country's strategy for technology and the information society by the limited interest which Greeks show in personal computers and the Internet. Studies commissioned by telecommunications companies and a recent one by Citigroup suggest that Greeks' interest in the Internet is, if anything, declining, while the penetration of personal computers in households remains at low levels. According to the Citigroup study, the average annual rate of increase in the penetration of PCs in Greek households was just 9 percent in the 1999-2004 period - one of the lowest in Europe, when not one in 10 households has a computer. The apparent paradox created by the rapid fall in computer prices over the same period (the average cost is now about 650 euros) is attributed to the fact that hundreds of millions of euros were spent on the supposed electronic modernization of public organizations and agencies in the last few years, but the results have been rather disappointing in terms of the quality of services to citizens. The studies prepared for telecom operators show that 70 percent of Greeks think that the Internet is not useful and do not see the point of subscribing. Indeed, the percentage of Greeks declaring that they plan to link up with the Web is actually smaller than it was two years ago. The surveys were conducted before the round of significant competitive rate reductions for broadband (ADSL) connections announced by the main providers. Citigroup's analysts cite European Union data according to which 41 percent of Greeks say they have no Internet connection at home because they are not familiar with it (this is the highest rate in Europe). Another study, prepared for the Information Society Monitor, shows that the digital gap between the urban centers and the rest of the country is widening. But such worrying evidence is dismissed by others who point out that the penetration rate for mobile telephony in Greece exceeds 100 percent. Market players, however, argue that mobile phones do not require any special skills and solve basic communication needs. In contrast, for someone to be persuaded to buy a computer and be connected with the Internet, «he/she must feel they stand to gain, either in terms of avoiding a visit to a public department by submitting an application form electronically, or in terms of worthwhile content.» «Today, one cannot even find a map of the Athens restricted inner traffic ring on ministry websites,» the monitor points out. After years of delay, the government has finally announced it is preparing the legal framework for the electronic signature, access to public information and provision of public services through the Internet. Due to mobile telephony, however, Greece appears to have the highest annual rate of increase in spending on telecom services (22 percent) among the eight EU members included in the Citigroup study.