ECONOMY

Plans afoot to spread use of Internet

University students and teaching staff will be able to surf the Internet at exceptionally low prices as part of a bid by the government to boost the use of the World Wide Web in Greece. According to the EU’s Structural Indexes, Greece is in last place with respect to Net use both at work and in the home. IT industry representatives have also proposed a series of other measures. After a meeting on Tuesday, the ministers of transport and communications, Michalis Liapis, and of development, Dimitris Sioufas, announced that a special work group will be set up in cooperation with the Education Ministry to study the provision of cheap Internet access to 450,000 students in Greek universities and teaching staff. Some higher education institutions, such as the National Technical University of Athens, already offer their students Internet access, but the government intends to provide it to all institutions. Also on Tuesday, the Information Technology and Communication Enterprises Association (SEPE) presented a study showing that high costs are the main reason for the limited penetration by the Internet in Greece. According to 2004 data, only 19.6 percent of Greeks use the Internet and no more than 20 percent of companies take advantage of its benefits. The special secretary for the Information Society, Vassilis Asimakopoulos, said broadband connections (offering fast, continuous Internet access) in Greece «cost 10 times as much as in Belgium» and is of low availability, as the ADSL service is provided by the Hellenic Telecommunications Organization only in a few urban areas. The main reasons, says the SEPE study, for the widening of the digital gap between Greece and the rest of Europe are the mass media’s negative attitude to the Internet and the state’s limited interest in the development of new technologies in IT and communications. The example cited was the demonization of the Internet through the story of a young man who committed suicide after receiving instructions in a Web chat room. The association’s Internet Committee president, Panayiotis Sarandopoulos, stressed that the cost of connecting to the Web and obtaining IT hardware remains high in Greece in relation to real salaries. Asimakopoulos added that poor information about the Internet’s advantages is also to blame. A recent survey by the Special Secretariat for the Information Society showed that most of those avoiding use of the Web say they «do not need it» or «do not trust it.» SEPE President Spyros Vyzantios spoke of the need for immediate measures to support the use of Internet and other new technologies. The association drew up an action plan that would include: – Acceptance of the new technologies as a prerequisite for the development of the information society. – Development of everyone’s abilities and skills in the use of new technologies through information and training. – Making new technologies accessible to everyone, everywhere, at any time. – Promotion of broadband access to the Web. – Bolstering private initiative and competition. – Promotion of state modernization through new technologies. – Development of the essential infrastructure and legal framework to promote and expand the digital economy. – Promotion of innovation and technological evolution. SEPE’s board believes implementation of these measures will increase Internet penetration to 35.3 percent – 47.2 percent in three years’ time, at a total cost, to be covered by the state, of 86.36 million euros.