Scheme to provide students with fast Internet under fire

The government’s attempt to make good on a pre-election promise to provide all university students with fast Internet access threatens to end in a fiasco, with the academic community and information technology businesspeople charging that the scheme is in fact a hidden subsidy to OTE, the former telecoms monopoly and an Internet provider, through its subsidiary OTEnet. A committee set up in February to study the issue had recommended, in a report released in May, that all university students be provided with an ADSL 512/128 connection (that is, with a maximum speed of 512 kilobits per second for downloading and 128 kilobits per second for uploading) through the National Research and Technology Network (EDET) that connects the Greek academic community with the Internet through the pan-European academic network GEANT. Taking similar schemes in Germany and Netherlands as examples, the commission had recommended unlimited downloading and a monthly charge not exceeding 10 euros per month (including taxes). A tender would take place for a company to provide maintenance and advisory services. OTE, and the other Internet providers, lobbied against the scheme. In the end, the government settled on a solution that would force all students to subscribe through OTEnet, and through OTE for the landline they would get free under the committee’s proposed scheme. Monthly charges were set at 15 euros and downloads limited to 5 gigabytes per month, roughly the content of a single-sided DVD, that «should suffice for purely educational purposes» the government decided. The scheme has not been implemented yet due to objections from universities, all major party youth organizations and Internet providers – except for OTEnet – who realized they had been duped and are now crying foul. OTE has long been accused of providing substandard and overly expensive fast Internet services, thus slowing down overall connectivity, which is very low in Greece: Less than 1 percent of Greek households have fast Internet access against 10 percent in the EU.

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