ECONOMY

Greece is still the laggard in terms of fast Internet penetration rate

Greece remains the European Union’s laggard in the penetration of broadband networks, or connection with high-speed Internet suppliers. Even new EU members are rapidly overtaking Greece. The problems this country faces, besides the need to develop infrastructures, are the low number of users, oligopolies which prevent healthy competition, and the poor quality of services provided, as noted in the «Digital Knowledge and Welfare» event organized by the National Technical University of Athens this week. President of the National Telecoms and Post Commission (EETT) Nikitas Alexandridis explained that 89 percent of lines run at speeds below 512 kilobytes per second (kbps), while in most countries in Europe connections on sale have far higher speeds (of 1, 2 or more megabytes per second, or mbps). He referred to the regulatory measures that EETT is promoting, arguing that the penetration of broadband connections could allow the country’s transition into digital television. In fact, TV stations broadcasting on the Internet will be free from licensing limitations. Alexandridis called on state telecom OTE «to believe it has to cooperate,» not only because the law forces it to, but also because it will enjoy financial benefits from the expansion of the market and the healthy competition. There should also be an agreement on the political level, Alexandridis stressed, as the government and the opposition must cooperate and lead the best part of the EU-subsidized 4th Community Support Framework toward Internet and information technology (IT) investments. To this end he proposed the appointment of a person who would be universally accepted as solely responsible for the Internet and IT. This person will lead an agency coordinating such activity. The timely and correct issue of all regulatory texts by EETT as provided by the new law is urgent, said Alexandridis, as is the reassessment of the existing secondary framework according to what the new law dictates. He also expressed the hope that the essential specialization of the regulatory measures and the analysis of the 18 sections of the market will be completed by this summer. Transport and Communications Minister Michalis Liapis underscored the need for bridging the digital gap. He predicted that, according to the 196-million-euro project for the development of broadband networks, the penetration of broadband services to home users will reach 7.5 percent in 2008 from 1 percent today. Recent data by the Observatory for the Greek Information Society showed that at end-December 2005 there were 151,437 ADSL connections against just 46,547 on January 1, 2005. This rapid rise of about 225 percent is attributed by the Observatory to the drop in rates last September and to the growing competition. It is also estimated there are about 4,500 connections with independent networks. If other broadband connections, such as leased lines and wireless, are added, the figure rises to an estimated 167,000 at the start of 2006, with the level of penetration at 1.5 percent from 0.5 percent in January 2005.